Essay plan: Assess the contribution of Marxism to our understanding

Assess the contribution of Marxism to our understanding of society. (33 marks)
15 marks – A01 – Knowledge and understanding
9 marks – AO2 – Interpretation and Application
9 marks – A02 – Analysis and Evaluation – unpick and discuss issues.
Acknowledge that there are a number of different sociological theories which
attempt to help us to understand society. These range from functionalism and
Marxism through to Postmodernism.
Briefly explain what the essay will be focusing on – use wording in the title. Very
briefly say something broad about Marxist theory. For example it stems from the
work of Karl Marx and is a conflict theory, viewing society as being made up of two
main social classes who have a conflictual relationship.
Section 1
Outline Marxist views on how society works, eg society being made up of 2 main
social classes both with inherent conflict of interests. Society organised into 2
interdependent parts. Working class do not challenge because they are socialised
into ruling class ideology. Eventual revolution and class consciousness due to
polarisation of the classes.
Outline the problems with Marxist theory and any good points
Problems include – Marx’s predictions have not come true, polarization of the
classes has not happened, the living standards of almost everyone in Western
societies has improved. Also in communist societies such as China the continuing
extreme inequalities casts doubt on Marx’s ideas. Classical Marxism over
emphasizes the level of conflict in society, functionalists argue society is basically
stable. Neo- Marxists argue that institutions do not always transmit ruling class
Good points
It recognizes the importance of society’s social structure and how this can shape
social behaviour.
Its focus on private ownership of the means of production provides an explanation
for extreme social inequalities in wealth, income and power that persist in
contemporary society.
Section 2
Explain that although Marxism has made a positive contribution to helping us
understand society, there are other important theories which challenge Marxist
ideas such as Functionalism
Say how Functionalism challenges Marxism.
Give a couple of criticisms, overdeterministic and assumes that people internalise
societies norms and values when in fact they may well reject them.
Section 3
Introduce Social Action theory/interactionism and explain how it challenges
Marxism, ie does not see behaviour as being determined by the structure or
organization of society.
Give a few criticisms.
Section 4
Introduce Postmodernism and say how it challenges Marxism. Presupposes that
there is one set of truths, eg that people’s behaviour is determined by social class
and that there is a single way in which people achieve their potential, eg free
engagement with the world around them. They see truth as relative and old social
structures having little influence on people’s identities.
Marxism has contributed to our understanding of society to an extent, but there are a
number of problems associated with Marxist theory as highlighted above and other theories
provide valid counterarguments about how society is structured and organized, thus it has
to be acknowledged that Marxism is simply one theory among many which is committed to
a particular ideological view on society. Other theories are equally important and cannot be
ignored in any analysis of society.
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