Superstructure is a term from Marxist social analysis, 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.
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.
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 out of the actual world, and into the empty, abstract domain of the economic structure, a power is simply the ability to perform a particular action. Taken in aggregate, the economic structure would be a set of these abilities, and the positions with more abilities consequently become the dominant class.
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.
Marx argues that the fundamental base of any society, which permeates and shapes all its other legal, political and intellectual characteristics, is the social relations of production: the social and technological way that production is organized and carried out.
These relations of production provide the social foundation on which develops the superstructure of legal and political relations and human intellectual ideas and consciousness.
Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory -
Marx and Economic Determinism