Sociology Index


Relative autonomy is a theory of state power based on Marxist ideas. Relative autonomy perspective assumes that the state can and does play a limited independent role in the maintenance and stabilization of capitalist society. Relative autonomy differs from pluralism in viewing state power as strongly constrained by the ideological and structural characteristics of capitalism and capitalist society.

On the Concept of Relative Autonomy in Educational Theory 
Christer Fritzell, British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 8, No. 1 (1987). Abstract: In an effort to contribute to the further development of educational relative autonomy theory, this article raises a few basic issues with regard to the relationships between the internal structuring of schooling and educational functions of social reproduction and change.

Commodity Form and Legal Form: An Essay on the "Relative Autonomy" of the Law 
Isaac D. Balbus, Law & Society Review, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Winter, 1977)
Abstract: After a good deal of thought I have decided not to respond directly to Professor Trubek's exhaustive review of The Dialectics of Legal Repression, but will rather leave it to readers of my book to determine for themselves the adequacy of his description, analysis, and evaluation of the material contained therein. However, insofar as Professor Trubek also refers briefly in his essay to my "more recent," and until now unpublished, work, it seems appropriate to present a sample of this work, especially since Trubek himself argues that it entails a "major refinement" which "allows Balbus to explain what remains unexplained in The Dialectics." Indeed, in certain respects the following essay constitutes an autocritique of the theoretical analysis in my book, and a comparison of the two will thus permit the reader to assess indirectly the extent of my agreement with Trubek's critique.

Relative Autonomy Reconstructed. Revised. - Reynolds, Jim 
Abstract: The British school system has relative autonomy, and therefore, could be potentially transformative--used to change existing economic and social relations. The correspondence thesis, which states that the schools perpetuate existing capitalist economic and social relations and serve as agents of reproduction, was the dominant paradigm of the last decade within the British sociology of education. This thesis has been bitterly contested, and, in recent years, substantially modified. Four developments within British social science over the last decade suggest a form of relative autonomy that grants considerable freedom to the educational system within British society to act either in a reproductive or transformative fashion. The relative autonomy theory may be a helpful method by which Marxists may cope with the empirical reality of the British educational system/economy relationship.

The Relative Autonomy of Schools and Educational Interventions for Substance Abuse Prevention, Sex Education, and Gender Stereotype- Shamai, Shmuel; Coambs, Robert B., Adolescence, v27 n108 Win 1992
Abstract: Evaluates drug abuse prevention programs, sex education programs, and programs to change gender stereotypes in schools using theoretical framework of critical sociology of education. Notes that all types of programs had limited effectiveness.

Marxism and economic determination: clarification and defence of an "old-fashioned" principle - Paul Wetherly, Leeds Metropolitan University, Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol. 33, No. 3, 273-279 (2001)
This paper clarifies and defends economic determination as a defining principle of explanation of Marxist political economy and state theory. Economic determination is a principle of causation or explanation which involves the claim that "politics" is "explained" by "economics" in a relevant sense of those three terms. A defense is mounted on theoretical grounds by showing that Jessop's critique of "reductionism" and related argument for "contingency" does not succeed. Economic determination is defined as a strong tendency but consistent with a notion of the relative autonomy of the state.

ldeology, determinism and relative autonomy - by Michael Rosenthal - Extract From Jump Cut, no. 17, April 1978, copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1978, 2005 
One of the key problems confronting Marxist film theory, as well as Marxist aesthetics in general, is the status of ideology as a determined product of social, and specifically economic, relations. It is a fundamental and unavoidable premise of any Marxist enquiry that ideology, the "consciousness" of people in society and the material cultural products in which this consciousness is embedded is, in fact, determined.
Drawing from Engel's letters, Louis Pierre Althusser argues that the various superstructures, like law, politics and ideology, are characterized by a "relative autonomy" from the base. 
In consequence, our understanding of economic determination (which is a condition for an understanding of autonomy) remains in essence the same as in "vulgar determinism," while relative autonomy becomes a sort of ongoing exception. That is, we continue to see the economic base as mission control, which beams out commands to passive agents in the superstructure. With our magic protective shield of relative autonomy, we are safe from these commands until they catch up with us in the dreaded last instance. And, as Althusser somewhat cryptically assures us, the lonely hour of the last instance never arrives.
Thus, although we can describe films like GODFATHER II or CHINATOWN as critiques of capitalism because of their relative autonomy, they remain determined by capitalist economic relations, in the last instance. The character of that determination, piled onto the last instance, remains a mystery. We often present it as some kind of antithesis of relative autonomy, as if it were a version of the antithesis of freedom and necessity.

Tobias M. C. Asser.