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Essay: Marxist anthropologists

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  • Subject area(s): Sociology essays
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  • Published: 2 May 2018*
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  • Words: 723 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 3 (approx)
  • Tags: Marxism essays

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Assess the validity of this claim: Even though very few anthropologists today would identify themselves as “Marxist anthropologists,” Karl Marx’s work has much to offer anthropology in terms of its approach to issues of power and materialism.
The work of Karl Marx revolves around the idea of class conflict and the belief that the dominant class controls the ideas and structure of a society. Marx’s approach to these ideas can be useful to the field of anthropology, as it is important to view society and its cultures through the lens of what it means to have power. Though not all groups have a class system in the way Marx discusses, there can still be a power dynamic in some sense, whether that be ranked by age, gender, or possessions. As historically accounts have been told from the view of the most advantaged in a society, it can be helpful to follow Marx’s style of looking at a group from all angles instead.

When Marx states that “with the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion the devaluation of the world of men” (Marx and Engels 1978: 71), he is looking at the world through a wide lens. The big picture can be useful when examining why aspects of a culture are the way they are. It is what helps Marx determine that the bourgeoisie are the ones essentially controlling the relations of society (Marx and Engels 2012: 77). He discusses that the group which rules the modes of production by extension rule the culture’s values. The dominant group decides what things to produce, and then puts the value onto those very things. This leads to them controlling the less dominant group by teaching them to follow their lead, creating a cycle.

Marxism includes the idea that religion is for the masses because it serves as a way to control them and make them feel better about their lives, and that they are too busy working to come up with ideologies of their own (Marx and Engels 2012: 118). It also states that punishment serves as another way to control the masses by oppressing the working class and minorities. Marxist thoughts on religion are shown by the fact that the majority of the working class are likely to be religious. According to Marx, this would mean that because they have more opportunities socially and economically, do not need to be as satiated by the idea of God or an afterlife. According to Marx, what we do, and by extension our social class, determines the way we think. One way to judge if this is truly the case is to look at the relationship between education and religion. As far as the availability of education goes, it is reasonable to say that those who are from a higher social class are likely to have a higher level of education, as they can afford it. If we go off the idea that on average those who have completed more levels of education are more likely to be members of the dominant class, we can learn something from the religious beliefs associated with education. If you follow the trend that society as a whole is becoming less religious, the fact that the dominant class is the least religious follows Marx’s argument that they control religious ideas.

Marx says that the dominant class comes to believe that the world they recreated was inevitable, and the workers believe that their ideas are their own and in their best interest, so it would make sense that punishment would be defended as benefiting society-as-a-whole. According to Karl Marx, religion and punishment are both ways for the dominant class to control the masses. Religion is used to give the working class an escape from their difficulties and keep them happy enough to continue working in the dominant class’ best interest. Punishment is used in a similar way, but instead to keep the working class from disrupting the bourgeoisie idea of society. When an increasing number of minorities and working class individuals are being incarcerated, the dominant class are able to control people of a lower social status through our penal system.

By discussing these possible social issues in a culture, Marx has When anthropologists discuss a culture, and the possible social issues in it as Marx has, in here…

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