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Essay: Exploring Marxism and Postmodernism in Explaining Social Order and Education

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Sociology has many different perspectives it explores to explain our society and the situations people find themselves in, one of these perspectives is Marxism. Marxism is a response to modernism and is a structural theory, which means it focuses on the structures that make up society. Marxism is a conflict theory, in that it focuses on the conflicts within society, especially that of class conflict. Marxism is concerned with the economic system of capitalism, which is also how society is viewed, together called the superstructure. Capitalism is made up of two classes, the bourgeoisie, the wealthy, who run and own the businesses, and the proletariat, those who do the work, earning the bourgeoisie their money. Marxists believe the interests of these two classes will never correspond and therefor conflict is inevitable (Brown, et al., 2016). Another perspective used by sociologist is functionalism, functionalism is a consensus theory, with its origins in the work of early sociologist, such as Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). Durkheim (1893) stated that members of a society needed to feel a sense of social solidarity, a feeling of belonging to a larger society. Other functionalist sociologists stressed the importance of socialisation in building a value consensus in society, with key institutions, such as, family, education, media and religion working together to instil shared norms and values into society, guaranteeing stability. Functionalism is also suggested as a structural theory, due to the way it sees each part of society as having a function and working together as a big structure (Brisbane, et al., 2016). Additionally, some sociologist argue that we are living in a postmodern society, while modernity was with the Industrial Revolution, society is now very different. Those who support postmodernism argue that society is now defined by its obsession with consumerism, style and shopping, which is markedly different from older society which centred around production and work. Postmodernists claim that society has become fragmented and finally, postmodernist do not recognise an objective reality, stating that reality is what is in a person’s mind (Bown, et al., 2015).

Social order is a considerable part of society. Marxists see false class consciousness as a way social order is kept, despite the fact that society is unfair and divided, and life chances being determined by the income and wealth of an individual’s parents, most people support society the way it is. Marxist see the false class consciousness as being implanted through the many institutions of society, Marx & Engles (1850) called family, religion and media diversionary institutions, meaning those in the proletariat are too distracted by their responsibilities to these institutions to realise they are being exploited by the bourgeoisie.  Marx & Engles (1850) used the phrase ‘bourgeoisie ideology’ to expose the fact that the dominant ideas in society mirror the interests of the dominant class, the bourgeoisie. Louis Althusser (1971) agreed that ideology was an important part of keeping social order, however he focused on the institutions that support and enforce the ideologies, calling them ideological state apparatuses. The ideological apparatuses are the main institutions that make up society, such as, education, family and media. Althusser argues that these institutions maintain the dominant classes power by using these institutions to socialise the norms and values that preserve social order (Haralambos, et al., 2013).

However, according to functionalism social order is kept as society is a system of interlocked parts, which all work in harmony, maintaining balance and social equilibrium. With functionalists seeing society as a meritocracy and having a value consensus, where everyone has the same values, goals, norms and works hard, and being rewarded for such, there is very little room for social disorder. Nonetheless, disorder will occur, but functionalists believe this is only temporary, believing that a few social groups may have differences, such as those in what could be called a lower class and upper class, but this will create competition rather than conflict, as proposed by Marxists (Brown, et al., 2016). Contrary to this though are the many studies that show that social class has the largest impact on an individual’s education and what happens after (Cassen & Kingdon, 2007) ,rather supporting Marxist theories.

Meanwhile, the postmodernists argue that social order is non-existent as society is not split in a measurable way such as class, as class is no longer existent (Pakulski & Waters, 1996) but rather status as assumed by the individual due to the lack of an objective reality. Also with identity being what an individual makes it, due to globalization bringing with it the ability to buy the identity the individual wishes to have, the individual selfishness, the lack of norms and values being followed and society being fragmented, there isn’t a social order to be held(CITE)

However, a study by the BBC and London School of Economics (Savage, et al., 2013)found that class does still exist, while not in the Marxists believe, having seven instead of two, but with the narrow ‘Elite’ being the ones who run the country (BBC, 2011), and with class still determining a person’s life chances (Robson, 2016), it could be suggested Marxists are correct with how social order is kept.

Another important part of society is education, Marxist believe education is an ideological state apparatus, they argue that the education system aids the interests of the powerful, by maintain their power and justifying their privilege. One way education is used is to provide capitalist with the values, beliefs and attitudes useful to them. Bowles and Gintis (1976) believe work in a capitalist society is alienating and exploitative and for capitalism to succeed, an obedient, hardworking, docile and motivated that is too separated and fragmented to challenge authority workforce is necessary. Bowles and Gintis suggested that the education system helps to achieve this throught the ‘hidden ciriculum’, which they saw as not the content of the lessons being important but rather the things a student will learn through the experience of school. One part of the hidden ciriculum is that is supports the acceptance of heirachy, with schools being based on a heirachy of authority and control, teachers giving orders and students obeying, students having little choise of the subjects they study, Bowles and Gintis claim this prepares people for the relationships in the workplace. Additionally Bowles and Gintis suggest that at school, students learn to be encouraged by eternal rewards, much like the workforce in a capitalist society, students take satisfaction from high grades and qualifications, much like workers gain satisfaction from the money they earn. With this it can be seen that the hidden curriculum perpetuates the class divide by reinforcing the ideology of a cpaitalist society, Bowles and Gintis believe class is the most important factor of levels of attainment, and with those learning to be subservient and accepting of their role blaming themselves for not achieving more rather than the system (CITE)

Conversely Functionalists would disagree with this view, believeing that class has little to do with it, instead they would argue that the education system is a meritocracy, giving everyone an equal opportunity and rewarding those who work hard. Durkheim (CITE) and Parsons (CITE) saw education as a way of socialisation and ensuring that people understand and conform to social values and norms, this is an agreeance with the Marxist view in that education is a way of tramissing the norms and values of society, however Durkheim and Parsons saw these norms and values as cooperating and social solidarity rather than class roles(CITE).

Another way Fuctionalists see education is in the role of division of labour, simillarly to the Marxist view of creating the workforce and putting them in appropriate roles, Functionalist however see education as preparing individuals for their future occupations, by testing and evaluation students, schools match talents, skills and capabilities to the jobs the individuals are best suited for, for example who will become a middle class professional or unskilled worker, so while class does not affect education, education will influence an individuals social class, much like Marxist believe(CITE KEN BROWN) and which is further supported by a report from the EPI(CITE) that states children from disadvantaged backgrounds and lower social class achieve less than their wealthy counterparts.

Finally, the Postmodernist view would dispute both of these perspectives. Postmodernists argue that the education system mirrors the rising individualism in society as well as educational policy and more attention is given to students individual learning styles (CITE USHER ET AL 1997). Postmodernist also argue that indiviual identity is more fluid and that many factors influnce identity, and therefore their education experience, rather than the Marxists view of class. Some postmodernists would also argue that this growing emphasis on the individual leads to a positive breakdown of the one-size-fits-all education style, which has lead to education becoming more customisable, which is seen in the increase of ‘customisable’ degrees available (Bothwell, 2016), Which disputes the Marxist theory of students having little control over what they study (Bown, et al., 2015).

It is clear to see that one perspective alone is not enough to view society through and while each of these perspectives has merit and a truth within society, individually they do not explain the society as a whole. Marxist theories though do hold a lot of accuracy within past and current society, and that while it may not be in the scope told by Marxists there is conflict between the classes.

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