An introduction to applying the Marxist approach in the study of humanity.
Karl Marx is best known for writing “The Communist Manifesto” along with Friedrich Engels. “The Communist Manifesto” was published in 1848 and is a critique of the capitalist systems of production that, in the Marxist view, commodifies workers for the benefit of wealthier employers. Marx and Engels’ works examined their understanding of the historical evolution of modern economic systems and highlighted the power imbalances within the capitalist system.
Consider the following scenario: the majority of people reading this work 40 hours every week in order to cover the basic expenses of rent, food, healthcare, tuition, etc. When you work 40 hours every week for an employer, you have 40 fewer hours every week to participate in activism, to raise or educate your children, to create art, to study, to be with loved ones, or to contribute to the wellbeing of your community. Instead of using those 40 hours to create a world that reflects your value system, you’re spending those 40 hours following guidelines set out by your employer (which typically means making them more money — and therefore creating a world in which they are more powerful).
Employers typically hire workers at the lowest possible wage that the worker will accept. In the case of for-profit companies, the workers are then required to spend each hour (at the lowest possible wage) working to accumulate wealth for the employer that already had a great deal more money and power than the employee has. And so, in this system, the wealthy are able to buy your power from you by purchasing hours of your life from you.
In other words, in a capitalist culture, less wealthy people leave their families and communities every day in order to earn more wealth for the most powerful members of our society.
This critique of money and power is increasingly mainstream as more information about income inequality enters the realm of popular culture. As Oxfam highlighted in January 2020, “The world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than…4.6 billion people who make up 60% of the planet’s [poorest communities].” When only 2,000 people have as much money and power as 60% of the rest of humanity, what encourages people to continue to cooperate in this system?
Explore the below topics to better understand how social scientists examine culture and society through a Marxist lens:
“Anthropology for the 21st Century.” Essentials of Cultural Anthropology: a Toolkit for a Global Age, by Kenneth J. Guest, W. W. Norton and Company, 2020.
Beverley, James A. Religions A-Z. Thomas Nelson, 2005.
Bloch, Maurice. Marxism and Anthropology The History of a Relationship. Taylor and Francis, 2013.
Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Oxford University Press, 2008.
Kuper, Adam. Anthropology and Anthropologists: the Modern British School. Routledge, 2014.
Mascia-Lees, Frances E. Gender & Difference in a Globalizing World: Twenty-First Century Anthropology. Waveland Press, 2010.
McCurdy, David W., et al. Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. Pearson, 2016.
Moore, Jerry D. Visions of Culture: an Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.
Roseberry, William (1988). “Political Economy”. Annual Review of Anthropology.
Stein, Rebecca, and Stein, Phillip. Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft. 3rd Ed.
Stocking, George W. Race, Culture, and Evolution.
Wallerstein, Immanuel (2004). World-systems analysis: an introduction (5. print. ed.). Durham: Duke University Press.
Winick, Charles. Dictionary of Anthropology. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2014.
This text is part of “Beliefs” an open-source textbook on “The Anthropology of Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion.” Written and recorded on Soundcloud by Amanda Zunner-Keating and edited by Ben Shepard for Los Angeles Valley College. Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License