Sociology Index


Base, mode of production

Superstructure is a term from Marxist social analysis. Superstructure is central to the materialist concept of history and social development. 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. These relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the basis, on which rises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness - Karl Marx

It is argued that Marx's attempt to conceptualize social structure cannot be reduced to the base/superstructure model. Marx shows that the economic structure or base is not a structure of people. It is an abstract and empty structure of the relations between the productive forces in the economy. The actual persons or forces play no part of the structure. Taken in aggregate, the economic structure would be a set of these abilities, and the positions with more abilities consequently become the dominant class as per the dominant ideology thesis.

In this structure there are no normative constraints, there is simply material possibilities, and enabling powers. The normative image of relations of production only appears after the actors and forces are placed in the structure, and the superstructure is placed over the top.

Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory - Raymond Williams
Any modern approach to a Marxist theory of culture must begin by considering the proposition of a determining base and a determined superstructure. The proposition of base and superstructure, with its suggestion of a definite and fixed spatial relationship, constitutes, a very specialized and at times unacceptable version of the other proposition. Yet in the transition from Marx to Marxism, and in the development of mainstream Marxism itself, the proposition of the determining base and the determined superstructure has been commonly held to be the key to Marxist cultural analysis.

Marx and Economic Determinism 
Donald Hodges, Ross Gandy, People's Research Center, Rio Usumacinta. 
Was Marx a technological determinist? What does it mean to say that the economic base explains the superstructure "in the last analysis"? Does Marx's model of economic change help us to understand the history of ancient classical civilization? Is the materialist conception of history a theory or a method?