Sociology Index


Superstructure is a term from Marxist social analysis. In Marxist theory, capitalist society consists of two parts: the base or substructure and superstructure. 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, social relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. It is argued that Marx's attempt to conceptualize social structure cannot be reduced to the Base and Superstructure model.

The sum total of 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. - Karl Marx in the preface to "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy."

Karl 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. Mode of Production is the dominant form of social and technical organization of economic production in a society.

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.

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. From a strictly theoretical point of view this is not, in fact, where we might choose to begin.

The proposition of base and superstructure, with its figurative element, with its suggestion of a definite and fixed spatial relationship, constitutes, at least in certain hands, 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?