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IGNOU BSOC 108 Solved Assignment 2022-23 PDF

IGNOU BSOC 108 Solved Assignment 2022-23 PDF : BSOC 108 Solved Assignment 2022 , BSOC 108 Solved Assignment 2022-23, BSOC 108 Assignment 2022-23, BSOC 108 Assignment, IGNOU Assignments 2022-23- Gandhi National Open University had recently uploaded the assignments of the present session for MEG Programme for the year 2022-23. Students are recommended to download their Assignments from this webpage itself.

Assignment – I

1. What is the relationship between economy and society? Discuss with suitable examples. 

Ans. Economy, therefore, is a component of society; and society is the framework within which economy functions. Because of this relationship, every society has its own economy, and every economy reflects the needs and cultural attributes of society, as well as the major traits of the civilization in which it lives.

The existence of an economy is essential to the formation and sustenance of society.  No society can survive without an economy efficient enough to meet, at the very least, the basic needs of its members. Every economy exists for the sole purpose of meeting the growing needs of people as life conditions change and become more demanding. Economy, therefore, is a component of society; and society is the framework within which  economy functions.  Because of  this relationship,  every society  has its  own economy, and every economy reflects the needs and cultural traditions of society, as well as the major traits of the civilization in which it lives. Economy   embodies  institutions,   goals,  relationships,   business   organizations,   and  other  formal   and informal arrangements that cannot exist or function without people. People, at the same time, cannot survive and find real meaning in life without being involved in the economic activities of their society. As a result, people’s values, attitudes, relationships, and traditions, or simply people’s cultures, affect the way their economy is organized, the goals it seeks, and how it performs its tasks. On the other hand, people’s involvement in their economy makes them dependent on its institutions and performance, while making their cultures subject to the socioeconomic changes the economy normally instigates, and the material and nonmaterial goals it promotes and seeks to accomplish. In other words, the relationship between culture and economy is a dynamic one whereby each affects and is affected by the other. Society is  an  entity  composed of  individuals,  groups,  and organizations  seeking  to stay  together  bysharing traditions, values, languages, interests, and other things. An economy is a space within which most members of society interact with each other and with their environment to improve the quality of their lives. No social relationship is formed and sustained without an economic aspect, and no economic relationship is formed and sustained without a social base. As culture works to tie people together and   help them form a society, economic interests organize people to meet their material needs and create ties that make them interdependent. Every society tends to create an economy that corresponds to its cultural   values and ambitions, and every economy tends to mold and remold people’s cultures and organize and reorganize their relationships to correspond to its mode of production. While culture is the organizing principle of the social aspects of life in society, economy is the organizing principle of the material aspects of life. Since neither aspect can exist and be meaningful without the other, culture and economy are the forces that form and sustain communal life, and give meaning to every social and economic relationship. Therefore, culture and economy are society’s heart and mind; no society can survive without having both organs working properly and coordinating their functions with each other. Therefore, when the heart or mind of society gets sick, the other one gets sick as well, causing the entire body of society to suffer, sometimes badly. In the early stages of human development, a hunter-gatherer way of life made economy largely personal rather than communal; it lacked institutions, organizations, division of labor, and production relations. Yet “foraging has been the most generalized and enduring subsistence pattern developed by humans. It is the only strategy proven viable over tens of thousands of years.” (Jack Weatherford, Savages and Civilization Ballantine Books, 1994 27) Nonetheless, it was a primitive strategy dictated by an instinct to survive in a harsh, largely inhospitable environment,  rather  than a conscious  act  to  engage  the  environment  and change life conditions.

But after human settlements were built and became the norm in the age of agricultural and economies were organized, the hunter-gatherer strategy was marginalized, and the way of life it supported became hardly sustainable on its own. Agriculture was a new pattern of subsistence that people developed to  transform  their   life  conditions   and  make  cultural   and   material  progress.   It  was   a  revolutionary development that gave people more security, a more efficient economy, and a new, much different society and   culture.   “The   change   from   hunting   and   gathering   involved  more   than   a   mere   change   in   the subsistence pattern; it  represented a  complete change in the social  and cultural fabric of life.”  (Jack Weatherford, Savages and Civilization, 1994 27) However, the new pattern, while enhancing people’s ability to survive and communities to grow, it established a new way of life characterized by rigidity and simplicity, causing agricultural society to change very little over thousands of years. The industrial revolution caused all affected societies to experience a new wave of change that led, within a century, to the transformation of the totality  of life conditions and  ways of life in every industrial society. New economic arrangements evolved relatively quickly where capital was separated from labor and where fairly large economic organizations emerged, employing machines and relatively large groups of laborers to work together under one roof. Meanwhile, the new production arrangements created new relationships between people and machines, capital and labor, one worker and another, and urban and   rural communities. The new economy that emerged from this process is  what we call capitalism: an economic  system  characterized  by  a  strong tendency  to  change  and,  in  the   process,  transform  life conditions and people’s ways of thinking and living.

2. Describe the two different schools of thought-formalism and substantivisim. 

Ans. ‘Formalism’ and ‘Substantivism’ refers to the two schools of thought in Economic Anthropology which was split into these two groups since mid-1950s. The distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘substantive’ economy was propounded by Hungarian Economic Historian Karl Polanyi. Drawing on the work of German Sociologist Max Weber who distinguishes between formal and substantive rationality, Karl Polanyi argued that economy can be defined in two terms – formal and substantive. This differentiation led to the formation of two schools of thought in Economic Anthropology and Sociology i.e. substantivist and formalist approaches based on two methodological disputes. Formalism is based on a deductive and logical mode of thinking, whereas substantivism is descriptive and built on experience. Formalist orientation is based on the idea of economic rationality of maximising individuals whereas substantivists, including Karl Polanyi, argue that economy is embeddded in social-cultural contexts. Polanyi’s ideas led to the birth of a new school of thinking in economic anthropology called ‘substantivist’ orientation, whose prominent members include Paul Bohannan, Pedro Carrasco, Louis Dumont, Timothy Earle, Maurice Godelier, Claude Meillassoux, John Murra, Marshall Sahlins, Rhoda Halperin, Eric Wolf and George Dalton. In the following sections we will discuss the meanings of formal and substantive economies in detail.

1 Formalism Formalism is associated with the principles of capitalist economy which stands remarkably different from the pre-capitalist economies. It also means that the principles of capitalist economy are seen as universal, thereby subordinating the non-industrial economies to the principles of market economy. Formalists argue that the formal rules of neoclassical economic theory derived mainly from the study of capitalist market societies can be used to explain the nature and dynamics of non-capitalist economies. For instance one of the Formalists Melville Herskovits, an American Anthropologist, in his book The Economic Life of Primitive People endorsed this position. He said that scarcity and maximising behavior is a universal character. The same means are applied everywhere to achieve different ends. We will be discussing about this formalist characteristic in the following pages.

2 Pre-Industrial and Industrial Economies Karl Polanyi in his seminal book The Great Transformation has described the genesis of such theoretical paradigms in the great transformation of European civilization from preindustrial world to the era of industrialization. Industrial revolution signifies a remarkable change in the methods of production and shifts in ideas, ideologies, and social and economic policies accompanying it. In Great Transformation he analysed the consequences of market capitalism in England during early nineteenth century and rest of the industrialising world. According to him market capitalism commodified and commercialised all goods and services in terms of a single standard of money whereas in pre-capitalist economy it was neither monetised nor commoditised but submerged in social relationships. It does not mean that pre-capitalist economies did not have markets. Many pre- 27 capitalist economies had market places but they were not governed by the rules Formalism and Substantivism of ‘self-regulating market’ relying on the forces of ‘supply-and-demand’. Along with commoditising the goods, market capitalism also commoditised the labour. In Polanyi’s view, capitalism has elevated profits and the market over society and human values, turning everything (land and labour) into commodity to be bought and sold. For him market economy is “an economic system controlled, regulated and directed by markets alone” and is built upon the ‘fictitious commodification’ of land labour and money. In market economy society is subordinated to the laws of the market. He thought that economics developed along with market capitalism is its servant and is merely a part of the system that helps keep capitalism going by making it seem natural. Polanyi went further back in time to look at earlier empires to try to understand other ways, besides market capitalism.

Assignment – II

3. Discuss the views of Max Weber and Karl Marx on the relation between economy and society?

Ans. Karl Marx is a German Philosopher, economist, social scientist, and revolutionist. He made substantial contributions to the field of sociology also. Max Weber is also a German sociologist who has made great contributions to the field of sociology. Both Karl Marx and Max Weber were considered as pillars and founding fathers of sociology. Their contributions were also considered classical sociological theories. Both of them provide a scientific and systematic study to society. But their approaches and methodologies are different in various ways.

Karl Marx and Max Weber

Karl Marx believes that the economy is the base of everything or economy determines everything in the world. We can also term it as economic determinism. That is, the economy determines everything. Marx opines that economy is the substructure in society which is existed independently, on the other hand, all other matters or all other institutions, individual relationships and superstructure which depends on the substructure or the economic base. According to Marx, every society has modes of production and means of production and ownership of that production.  He applied it to all other social and this societies have two opposing and contradictory classes which are haves and have not’s.

On the other hand, Max Weber put a multidimensional view to understand and study society. He classified society not only by economic means but also through various other levels like life chances, market position, and consumption.

Marx and Weber also studied class structure but in different ways. As mentioned above, Karl Marx considers there are only two classes that exist in society. The haves and have not’s. He opines that every society has these two classes. He made a classification of capitalist society as Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. In which the bourgeoisies are the one who has wealth, control the means of production, and are also the owners of production. And the proletariats are the poor working class who only got minimum wages for their hard work. The capitalist exploits the working class to make more money and profit. Like that Karl Marx classified society into two. And he also said that these societies are always fighting each other and always an opposing class.

On the contrary, Max Weber provides us with a fourfold classification of class. There are propertied upper class, white-collar workers, petite bourgeoisie, and manual workers. This is the more diversified classification of class as compared to Marx.

Karl Marx suggests in capitalism relation between man and labour is perverted. That he believes the classes undergo revolutionary class struggle and might lead to polarization and ultimately it would result in a more classless society and later a socialist society will emerge.  He only believes this would happen. He also pointed out that a revolution is very necessary for society to break down the chains of capitalism.

Weber has a different approach to the classless society. He opines that the proliferation of classes based on occupational differentiation is due to the division of labour in society. He is not considering that a revolution is inevitable to tackle down the class barriers of capitalist society.

4. What did Karl Polanyi mean by the concept of embededness of economy? 

Ans. Embeddedness, in social science, the dependence of a phenomenon—be it a sphere of activity such as the economy or the market, a set of relationships, an organization, or an individual—on its environment, which may be defined alternatively in institutional, social, cognitive, or cultural terms. In short, analyses using the concept of embeddedness focus on the different conditions within which various modes of social action take place and upon which they depend.

Most prominently, the economic historian Karl Polanyi argued that the functioning of an economy could not be understood disassociated from the social world in which it was embedded. Specific organizations and institutions, and ultimately the economy as a whole, need to be understood as parts of larger, historically derived, institutional, or social structures.

More generally, the concept of embeddedness helps describe and explain how, although they each seemingly follow their own distinct logics and rules, different surrounding institutions and contexts interact and may complement or conflict with each other. This has been further developed particularly within the field of new economic sociology, which has investigated the linkages and interdependencies of economic phenomena and organizations and other social structures.

The interest in embeddedness is sometimes criticized as a mere restatement of truisms recognized in many classical works of the social sciences. Yet, embeddedness approaches can typically be sharply distinguished from both under- and over-socialized accounts of economic life. Embeddedness entails that actors’ preferences can only be understood and interpreted within relational, institutional, and cultural contexts. This is in direct contrast to the basic assumptions that inform neoclassical economic analysis, rational choice theory, and important strands of new institutional economics. These are based on the notion of under-socialized, atomized decision makers who aim to maximize their own predetermined utilities. Specifically, embeddedness does not merely regulate behaviour by shaping the way in which actors pursue their self-interest but constitutes these interests.

On the other end of the spectrum, strong structural positions, where social conditions exist a priori to behaviours, are equally challenged. Instead, relationships between the embedded unit and its contextual world are neither fixed nor determinate or directly causal.

Researchers who emphasize the utility of the concept of embeddedness tend to agree that various phenomena—be they individual preferences or organizational behaviour—may be better understood when analyzed in relation to their social, institutional, or cognitive environment. Where analysts may differ is on the specific forms and effects of embeddedness—that is, relative to what is embedded in what and to what consequence.

The concept of embeddedness was pioneered by Polanyi, whose lifelong study of the interlinkage between economy and society ranged from anthropological studies of small communities in the South Pacific to the political economy of the institutions regulating the global economy in the 19th century.

5. Discuss with examples the nature of reciprocity found in society. 

Ans. Reciprocity is a process of exchanging things with other people in order to gain a mutual benefit. The norm of reciprocity, sometimes referred to as the rule of reciprocity, is a social norm where if someone does something for you, you then feel obligated to return the favor.

The socialization process plays an important role in the development of this need to reciprocate. Through experience, children learn to share with others, take turns, and engage in reciprocal actions. Reciprocity plays an important role in the development and continuation of relationships. It also plays an important role in persuasion or getting others to adopt certain beliefs or behaviors.

There are three main types of reciprocity:

Generalized reciprocity: This form often involves exchanges within families or friends. There is no expectation of a returned favor; instead, people simply do something for another person based on the assumption that the other person would do the same thing for them. This type of reciprocity is related to altruism.

Balanced reciprocity: This type involves a calculation of the value of the exchange and an expectation that the favor will be returned within a specified time frame. For example, someone might exchange something they have, whether it is a skill or tangible item, for something of perceived equal value.

Negative reciprocity: This form of reciprocity happens when one party involved in the exchange is trying to get more about it than the other person. Selling a much-needed item at an inflated price is one example of negative reciprocity.

One area where this norm is commonly employed is in the field of marketing. Marketers utilize a broad range of strategies to convince consumers to make purchases. Some are straightforward such as sales, coupons, and special promotions. Others are far more subtle and make use of principles of human psychology of which many people are not even aware.

A salesperson giving a freebie to a potential customer, hoping that it will lead them to return the favor by purchasing something

A leader offering attention and mentorship to followers in exchange for loyalty

Offering customers some valuable information in exchange for signing up for future marketing offers

Impact of Reciprocity

Reciprocity has a few obvious benefits. For one thing, taking care of others helps the survival of the species.

Reciprocity also allows people to get things done that they would not be able to do on their own. By working together or exchanging services, people are able to accomplish more than they would individually.

There are also a number of persuasion techniques that employ the tactic of reciprocity. These strategies are used by people who are trying to persuade you to take action or conform with a request, such as salespeople or politicians.

One of these is known as the “that’s-not-all” technique. Let’s say you’re shopping for a new mobile phone. The salesperson shows your phone and tells you the price, but you’re still not quite sure. If the salesperson offers to add a phone case at no additional charge, you might feel like they’re doing you a favor, which in turn might make you feel obligated to buy the phone.

Assignment – III

6. What were the core ideas of Mark Granovetter on “embededness” in society? 

Ans. Granovetter: “Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness.”

In this paper, Granovetter attempts to find a more appropriate middle ground between economic theory that under-socializes behavior, and much of the existing sociological theory that over-socializes behavior. Granovetter believes that it’s more accurate to view economic rationality as “embedded” within social relationships.

He sees both extremes in this debate as “atomizing” the individual as blindly obedient either to “perfect knowledge” decision making or social norms. His view is similar to Gidden’s views on structuration in that one may gain better understanding by acknowledging that both extreme views are important and must be considered simultaneously.

By example, Granovetter extends his reasoning to the issue of trust and malfeasance in transactions. He sees the traditional economic view of “gentleman actors” and the over-socialized views of “generalized morality” as missing the mark.

Instead, he shows embeddedness theory acknowledges that “the on-going networks of social relations between people discourage malfeasance.” People guide their choices based on past actions with people and continue to deal with those they trust. However, embeddedness theory makes no assumptions of an orderly self-regulating system, and acknowledges that social networks alone will not deter malfeasance.

This paper is about the embeddeness of economic action within social theory. Attempts at explaining economic embeddedness have either been undersocialized or oversocialized.

Traditional economic interpretations of interactions between people assumes rational, self-interested behavior affected minimally by social relations. At the other extreme is “embeddness”, the belief that actions between individuals is so predicated on social relations that evaluating behavior based on independent economic actors is grossly misleading.

Sociologists have felt that embeddedness was highly prevalent in pre-market societies but has been reduced with modernization. They see the economy as becoming separated from society, with economic transactions being more rational and based on individual gain.

Economists have felt that even earlier societs (and even more recent tribal societies) have had economic and social relations separate enough to allow analysis of individual behavior based on economic terms. The new “institutional economics” assumes enough independence to be able to use rational actor theory to explore organizations.

The author believes that embeddedness was lower in premarket societies, but that it is also more substantial now than most ecnomists will admit.

Dennis Wrong in 1961 felt that social theory had over-minimized the effect of economic considerations in individual behavior and over-emphasized social normative effects.

Traditional economic theory assumes many individual actors with perfect knowledge and rational decision systems, ignoring possibilities of long-term relationships between buyer and seller. Economic theory implies that relational ideas such as trust are rendered as unneeded in the model, because in instances of mistrust or malfeasance buyers will just move on to other sellers. Competition renders political control unnecessary. All behavior is controlled by the market.

Social relations (especially poor relation issues like mistrust) become a frictional drag that impedes competitive markets. Adam Smith recognized that social atomization if the prerequisite fo perfect competition (in other words, relationships only screw things up).

Others have seen recent sociology as being too deterministic based on social norms. John Duesenberry quipped that “economics is all about how people make choices, sociology is all about how they don’t have any choices to make”. Other critics point out that “over-sociologists” assume everyone looks out for the group and makes mainly “fair” decisions that conform to group norms.

Ironically, both views suffer from the assumption of individual actors, one based on economic decisions and the other based on society norms. In fact, the utility theory in economics could be utilized in embeddness theory by assuming conformity to norms as a utility function!

Basically, both over and under-socialization have implicit assumptions of atomization that limit their effectiveness. One cannot model organizations as agents solely guided by either economic gain or social norms and structures. Instead individual action is embedded in dynamic systems of social relations.

Embeddedness, Trust, and Malfeasance in Economic Life

Since about 1970, economists have wrestled with the notion that agents may act with guile and deception in transactions. Historically, economists have assumed that the market would penalize such behavior, and that most would pursue self-interest “in a gentlemanly fashion”. But in situattions of imperfectly competitive markets, this probably does not hold true. People can’t move to other sellers so easily.

“Undersocialized” researchers attempt to explain why people aren’t usually devious by claiming that instituaional structures have evolved to make such behavior too costly. “Over socialized” economists imply some sort of “generalized morality” that guides actions.

Embeddedness theory, instead, acknowledges that ongoing networks of social relations between people discourage malfeasance. People guide their choices based on past interactions with people and continue to deal with those they trust. In social networks the presence and evolution of trust can both hinder and foster malfeasance, which demonstrates that social networks alone are not a deterrant.

7. What is the meaning of generalized reciprocity? Explain. 

Ans. Generalized reciprocity: This form often involves exchanges within families or friends. There is no expectation of a returned favor; instead, people simply do something for another person based on the assumption that the other person would do the same thing for them. This type of reciprocity is related to altruism.

  • Balanced reciprocity: This type involves a calculation of the value of the exchange and an expectation that the favor will be returned within a specified time frame. For example, someone might exchange something they have, whether it is a skill or tangible item, for something of perceived equal value.
  • Negative reciprocity: This form of reciprocity happens when one party involved in the exchange is trying to get more about it than the other person. Selling a much-needed item at an inflated price is one example of negative reciprocity.

One area where this norm is commonly employed is in the field of marketing. Marketers utilize a broad range of strategies to convince consumers to make purchases. Some are straightforward such as sales, coupons, and special promotions. Others are far more subtle and make use of principles of human psychology of which many people are not even aware.

More examples of reciprocity include:

  • A salesperson giving a freebie to a potential customer, hoping that it will lead them to return the favor by purchasing something
  • A leader offering attention and mentorship to followers in exchange for loyalty
  • Offering customers some valuable information in exchange for signing up for future marketing offers.

These strategies are used by people who are trying to persuade you to take action or conform with a request, such as salespeople or politicians.

One of these is known as the “that’s-not-all” technique. Let’s say you’re shopping for a new mobile phone. The salesperson shows your phone and tells you the price, but you’re still not quite sure. If the salesperson offers to add a phone case at no additional charge, you might feel like they’re doing you a favor, which in turn might make you feel obligated to buy the phone.

Navigating Reciprocity

In many cases, the reciprocity norm is actually a good thing. It helps people behave in socially acceptable ways and allows them to engage in a social give-and-take with others.

  • Give it some time. Experts suggest that the urge to reciprocate is strongest immediately after the initial exchange. If you can wait, you will probably feel less pressure to return the favor.
  • Evaluate the exchange. Think about whether the favor measures up to the expected return. In many cases, the initial gift or favor is much smaller than the requested return favor.

8. Discuss the nature of society of people dependent on hunting and gathering? 

Ans. Hunter-gatherer culture is a type of subsistence lifestyle that relies on hunting and fishing animals and foraging for wild vegetation and other nutrients like honey, for food. Until approximately 12,000 years ago, all humans practiced hunting-gathering.

Anthropologists have discovered evidence for the practice of hunter-gatherer culture by modern humans (Homo sapiens) and their distant ancestors dating as far back as two million years. Before the emergence of hunter-gatherer cultures, earlier groups relied on the practice of scavenging animal remains that predators left behind.

Because hunter-gatherers did not rely on agriculture, they used mobility as a survival strategy. Indeed, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle required access to large areas of land, between seven and 500 square miles, to find the food they needed to survive. This made establishing long-term settlements impractical, and most hunter-gatherers were nomadic. Hunter-gatherer groups tended to range in size from an extended family to a larger band of no more than about 100 people.

With the beginnings of the Neolithic Revolution about 12,000 years ago, when agricultural practices were first developed, some groups abandoned hunter-gatherer practices to establish permanent settlements that could provide for much larger populations. However, many hunter-gatherer behaviors persisted until modern times. As recently as 1500 C.E., there were still hunter-gatherers in parts of Europe and throughout the Americas. Over the last 500 years, the population of hunter-gatherers has declined dramatically. Today very few exist, with the Hadza people of Tanzania being one of the last groups to live in this tradition.

9. Define and discuss the meaning of pomology with examples? 

Ans. Pomology is a branch of botany that studies fruit and its cultivation. The term fruticulture—introduced from Romance languages (all of whose incarnations of the term descend from Latin fructus and cultura)—is also used.

Pomological research is mainly focused on the development, enhancement, cultivation and physiological studies of fruit trees. The goals of fruit tree improvement include enhancement of fruit quality, regulation of production periods, and reduction of production cost. One involved in the science of pomology is called a pomologist.

During the mid-19th century in the United States, farmers were expanding fruit orchard programs in response to growing markets. At the same time, horticulturists from the USDA and agricultural colleges were bringing new varieties to the US from foreign expeditions, and developing experimental lots for these fruits. In response to this increased interest and activity, the USDA established the Division of Pomology in 1886 and named Henry E. Van Deman as chief pomologist. An important focus of the division was to publish illustrated accounts of new varieties and to disseminate research findings to fruit growers and breeders through special publications and annual reports. During this period Andrew Jackson Downing and his brother Charles were prominent in pomology and horticulture, producing The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America (1845).

The introduction of new varieties required exact depiction of the fruit so that plant breeders could accurately document and disseminate their research results. Since the use of scientific photography was not widespread in the late 19th century, the USDA commissioned artists to create watercolor illustrations of newly introduced cultivars. Many of the watercolors were used for lithographic reproductions in USDA publications, such as the Report of the Pomologist and the Yearbook of Agriculture. Today, the collection of approximately 7,700 watercolors is preserved in the National Agricultural Library’s Special Collections, where it serves as a major historic and botanic resource to a variety of researchers, including horticulturists, historians, artists, and publishers.

10. What do you understand by ‘modes of production’ Give an example?

Ans. In the Marxist theory of historical materialism, a mode of production (German: Produktionsweise, “the way of producing”) is a specific combination of the:

Productive forces: these include human labour power and means of production (tools, machinery, factory buildings, infrastructure, technical knowledge, raw materials, plants, animals, exploitable land).

Social and technical relations of production: these include the property, power and control relations (legal code) governing the means of production of society, cooperative work associations, relations between people and the objects of their work, and the relations among the social classes.

Marx said that a person’s productive ability and participation in social relations are two essential characteristics of social reproduction, and that the particular modality of those social relations in the capitalist mode of production is inherently in conflict with the progressive development of the productive capabilities of human beings. A precursor concept was Adam Smith’s mode of subsistence, which delineated a progression of types of society based upon how the citizens of a society provided for their material needs.

Building on the four-stage theory of human development of the Scottish Enlightenment – Hunting/Pastoral/Agricultural/Commercial Societies, each with its own socio-cultural characteristics – Marx articulated the concept of mode of production: “The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life”.

Marx considered that the way people relate to the physical world and the way people relate to each other socially are bound up together in specific and necessary ways: “men [who] produce cloth, linen, silk…also produce the ‘social relations’ amid which they prepare cloth and linen”. People must consume to survive, but to consume they must produce and in producing they necessarily enter into relations which exist independently of their will.

For Marx, the whole secret of why/how a social order exists and the causes of social change must be discovered in the specific mode of production that a society has. He further argued that the mode of production substantively shaped the nature of the mode of distribution, the mode of circulation and the mode of consumption, all of which together constitute the economic sphere. To understand the way wealth was distributed and consumed, it was necessary to understand the conditions under which it was produced.

A mode of production is historically distinctive for Marx because it constitutes part of an organic totality (or self-reproducing whole) which is capable of constantly re-creating its own initial conditions and thus perpetuate itself in a more or less stable ways for centuries, or even millennia. By performing social surplus labour in a specific system of property relations, the labouring classes constantly reproduce the foundations of the social order. A mode of production normally shapes the mode of distribution, circulation and consumption and is regulated by the state. As Marx wrote to Annenkov, “Assume particular stages of development in production, commerce and consumption and you will have a corresponding social order, a corresponding organization of the family and of the ranks and classes, in a word, a corresponding civil society”.

However any given mode of production will also contain within it (to a greater or lesser extent) relics of earlier modes, as well as seeds of new ones. The emergence of new productive forces will cause conflict in the current mode of production. When conflict arises, the modes of production can evolve within the current structure or cause a complete breakdown.

The process by which social and economic systems evolve is based on the premise of improving technology. Specifically, as the level of technology improves, existing forms of social relations become increasingly insufficient for fully exploiting technology. This generates internal inefficiencies within the broader socioeconomic system, most notably in the form of class conflict.

The obsolete social arrangements prevent further social progress while generating increasingly severe contradictions between the level of technology forces of production and social structure social relations, conventions and organization of production which develop to a point where the system can no longer sustain itself and is overthrown through internal social revolution that allows for the emergence of new forms of social relations that are compatible with the current level of technology productive forces.

The fundamental driving force behind structural changes in the socioeconomic organization of civilization are underlying material concerns—specifically, the level of technology and extent of human knowledge and the forms of social organization they make possible. This comprises what Marx termed the materialist conception of history and is in contrast to an idealist analysis, (such as that criticised by Marx in Proudhon), which states that the fundamental driving force behind socioeconomic change are the ideas of enlightened individuals.

 

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