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2.3: Materialism, Structuralism, and Social Life

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    Philosophically, Marx inverts G.W. Hegel’s idealist perspective, contending that:

    The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. (Marx, 1859, p. 4)

    Marx then espouses a materialism, in which the actually existing social relations conditions the ways in which people think. As social relations condition people’s expectations of what can be understood to be a ‘natural’ situation, but which is in fact a culturally and ideologically constructed historical situation, Marx argues that:

    The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: ie, the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production. (Marx & Engels, 1976, p. 44)

    This notion of a material structure which politically conditions certain forms of ideologically motivated behaviors can be understood as central to the structuralist notions which are close to what we find in PE. Structuralism

    Definition: Structuralism

    The idea that social institutions and discourse have hidden patterns, rules, and laws which underlie a range of interactions and which can be understood through research

     is the notion that social institutions and discourses have a hidden structure (laws, rules, etc), which can effectively be revealed though forms of detailed research.  A large volume of PE work within media studies can be understood as seeking to uncover elements of how the structure of the media works in relation to the dominant mode of capitalist production, which in a contemporary context entails centering on the production of atomistic individual consumers who see life as a neo-Darwinian struggle based on notions surrounding competition, which relates closely to the idea of the market.


    Adapted text from Media & Society: Critical Approaches, used under a CC BY NC-SA 4.0 International license

    2.3: Materialism, Structuralism, and Social Life is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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