Sociology Index


Mode of production, Superstructure

Base is a concept from Marxism that refers to the mode of production of a society: the social and technical organization of its economy. Karl Marx argued that it is upon this base that the superstructure of the society, that is, its institutions and culture, are built.

While the social institutions and culture of society are shaped by this base, at the same time, they help to maintain and reproduce the mode of production and may, in certain conditions contribute to its transformation. The relationship between superstructure and base is considered to be a dialectical one, not a distinction between actual entities "in the world".

'In the social production of the their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real basis, on which rises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness' - K. Marx in the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

The "base-structure" metaphor relates the idea that the economic relations between people with regard to the means of production forms the basis for a superstructure of ideas, social, religious and political institutions and legal frameworks that is ultimately determined by this basis. 

The Structure of the Social 
Jonathan Joseph, Goldsmith's, Simon Kennedy, Goldsmith's College, University of London 
Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 30, No. 4, 508-527 (2000)
This article seeks to develop the Marxist conception of social structure by incorporating developments within critical realist philosophy. It rejects forms of economic determinism such as the base-superstructure model and those reconstructions–like Cohen's–that attribute primacy to productive forces in explaining history and society. It argues instead that society is the product of complex, often contradictory combinations of many different structures and mechanisms.