Functionalist, Marxist and New Right Perspectives on Education

A brief video I put together to help revise the Functionalist, Marxist and New Right Perspectives on Education – basically just some key points and evaluations for each of these sociological theories.

Functionalism – Social solidarity, skills for work, bridge between home and society, role allocation and meritocracy

Marxism – The reproduction and legitimation of class inequality and the correspondence principle

The New Right – Marketisation, league tables, the National Curriculum and New Vocationalism

The slide show goes through each perspective three times – each repeat has less information. The idea is that you can test yourself as you go….. It’s deliberately designed to be ‘no frills’ btw!

Functionalist, Marxist and New Right Perspectives on Education: Test Yourself…

Once you’ve reviewed the above video you might like to test yourself with the Quizlet below…!


This material has been written specifically for A-level sociology students revising for the A-level sociology AQA exam, the education topic which is part of Paper 1 (SCLY1)

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Learning to Labour

The counter school culture resisted the school but ultimately limited working class kids to getting working class jobs

Learning to labour is an ethnographic study of 12 working class white boys who attended one boys only secondary school which Willis called ‘Hammertown Boys’ in the Midlands in the early 1970s. Willis used a mixture of overt participant observation and group interviews to describe and understand the counter-school culture which the boys formed while at school. 


Willis began his fieldwork in 1972 and followed the boys for six months in their second to last year of secondary school. He also interviewed them periodically up until 1976, by which time the boys had transitioned from school to work, most of them going into manual factory jobs. 

He applied a neo-marxist framework to explain why these working class lads went on to get working class jobs.

Wills recognised as legitimate the boys’ own interpretation of school as an institution which was irrelevant to their lives as 15-16 year olds because they didn’t need qualifications to move into the manual work they perceived as superior to academic work. 

However, while rational in one sense, the counter school culture they formed which resisted the power of the school in the end led to what he called their “self-damnation: their own choices to spend their time ‘having a laff’ by confronting school authority resulted in them achieving no qualifications and having no choice other than to move into working class jobs, which meant class inequality was reproduced despite their class consciousness. 

The Counter School Culture

In the first half of the book Willis mostly describes the Counter School Culture the Lads formed.

Willis used participant observation and group interviews to study the lads over several years, and he was thus able to produce a rich or thick description of their ‘antics’, their banter and their attitudes towards school and future wok, providing an in-depth account of their own interpretation of their lives within the counter school culture they formed.  

The counter school culture was one of rebellion against school rules and focused on disrupting school life, with status being gained within the group for ‘bad behaviour’ such as not doing homework, disrupting lessons, playing pranks on teachers, and harassing conformist students. 

The lads strongly identified against the school and the fact that it valued academic work and non-manual, or mental labour more highly than the manual labour they saw as real work and more appropriate for real men.

The lads identified against conformist students who they derided as feminine or gay and the lads were also homophobic. 

The lads smoked and had sex with girls, and being known to be sexually active was important in their culture which was patriarchal and sexist and excluded girls. The counter-school culture was also racist, as non-whites were excluded too and the lads made common usage of racial language against ethnic minorities. 

While the lads did truant they mostly preferred being at school because it was such a laff and the disruptive behaviours which confronted authority built a sense of shared identity and solidarity. In fact the lads could have left school at 15 but they chose to stay on for an extra year! 

By the end of the study in the autumn of 1976 most of the lads had gone into the manual jobs they wanted and perceived as empowering, including bricklaying, plumbing and machine work, and only one could not find a job. 

How working class kids get working class jobs

In the second half the book Willis develops a theoretical analysis of how working class kids go on to get working class jobs, and the role the counter school culture plays in this process.

Wills accepted the lads’ own interpretation of their counter-school culture as a form of resistance to school authority, but it also led to what he called their self-damnation, as it ultimately laid the foundation for their acceptance of their subordinate role in capitalist society in lower paid, manual work.

The counter school culture acted as a kind of ‘conscious bridge’ (author’s term) between the working class culture which it reflected and the shop-floor culture of many manual work environment, both of which it mirrored, and being part of the CSC played a role in the reproduction of class inequality, helping to explain why working class kids went on to working class jobs! 

Willis saw the Counter School Culture as a distorted version of class consciousness, it resisted the authorities of capitalism but was short lived and never amounted to anything that would help improve the lads’ subordinate position in the capitalist system. 

The Counter-School-Culture emerges from working class culture and helps the lads understand some of the injustices of capitalism, but it also offers a limited framework of understanding rooted in immediate gratification of having a laff which prevents them from developing effective resistance. 

Penetration and Limitation 

Two concepts Willis developed to understand the lad’s world view were penetration and limitation. 

He argued that the lads had legitimate insights into the truth of their own class position (‘penetrations’) such as recognising that the school was a middle class institution designed primarily to help middle class kids into middle class jobs in exchange for their conformity, of which they were having none! 

However their penetrations were limited and failed to fully blossom into a full, effective, radical class consciousness:

  • Their culture was more emotional than intellectual. It was all about the buzz of having a laugh, not serious resistance that was going to go any further. 
  • It was also a means to accomplish a masculine identity, and in embracing patriarchy and traditional gender divisions of labour, they also limited their capacity to build effective resistance. 

Schools play a role in ideological control 

Schools play a nuanced role in performing the function of ideological control in capitalist society. 

By operating as middle class institutions and serving the needs of middle class students by focusing on academic qualifications relevant to middle class jobs they make working class rebellion more likely, hence they are unintentionally complicit in the counter school culture emerging. 

The counter-school culture then does the rest – the lads ‘choose to fail’ and the school isn’t to blame, at least at the surface level of reality, but deeper down it is because it is failing to meet the needs of working class students who do not want middle class academic jobs. 

Policy suggestions 

Wills also made a number of policy suggestions for schools to help make them more relevant to working class kids and break the role they played in ideological control and the reproduction of class inequality

  • Recognising that schools have a middle class teaching paradigm which disadvantages working class students. 
  • Showing more respect for working class culture and perspectives. 
  • Ceasing to communicate to working class kids that their identities are inferior. 
  • Discussing the role of culture in students’ lives more, and actually showing an interest in the role of working class norms such as immediate gratification and having a laff. 


Angela Mcrobbie criticised Willis for being too forgiving and accepting of the patriarchy and sexism inherent in the counter school culture, however Wilis did recognise that this was a limitation of their culture. 

Willis’ methodology is not that clear which raises questions of reliability. It is unclear for much of the time the specific contexts Willis was in and the exact nature of the group interviews isn’t always specified. 

Teachers in other schools pointed out that there were no cultures of resistance in their schools, raising issues of representativeness. However Willis responded by saying such cultures may not be immediately obvious and that there may be weaker individual manifestations of what he found. 

This is a difficult study to repeat and validate given the amount of times it took, the depth of it and the special access Willis had. 

Focus on Research Methods

Learning to Labour by Paul Willis (1977) is an ethnographic study of twelve working class ‘lads’ from a school in Birmingham conducted between 1972 and 1975. He spent a total of 18 months observing the lads in school and then a further 6 months following them into work. The study aimed to uncover the question of how and why “working class kids get working class jobs” (1977: 1) using a wide range of qualitative research methodologies from interviews, group discussions to participant observation, aiming to understand participants’ actions from the participants’ point of view in everyday contexts.

Participant Observation in the Context of Education

Given the practical and ethical problems of conducting participant observation in a school setting, there are only a handful of such studies which have been carried out in the UK, and these are mainly historical, done a long time ago. They are, nonetheless interesting as examples of research. Below I consider one classic participant observation study in the context of education – Paul Willis‘  Learning to Labour (1977)


Willis concentrated on a particular boy’s group in a non-selective secondary school in the Midlands, who called themselves ‘lads’. They were all white, although the school also contained many pupils from West Indian and Asian backgrounds. The school population was approximately 600, and the school was predominantly working class in intake. He states that the main reasons why he selected this school was because it was the typical type of school attended by working class pupils.

Data Collection

Willis attended all school classes, options (leisure activities) and career classes which took place at various times. He also spoke to parents of the 12 ‘lads’, senior masters of the school, and main junior teachers as well as careers officers in contact with the concerned ‘lads’. He also followed these 12 ‘lads’ into work for 6 months. NB He also made extensive use of unstructured interviews, but here we’re focusing on the observation aspects.

Participant observation allowed Willis to immerse himself into the social settings of the lads and gave him the opportunity to ask the lads (typically open) questions about their behaviour that day or the night before, encouraging them to explain themselves in their own words…which included detailed accounts of the lads fighting, getting into trouble with teachers, bunking lessons, setting off fire extinguishers for fun and vandalising a coach on a school trip.

Practical Issues with Learning to Labour

The research was very time consuming – 2 years of research and then a further 2 years to write up the results.

It would be very difficult to repeat this research today given that it would be harder to gain access to schools (also see reliability)

Funding would also probably be out of the question today given the time taken and small sample size.

Ethical Issues with Learning to Labour

An ethical strength of the research is that it is giving the lads a voice – these are lads who are normally ‘talked about’ as problems, and don’t effectively have a voice.

An ethical weakness is that Willis witnessed the lads getting into fights, their Racism and Homophobia, as well as them vandalising school property but did nothing about it.

A second ethical weakness is the issue of confidentiality – with such a small sample size, it would be relatively easy for people who knew them to guess which lads Willis had been focussing on

Theoretical Issues with Learning to Labour

Validity is widely regarded as being excellent because of the unstructured, open ended nature of the research allowing Willis to sensitively push the lads into giving in-depth explanations of their world view.

Critics have tried to argue that the fact he was obviously a researcher, and an adult, may have meant the lads played up, but he counters this by saying that no one can put on act for 2 years, at some point you have to relax and be yourself.

Something which may undermined the validity is Willis’ interpretation of the data – he could have selected aspects of the immense amount of data he had to support his biased opinion of the boys.

Representativeness is poor – because the sample size is only 12, and they are only white boys.

Reliability is low – It is very difficult to repeat this research for the reasons mentioned under practical factors.

Signposting and Related Posts

This post was written primarily for students of A-level sociology, specifically focussing on the problems of researching in schools using Participant observation, to get students thinking about the Methods in Context part of paper 1.

However the study is also relevant to the education topic more generally, and research methods.

You might also like this summary of more recent research on why the white working classes continue to underachieve in education.

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Marxist Feminist Perspectives on Family Life

women do housework and childcare for free and this benefits capitalism.

Marxist Feminists argue that the exploitative relations of capitalism are what causes exploitative patriarchal relations within the family.

Individual men may benefit from the unpaid domestic labour and childcare which mainly women do, but it is the capitalist system within is the main cause of women being in the subordinate housewife and mother roles.

It is ultimately capitalism which needs to be brought down in order for patriarchal relations within the family to cease.

marxist feminism
Marxist Feminism

Women’s free domestic labour benefits capitalism

A main focus for marxist feminists in the 1970s was ‘housework’ which was seen as the intersection of class and gender based modes of exploitation. 

Housework was not regarded as real work, and thus unpaid, because of the structure of the capitalist system. It was primarily women who did this work for free, never pausing to think that they might even be paid for it. While male breadwinners benefited directly from the free labour of their female partners, the main beneficiary was the capitalist economy: women provided for the domestic needs of men so they could keep serving the needs of the system through doing paid work.

To Quote Margaret Benston:

‘The amount of unpaid labour performed by women is very large and very profitable to those who own the means of production. To pay women for their work, even at minimum wage scales, would involve a massive redistribution of wealth. At present, the support of the family is a hidden tax on the wage earner – his wage buys the labour power of two people’ (Margaret Benston, 1972).

In other words, all of the chores associated with the traditional, expressive role, such as domestic labour, child care and emotion work are necessary to ‘keep the family going’ and so women’s unpaid work ultimately ends up benefiting the capitalist class, because they only have to pay the male breadwinner a wage. The woman attends to the husband’s needs and ‘keeps him going’ as a worker for free.

A related point here is made by Fran Ansley who sees the emotional support provided by men as a safety valve for the frustrations produced in the husband by working in a capitalist system:

‘When wives play their traditional role as takers of shit, they often absorb their husband’s legitimate anger and frustration at their own powerlessness and oppression.’

(NB This analysis is essentially a more critical view of Parson’s ‘warm bath theory’ – the theory of the stabilisation of adult personalities – in Marxist-Feminist terms this is not ‘different but equal’ roles, it is a case of different an unequal – and this inequality benefits capitalism)

Also, because the husband has to pay for his wife and children he cannot easily withdraw his labour power even if he is exploited. This reduces his bargaining power in relation to his employer and makes it more likely that he will put up with a low wage rather than risk being sacked by striking for a higher wage.

As an economic unit the nuclear family is a valuable stabilising force in capitalist society. Since the husband-father’s earnings pay for the production which is done in the home, his ability to withhold labour is much reduced’ (Margaret Benston, 1972).

The reproduction of labour power

Capitalism also benefits from women being the primary child carers. As with domestic work childcare is done mainly by women for free, and from a marxist-feminist perspective this is women bringing up the next generation of workers for the capitalist system.

The traditional nuclear family not only physically reproduces cheap labour for the the ruling class, it also teaches the ideas that the Capitalist class require for their future workers to be passive.

Diane Feeley (1972) argues that the family is an authoritarian unit dominated by the husband in particular and adults in general. The family has an ‘authoritarian ideology which teaches passivity, not rebellion and children learn to submit to parental authority thereby learning to accept their place in the hierarchy of power and control in capitalist society.

Ideological conditioning

Ideologies about domestic work and childcare being naturally women’s work are mainly responsible for keeping this system in place.

Back in the 1970s at least women generally didn’t question their roles as housewives and mothers.

Evaluations of the Marxist Feminist Perspective on The Family

Marxist-Feminism has too narrow a focus on the role of economics in ‘causing’ patriarchal relations at home. This is a problem when women are in subordinate domestic roles in many pre-capitalist societies, suggesting patriarchy is a more general problem.

Marxist Feminist analysis doesn’t seem to hold up to social changes which have taken place since the 1970s:

  • There are many more job opportunities for women in 2023 and no gender pay gap for younger workers, suggesting the end of the breadwinner role for men.
  • This gives women a lot more freedom to be the main or equal income earners and the majority of households are now dual-earner households meaning Marxist-feminist analysis no longer applies.
  • Many more women today live alone and don’t have children, this analysis doesn’t apply to them.
  • social policies such as the shared parental leave act (2015) and more free child care for children as young as nine months (2024) make it easier for mothers to avoid the full-time domestic and housewife role.

The only real support for Marxist feminism today lies in the fact that when women become mothers they are more likely to take time off work than fathers and they do more housework (still today), but most women are in paid work most of their working lives, so even this is pretty weak evidence.

There might still be a case that the lives of working class women and single mothers are relatively worse off because of capitalism: maybe this theory selectively applies to families with lower incomes; maybe single parents (85% of whom are women) have higher poverty rates because capitalism doesn’t value their free childcare sufficiently.

However, you certainly can’t argue that the root cause of women’s exploitation at home is caused by capitalism because capitalism (as neoliberalism) has intensified in Britain since the 1970s but women’s lives in general have improved.

Research supporting Marxist Feminism

Being a father seems to push men into the breadwinner role and women into the caring role.  

Becoming a young mother results in more women leaving work, but has the opposite effect on young men. 

For 25 to 34 year olds the respective employment rates are:

  • 86% for non-fathers compared to 92% for fathers 
  • 89% for non-mothers to 69% for mothers. 

So childless young women are MORE likely to be in employment than childless young men, but this changes drastically when those young women have children. Young women, it seems, are far more likely than men to leave employment and become the primary child carers.  

Source: How does motherhood affect paid work?

Women then gradually return to work as children get older…

31% of women with a 1 year old are in employment compared to 49% with an 18 year old. The percentages of men in work with children aged 1 to 18 are level. 

This suggests many mothers still want (or have to work) but nonetheless it is still women who take the career-penalties associated with taking time off work to be the primary carers. 

A (2019) longitudinal study Employment Pathways and Occupational Change after Childbirth  examined the pathways of men and women returning to work and found that of women working full time prior to childbirth only 44% returned to work full time after 3 years. 

There was some variation: those with degrees were twice as likely to return to full time work (so 88% after 3 years) and those working for the public sector or large organisations with over 50 workers were also more likely to return to work full time.

Related Posts

Feminist perspectives on the family (which covers all three types of Feminism)

The Liberal Feminist Perspective on the Family

The Radical Feminist perspective on the family

Sources used

The material above is adapted from Haralambos and Holborn: Sociology Themes and Perspectives.

Ingles, D (2015) An Invitation to Social Theory

Is Marxism Still Relevant Today?

A summary of eight possible ways in which some aspects of Marxist Theory and concepts might still be relevant today…

This is a summary of this more in depth post which goes into much more detail on why we should all be Marxists!

Eight ways in which Marxism is still relevant today

  1. A class based analysis of global society is still relevant if you look at things globally.
  2. Exploitation still lies at the heart of the Capitalist system if you look at the practices of many Transnational Corporations.
  3. If you look at the recent bank bail outs it appears that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.
  4. If you look at how individualised we have become it appears that many people are still under ideological control – but we don’t realise it.
  5. Work is still Alienating for many people.
  6. Economic crises are still inherent to the capitalist system and that in recent years these crises have become more severe and more frequent.
  7. Capitalist exploitation is so bad in some parts of the world that there is vehement resistance to it.
  8. In Britain there are tens of thousands of people who call themselves Communists and who sympathise with Marxism and the wider anti-capitalist movement. Left Wing criticisms and the anti-capitalist movement is still very much alive today.

Signposting and Related Posts

This material is relevant to any sociology students revising for the social theories part of their A Level Theory and Methods with Crime and Deviance Exam.

Other related posts include:

The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society 

Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism 

Eight Ways in Which Marxism is Still Relevant Today – the more in-depth version of this post.

The Marxist Theory of Society Revision Notes – a summary of all of the above.

Marx: Key Ideas for First Year Sociology

Bourgeoisie, Proletariat, ideological control, false consciousness, revolution and communism.

The Marxist Perspective is a central theory within A level Sociology. This post outlines some of the key concepts of Karl Marx such as his ideas about the social class structure, his criticisms of capitalism and communism as an alternative.

The material below is written for 16-19 year old students in their very first two weeks of studying A-level sociology. I would deliver this as part of a two to three week-long module in ‘introducing sociology‘.

This post deliberately simplifies Marx’s ideas to make them understandable for students who haven’t been exposed to them before. For more nuanced, accurate and in-depth posts on Marxist theory see the links at the end of this post.

Karl Marx: Six Key Ideas

  1. Capitalist society is divided into two classes: the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat.
  2. The Bourgeoisie exploit the Proletariat by extracting profit from them.
  3. Those with economic power control other social institutions.
  4. The bourgeoise excerpt Ideological control over the proletariat: they control their minds rather than controlling them through physical force.
  5. The proletariat exist in a state of False Consciousness: they think inequality and exploitation, for example.
  6. Revolution and Communism are necessary to improve the conditions of the working classes.

Karl Marx’s Ideas: Historical Context

Karl Marx (1818- 1883) was alive in the middle of the 19th century, and it is important to realise that his theories stem from an analysis of European societies 150 years ago.

picture of Karl Marx
Karl Marx.

Marx travelled through Europe during the mid and later half of the 19th century where he saw much poverty and inequality.  The more he travelled the more he explained what he saw through unequal access to resources and ownership of property. He argued that the working class (proletariat) in Britain (and elsewhere) was being exploited by the ruling class (bourgeoisie).

The ruling class paid the working class less wages than they deserved, made them work long hours in poor conditions, and kept the profit from the sale of the goods produced. Thus, the ruling class got richer and the working class became increasingly poor, and had no way of improving their prospects.

Marx argued they only way the working classes could improve their conditions was to come together and overthrow the ruling class in a revolution. Equality for all in the shape of Communism would replace an unequal capitalist system. 

The rest of this post expands on six key ideas of Karl Marx.

Capitalist society is divided into two classes

The two main classes in capitalist societies are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The Bourgeoisie are the owners of capital, such as land businesses, and the proletariat are the workers.

The Bourgeoisie or the Capitalist class own and control the ‘means of production’. The mans of production consist of land, factories and machines that could be used to produce goods that could then be sold for a profit. These are a tiny majority, but they own the majority of wealth.

The Proletariat do not own the means of production and can only gain a living by selling their labour power to the bourgeoisie for a price. The proletariat are the largest class, the masses, who own almost no wealth.

Marx recognised that the class structure was a little more complex, with a middle class of small tradesmen, for example. However these two main classes are the important ones.

Marxism class structure
A slightly more complex version of Mars’s Class Structure

The bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat

Marx argued that the bourgeoisie maintain and increase their wealth through exploiting the working class.

The relationship between these two classes is exploitative because the amount of money the Capitalist pays his workers (their wages) is always below the current selling, or market price of whatever they have produced. The difference between the two is called surplus value.

Marx thus says that the capitalist extracts surplus value from the worker. Because of this extraction of surplus value, the capitalist class is only able to maintain and increase their wealth at the expense of the proletariat.  To Marx, Profit is basically the accumulated exploitation of workers in capitalist society.

Marx thus argues that at root, capitalism is an unjust system because those that actually do the work are not fairly rewarded for the work that they do and the interests of the Capitalist class are in conflict with the interests of the working class.

Those with economic power control other institutions in society

Marx argued that those who control the Economic Base also control the Superstructure – that is, those who have wealth or economic power also have political power and control over the rest of society.

The Economic Base (The Mode of Production): Consists of the forces of production (tools, machinery, raw materials which people use to produce goods and services)and the relations of production (social relations between people involved in the production of goods and services). Together these make up the mode of production

The Superstructure: all other institutions: The legal system, the mass media, family, education etc. These are then used to bring about Ideological Control and ultimately False Consciousness.

Ideological Control

Marx argued that the ruling classes used their control of social institutions to gain ideological dominance, or control over the way people think in society.  Marx argued that the ideas of the ruling classes were presented as common sense and natural and thus unequal, exploitative relationships were accepted by the proletariat as the norm.

One example of how ideological control was achieved in Marx’s time was through religion. Christianty at the time argued that poverty was a virtue because Jesus was poor. The church taught that poor people should should accept their poverty in this life, but be good people and seek their rewards in eternal heaven. Marx argued that religion acted like Opium, making people feel good about being poor, and this helped to maintain the unequal social order.

Ideological control leads to false class consciousness

The end result of ideological control is false consciousness – where the masses, or proletariat are deluded into thinking that everything is fine and that the appalling in which they live and work are inevitable. This delusion is known as False Consciousness. In Marxist terms, the masses suffer from false class consciousness and fail to realise their common interest against their exploiters.

marxism: ideological control

Commodity Fetishism

A fetish is an object of desire, worship or obsessive concern. Capitalism is very good at producing ‘things’. In capitalist society people start to obsess about material objects and money, which is necessary to purchase these objects. Material objects and money are worshipped in capitalist societies. Some people even need material objects to construct identities – this is partly responsible for keeping most of us in ‘false consciousness’

Revolution and Communism 

As far as Marx was concerned, he had realised the truth – Capitalism was unjust but people just hadn’t realised it! He believed that political action was necessary to ‘wake up’ the proletariat and bring them to revolutionary class consciousness.

Eventually, following a revolution, private property would be abolished and with it the profit motive and the desire to exploit. In the communist society, people would be more equal, have greater freedom and be happier.

communism picture. People with fists in the air, cartoon.
Communism (Image Source).

Criticisms of Traditional Marxism 

  • Marx’s concept of social class has been criticised as being too simplistic. Today, there are clearly not just two social classes, but several; moreover, most people don’t identify with other members of their social class, so it is questionable how relevant the concept of social class is today.
  • Clearly Marx’s predictions about capitalism ending and the ‘inevitable success of communism’ have been proved wrong with the collapse of communism.
  • Capitalism has changed a lot since Marx’s day, and it appears to work for more people. Capitalism today is less exploitative, so maybe this explains why it still continues to this day?

Evidence that Marxism is still Relevant Today

Contemporary Marxist sociologists argue that Marxism is still relevant in many ways. For example:

In the Family

Parents want the perfect family and they compete with one another for the best house, car, holiday and the best dressed/most successful children etc. This is encouraged through advertising and TV programmes. Significant sums of money are spent in pursuit of the “perfect” family.

This benefits the bourgeoisie in two ways:

  • Parents work harder at work improving profits for their companies owners – the bourgeoisie.
  • Parents spend more of their salary on providing this lifestyle – this benefits the bourgeoisie as they can make more profits by selling goods and services to the parents. 

Furthermore, it makes parents feel “happy” about family life and society generally, even though they might work 12 hour days for an average salary, rarely seeing their family. Lastly, children grow up watching their parents behave in this manner and then replicate it as adults with their own families.

The Media

The mainstream media is controlled by few wealthy individuals who promote the ideas and beliefs that maintain the bourgeoisie’s wealthy position in society. This encourages people to accept beliefs which benefit capitalism and legitimise (justify) the exploitation of the proletariat (workers) as normal. The media justify exploitation and even make it into games shows.


Education Encourages people to accept hierarchy and to be obedient. This is good for capitalism as it creates students who will later become good workers. Also, schools emphasise high achievement and high flying jobs – implicitly this means highly paid jobs, better profits for company owners and more exploitation for the workers.

Schools also encourage the idea people get what they deserve in education, when in reality educational achievement is primarily a result of the chance circumstances of your birth i.e. who your parents are.

Signposting and Related Posts

This post has been written as an introduction to Marxism for A-level sociology students in their very first two weeks of study. I would deliver this as part of a two to three week-long module ‘introducing sociology‘.

Related posts for the first year of A-level sociology include:

The Marxist Perspective on the Family

The Marxist Perspective on Education

More advanced posts on Marxism:

The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society – for second year!

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Marxism: Find out More!

  1. Read Marx: A Beginner’s Guide by Andrew Collier
  2. Read Francis Wheen’s biography of Karl Marx.
  3. – a pretty useful overview of what Marx’s basic ideas and Marxism more generally.
  4. Marx quotes.

Videos introducing Karl Marx’s Ideas 

There are a lot of videos on YouTube on basic Marxism, but to my mind the two below are the most useful as introductions. Having said that, they both still contain A LOT of complex information, so don’t worry too much if you find you don’t understand everything in either or both videos!

Crash Course – Karl Marx and Conflict Theory 

This is probably better for a first year university student, but it’s still a reasonably easy introduction.

The School of Life – Karl Mark Political Thought 

This is a little heavier going than the video above, but maybe more accessible as the narrator speaks slower, and it also comes to the firm conclusion that Marxism is still relevant today!

Dependency Theory

Dependency Theorists argue that rich countries accumulated their wealth through exploiting poorer countries. Initially this was through colonialism and slavery, later on through neo-colonialism. To develop, poorer countries need to break free from these exploitative relations.

This post is a brief summary of the Dependency Theory view of Development and Underdevelopment. It is, broadly speaking, a Marxist theory of development.

Andre Gunder Frank (1971), one of the main theorists within ‘dependency theory’ argued that developing nations have failed to develop not because of ‘internal barriers to development’ as modernisation theorists argue, but because the developed West has systematically underdeveloped them, keeping them in a state of dependency (hence ‘dependency theory’).

Dependency Theory is one of the major theories within the Global Development module, typically taught in the second year of A-level sociology.

The World Capitalist System

Frank argued that a world capitalist system emerged in the 16th century which progressively locked Latin America, Asia and Africa into an unequal and exploitative relationship with the more powerful European nations.

This world Capitalist system is organised as an interlocking chain: at one end are the wealthy ‘metropolis’ or ‘core’ nations (European nations), and at the other are the undeveloped ‘satellite’ or ‘periphery’ nations. The core nations are able to exploit the peripheral nations because of their superior economic and military power.

From Frank’s dependency perspective, world history from 1500 to the 1960s is best understood as a process whereby wealthier European nations accumulated enormous wealth through extracting natural resources from the developing world, the profits of which paid for their industrialisation and economic and social development, while the developing countries were made destitute in the process.

Writing in the late 1960s, Frank argued that the developed nations had a vested interest in keeping poor countries  in a state of underdevelopment so they could continue to benefit from their economic weakness – desperate countries are prepared to sell raw materials for a cheaper price, and the workers will work for less than people in more economically powerful countries. According to Frank, developed nations actually fear the development of poorer countries because their development threatens the dominance and prosperity of the West.

Colonialism, Slavery and Dependency

Colonialism is a process through which a more powerful nation takes control of another territory, settles it, takes political control of that territory and exploits its resources for its own benefit. Under colonial rule, colonies are effectively seen as part of the mother country and are not viewed as independent entities in their own right. Colonialism is fundamentally tied up with the process of ‘Empire building’ or ‘Imperialism’.

According to Frank the main period of colonial expansion was from 1650 to 1900 when European powers, with Britain to the fore, used their superior naval and military technology to conquer and colonise most of the rest of the world.

Map showing British colonies around 1800.

During this 250 year period the European ‘metropolis’ powers basically saw the rest of the world as a place from which to extract resources and thus wealth. In some regions extraction took the simple form of mining precious metals or resources – in the early days of colonialism, for example, the Portuguese and Spanish extracted huge volumes of gold and silver from colonies in South America, and later on, as the industrial revolution took off in Europe, Belgium profited hugely from extracting rubber (for car tyres) from its colony in DRC, and the United Kingdom profited from oil reserves in what is now Saudi Arabia.

In other parts of the world (where there were no raw materials to be mined), the European colonial powers established plantations on their colonies, with each colony producing different agricultural products for export back to the ‘mother land’. As colonialism evolved, different colonies came to specialise in the production of different raw materials (dependent on climate) – Bananas and Sugar Cane from the Caribbean, Cocoa (and of course slaves) from West Africa, Coffee from East Africa, Tea from India, and spices such as Nutmeg from Indonesia.

drawing of colonial exploitation mining gold.

All of this resulted in huge social changes in the colonial regions: in order to set up their plantations and extract resources the colonial powers had to establish local systems of government in order to organise labour and keep social order – sometimes brute force was used to do this, but a more efficient tactic was to employ willing natives to run local government on behalf of the colonial powers, rewarding them with money and status for keeping the peace and the resources flowing out of the colonial territory and back to the mother country.

Dependency Theorists argue that such policies enhanced divisions between ethnic groups and sowed the seeds of ethnic conflict in years to come, following independence from colonial rule. In Rwanda for example, the Belgians made the minority Tutsis into the ruling elite, giving them power over the majority Hutus. Before colonial rule there was very little tension between these two groups, but tensions progressively increased once the Belgians defined the Tutsis as politically superior. Following independence it was this ethnic division which went on to fuel the Rwandan Genocide of the 1990s.

An unequal and dependent relationship

What is often forgotten in world history is the fact that before colonialism started, there were a number of well-functioning political and economic systems around the globe, most of them based on small-scale subsistence farming. 400 years of colonialism brought all that to end.

Colonialism destroyed local economies which were self-sufficient and independent and replaced them with plantation mono-crop economies which were geared up to export one product to the mother country. This meant that whole populations had effectively gone from growing their own food and producing their own goods, to earning wages from growing and harvesting sugar, tea, or coffee for export back to Europe.

As a result of this some colonies actually became dependent on their colonial masters for food imports, which of course resulted in even more profit for the colonial powers as this food had to be purchased with the scant wages earnt by the colonies.

The wealth which flowed from Latin America, Asia and Africa into the European countries provided the funds to kick start the industrial revolution, which enabled European countries to start producing higher value, manufactured goods for export which further accelerated the wealth generating capacity of the colonial powers, and lead to increasing inequality between Europe and the rest of the world.

The products manufactured through industrialisation eventually made their way into the markets of developing countries, which further undermined local economies, as well as the capacity for these countries to develop on their own terms. A good example of this is in India in the 1930s-40s where cheap imports of textiles manufactured in Britain undermined local hand-weaving industries. It was precisely this process that Ghandi resisted as the leading figure of the Indian Independence movement.

historic drawing of slavery in colonies
Colonialism: An Unequal and Dependent Relationship!


By the 1960s most colonies had achieved their independence, but European nations continued to see developing countries as sources of cheap raw materials and labour and, according to Dependency Theory,  they had no interest in developing them because they continued to benefit from their poverty.

Exploitation continued via neo-colonialism – which describes a situation where European powers no longer have direct political control over countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, but they continue to exploit them economically in more subtle ways.

Three main types of neo-colonialism:

Frank identified three main types:

Firstly, the terms of trade continue to benefit Western interests. Following colonialism, many of the ex-colonies were dependent for their export earnings on primary products, mostly agricultural cash crops such as Coffee or Tea which have very little value in themselves – It is the processing of those raw materials which adds value to them, and the processing takes place mainly in the West

Second, Frank highlights the increasing dominance of Transnational Corporations in exploiting labour and resources in poor countries – because these companies are globally mobile, they are able to make poor countries compete in a ‘race to the bottom’ in which they offer lower and lower wages to attract the company, which does not promote development.

Finally, Frank argues that Western aid money is another means whereby rich countries continue to exploit poor countries and keep them dependent on them – aid is, in fact, often in the term of loans, which come with conditions attached, such as requiring that poor countries open up their markets to Western corporations.

Dependency Theory: Strategies for Development 

Dependency is not just a phase, but rather a permanent position. The historical colonialists and now the neo-colonialists continually try to keep poor countries poor so they can continue to extract their resources and benefit from their cheap labour, thus keeping themselves wealthy on the back of exploitation.

It thus follows that the only way developing countries can escape dependency is to break away from their historical oppressors.

There are different paths to development with differing emphasis on the extent to which developing countries need to become independent of their historical colonial masters, their neo-colonial ‘partners’ or from the entire global capitalist system itself!

  • Isolation, as in the example of China from about 1960 to 2000, which is now successfully emerging as a global economic superpower having isolated itself from the West for the past 4 decades.
  • A second solution is to break away at a time when the metropolis country is weak, as India did in Britain in the 1950s, following world war 2. India is now a rising economic power.
  • Thirdly, there is socialist revolution as in the case of Cuba. This, however, resulted in sanctions being applies by America which limited trade with the country, holding its development back.
  • Many leaders in African countries adopted dependency theory, arguing that and developing political movements that aimed to liberate Africa from western exploitation, stressing nationalism rather than neo-colonialism.
  • Associate or dependent development – here, one can be part of the system, and adopt national economic policies to being about economic growth such as
  • Import substitution industrialisation where industrialisation produces consumer goods that would normally be imported from abroad, as successfully adopted by many South American countries. The biggest failure of this, however, was that it did not address inequalities within the countries. ISI was controlled by elites, and these policies lead to economic growth while increasing inequality.

Criticisms of Dependency Theory

Some countries appear to have benefited from Colonialism – Goldethorpe (1975) pointed out that those countries that had been colonised at least have the benefits of good transport and communication networks, such as India, whereas many countries that were never colonised, such as Ethiopia, are much less developed.

Colonialism did not prevent India from developing

Modernisation theorists would argue against the view that Isolation and communist revolution is an effective path to development, given the well-known failings of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. They would also point out that many developing countries have benefitted from Aid-for Development programmes run by western governments, and that those countries which have adopted Capitalist models of development since World War Two have developed at a faster rate than those that pursued communism.

Neoliberalists would argue that it is mainly internal factors that lead to underdevelopment, not exploitation – They argue that it is corruption within governments (poor governance) that is mainly to blame for the lack of development in many African countries. According to Neoliberals what Africa needs is less isolation and more Capitalism.

Paul Collier’s theory of the bottom billion. He argues that the causes of underdevelopment cannot be reduced to a history of exploitation. He argues that factors such as civil wars, ethnic tensions and being land-locked with poor neighbours are correlated with underdevelopment.

Signposting/ Related Posts 

Evaluate explanations of development and underdevelopment put forward by dependency theorists – essay plan

World Systems Theory – kind of an updated version of dependency theory which is focussed more on the global system rather than country-country relationships.

The New Rulers of the World – summary of the documentary by John Pilger, which seems to be a pretty unambiguous dependency theory perspective on the role of the World Bank, the IMF, and Transnational Corporations in globalisation. The video focuses especially on their role in underdevelopment in Indonesia.

Sources/ Find out More

This Wikipedia article on Andre Gunder Frank provides a brief summary of his theory and links to his main publications.

Please click here to return to the homepage –

The Marxist Perspective on Education

According to Traditional Marxists, school teaches children to passively obey authority and it reproduces and legitimates class inequality.

Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. According to the Marxist perspective on education, the system performs three functions for these elites:

  • It reproduces class inequality – middle class children are more likely to succeed in school and go onto middle class jobs than working class children.
  • It legitimates class inequality – through the ‘myth of meritocracy’.
  • It works in the interests of capitalist employers – by socialising children to accept authority, hierarchy and wage-labour.
Marxist theory of education - mind map

The main source for the ideas below is Bowles and Ginits (1976): Schooling in Capitalist America. These are the two main sociologists associated with Traditional Marxist perspective on education.

The reproduction of class inequality

This means that class inequalities are carried from one generation to the next.

Middle class parents use their material and cultural capital to ensure their children get into the best schools and the top sets. This means that the wealthier pupils tend to get the best education and then go onto to get middle class jobs. Meanwhile working class children are more likely to get a poorer standard of education and end up in working class jobs. In this way class inequality is reproduced

The Legitimation of class inequality

Marxists argue that in reality money determines how good an education you get, but people do not realise this because schools spread the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – in school we learn that we all have an equal chance to succeed and that our grades depend on our effort and ability. Thus if we fail, we believe it is our own fault. This legitimates or justifies the system because we think it is fair when in reality it is not.

This has the effect of controlling the working classes – if children grow up believing they have had a fair chance then they are less likely to rebel and try to change society as part of a Marxist revolutionary movement.

If you’d like to find out more about the above two concepts please see this post on ‘the illusion of educational equality‘ in which I go into more depth about educational realities and myths, as theorised by Bowles and Gintis.

Teaching the skills future capitalist employers need

Bowles and Gintis suggested that there was a correspondence between values learnt at school and the way in which the workplace operates. The values, they suggested, are taught through the ‘Hidden Curriculum’. The Hidden Curriculum consists of those things that pupils learn through the experience of attending school rather than the main curriculum subjects taught at the school. So pupils learn those values that are necessary for them to tow the line in menial manual jobs, as outlined below.


  • Passive subservience  of pupils to teachers corresponds to Passive subservience of workers to managers
  • Acceptance of hierarchy (authority of teachers)  corresponds to Authority of managers
  • Motivation by external rewards (grades not learning)  corresponds to being Motivated by wages not the joy of the job

If you want a more in-depth post on this 1976 Marxist Theory you might like to read this post: Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Principle.

Evaluations of the Traditional Marxist Perspective on Education

Positive evaluations

  • There is an overwhelming wealth of evidence that schools do reproduce class inequality because the middle classes do much better in education because the working classes are more likely to suffer from material and cultural deprivation. Meanwhile, the middle classes have more material capital, more cultural capital (Reay) and because the 1988 Education Act benefited them (Ball Bowe and Gewirtz).
  • The existence of private schools is strong supporting evidence for Marxism – the wealthiest 7% of families in the United Kingdom are able to buy their children a better education which in turn gives them a better chance of getting into the top universities.
  • There is strong evidence for the reproduction of class inequality if we look at elite jobs, such as Medicine, the law and journalism. A Disproportionately high number of people in these professions were privately educated.

Negative evaluations

  • Henry Giroux, says the theory is too deterministic. He argues that working class pupils are not entirely molded by the capitalist system, and do not accept everything that they are taught – Paul Willis’ study of the ‘Lads’ also suggests this.
  • There is less evidence that pupils think school is fair – Paul Willis’ Lads new the system was biased towards the middle classes for example, and many young people in deprived areas are very aware that they are getting a poor quality of education compared to those in private schools.
  • Education can actually harm the Bourgeois – many left wing, Marxist activists are university educated for example.
  • The correspondence principle may not be as applicable in today’s complex labour market where employers increasingly require workers to be able to think rather than to just be passive robots.

Neo- Marxism: Paul Willis: – Learning to Labour (1977)

Willis’ research involved visiting one school and observing and interviewing 12 working class rebellious boys about their attitude to school during their last 18 months at school and during their first few months at work.

Willis argues pupils rebelling are evidence that not all pupils are brainwashed into being passive, subordinate people as a result of the hidden curriculum.

Willis therefore criticises Traditional Marxism.   He says that pupils are not directly injected with the values and norms that benefit the ruling class, some actively reject these. These pupils also realise that they have no real opportunity to succeed in this system.

BUT, Willis still believes that this counter-school culture still produces workers who are easily exploited by their future employers:

The Counter School Culture

Willis described the friendship between these 12 boys (or the lads) as a counter-school culture. Their value system was opposed to that of the school. This value system was characterised as follows:

1. The lads felt superior to the teachers and other pupils
2. They attached no value to academic work, more to ‘having a laff’
3. The objective of school was to miss as many lessons as possible, the reward for this was status within the group
4. The time they were at school was spent trying to win control over their time and make it their own.

Attitudes to future work

  • They looked forward to paid manual work after leaving school and identified all non-school activities (smoking, going out) with this adult world, and valued such activities far more than school work.
  • The lads believed that manual work was proper work, and the type of jobs that hard working pupils would get were all the same and generally pointless.
  • Their counter school culture was also strongly sexist.

Evaluations of Willis

  • On a positive note this study does recognise the fact that working class lads are not simply passive victims of a ‘middle class’ education system – they play an active role in resisting that system.
  • The study lacks representativeness – Willis conducted his research with a sample of only 12 working class white boys in just one secondary school, and most of the research was built on interviews with just 6 of these boys.
  • Willis has been criticised for being overly sympathetic with the boys – at one point when he was with them on a coach going on a school trip and they were vandalising the bus he just let them do it, he could be accused of going native!
  • This study is now over 50 years old and so one has to question whether it is still relevant – the education system, experience of education and working classes are so much different today compared to the mid 1970s!

For a more in depth summary of Paul Willis, please see this post which focuses more on the research methods.

Contemporary research applied to Marxism

A range of contemporary research evidence offers broad support for the view that education continues to reproduce social class inequalities, or at the very least fails to prevent it by improving social mobility in England and Wales.

The disadvantage gap

According to some quantitative research by the Institute for Education and the Nuffield Foundation (2022) there is a persistent- disadvantage gap among pupils by GCSES.

In 2018/19 only 41% of pupils eligible for free school meals achieved at least grade 4 or C in English. and maths compared to 69% of pupils from wealthier backgrounds who are not eligible for free school meals.

This means there is an education attainment gap of around 28% at GCSEs when we compare the poorest students with the rest.

While the results of all students have improved significantly since 2007/08 this disadvantage gap has remained almost level.

The disadvantage gap continues post-16

According to some research conducted in 2021 by the Education Policy Institute there is also significant disadvantage gap in post-16 education.

Disadvantaged students achieved on average 3 grades less across their best three subjects at A-level or BTEC compared to non-disadvantaged students, with disadvantaged students being defined as those who had been eligible for free school meals during at least one of their previous six years at school.

The study also found that disadvantaged students were more less likely to take the more prestigious A-levels and more likely to take BTECs, the later being correlated with lower wages compared to A-levels later on in work, suggesting that the education system reproduces class inequality overall.

Lockdowns harmed poor kids more than rich kids

According to The Sutton Trust’s October 2022 briefing on Education Recovery and Catch Up students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are much less confident than students from higher socio-economic backgrounds that they have caught up with lost learning caused by the Tory government’s chosen policy of locking down schools during the pandemic.

Further research by the Sutton Trust also reveals that the Pandemic and the chosen government response to the Pandemic had a differential effect on the career aspirations of young people.

Children from Independent schools were less likely to change their career aspirations due to covid compared to children from state grammar or independent schools.

This triangulates with the findings when we compare changing aspirations with household deprivation. Children from the most deprived areas were more likely to change their career aspirations because of Covid than those from the least deprived areas:

Although you could interpret the evidence above as criticising the Marxist perspective on education:

When schools close, the confidence and aspirations of poor kids decline more than for rich kids, which you might interpret as evidence that when schools are open they have a relatively positive impact on the social mobility of poor kids.

HOWEVER, given the pre-pandemic research above, it’s clear that schools and colleges over all have done very little indeed to improve social mobility in England and Wales between 2007/08 and 2019, the year before lockdowns, and lockdowns were still a government policy which harmed poor kids more than rich kids.

Exposure to elite peers helps rich kids more than poor kids

Moving away from the UK, A 2022 study from Norway found that exposure to elite peers from elite educated families increases the probability of a student themselves enrolling for elite education. 

The study found that if students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are exposed to elite peers, they are more likely to enrol in elite graduate programmes, but the same is true if students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are exposed to elite peers. 

And the ‘enrolment to elite universities effect’ is twice as much for rich students compared to poor students. 

This means that elite-peers do more to reinforce the reproduction of class inequality than to encourage social mobility.

Other Related Posts on the Marxist Perspective on Education

Other related posts on other aspects of Marxism and related perspectives on Education

Sources/ Find out More

  • Bowles and Gintis (1976) Schooling in Capitalist America
  • Paul Willis (1977) Learning to Labour

Essay Plans/ Revision Resources

Education Revision Bundle Cover

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

The Role of Transnational Corporations in Development

A few criticisms of  the role of Transnational Corporations in International Development 

Criticisms of Coca ColaTransnational Corporations are one of the primary agents of Global Capitalism and many have been criticised because of the social and environmental harms they cause in the pursuit of profit. In this blog I outline some case studies of Corporations exploiting workers.

My main inspiration for writing this blog is ‘The Corporation’ (1) (2). However, although this blog does draw on this excellent resource, it also provides more contemporary examples of corporate harm than this 2004 documentary.

Examples of Corporations exploiting workers

Probably the best known criticism to be levelled at well known Corporations such as Nike, Addidas and Primark is that they profit from ‘sweatshop labour’ – with the workers who manufacture their products working extremely long hours in poor conditions and for extremely low wages.

In chapter 5 of The Corporation, one researcher calculates that workers at one of Nike’s factories in Indonesia were earning 0.3% of the final selling price of the products they were making. Now, I know there are middle men, but in classic Marxist terms, this is surely the extraction of surplus value taken to the extreme! The anti- sweat shop campaigns are years old now, but still ongoing –

Of course sweat shop labour is not limited to the clothing industry – the BBC3 series ‘Blood Sweat and T shirts/ Takeaways/ Luxuries’, (3) in which young Brits travel to developing countries to work alongside people in a wide range of jobs, clearly demonstrates how workers in many stages of the productive process, including rice sowing, prawn farming, gold mining, and coffee packing, suffer poor pay and conditions. Many of the goods focussed on in this series end up being bought and the sold in the West by Transnational Corporations for a huge mark up, and it is extremely interesting to see the Brits abroad struggling with the injustice of this.

Apple SweatshopsThe Daily Mail recently conducted some undercover journalism in a Chinese factory that makes the i-pad – where the report they ‘encountered a strange, disturbing world where new recruits are drilled along military lines, ordered to stand for the company song and kept in barracks like battery hens – all for little more than £20 a week.’ Apparently workers have to endure shifts up to 34 hour s long, and the factory has been dubbed the ‘i nightmare factory’ (4)

Even worse conditions are to be found at some of Coke’s bottling factories in Columbia according to the killer coke campaign. Campaigners have documented a ‘gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings and torture of union leaders involved in a daily life and death struggle’ at these plants. The bosses at some of Coke’s factories in Columbia have contacts with right wing paramilitary forces, and use violence and intimidation to force unionised labour out of work, and then hire non unionised labour on worse contracts for half the pay. There have been more than 100 recorded disappearances of unionised labour at Coke’s factories. (5) (6)

Now the Coca Cola Corporation is obviously not directly to blame for this, as Columbia is one of the more violent countries on the planet, and this culture of violence and intimidation is widespread. The company is, however, responsible for making the conscious decision to choose to invest in a region well known for such practices, and failing to either pull out or protect its workers.

See for more details of Corporate Complicity in sweat shop labour and Union Busting (7)

(1) – All the chapters of the Corporation on youtube – although you should really show your support by purchasing this documentary!

(2) – The web site of The Corporation.

(3) – The BBC web site for the recent ‘Blood, Sweat and luxuries programme which has an interest blog of comments and a ‘what can you do to help’ link.


(5) – a link to the main campaign leaflet of the ‘killer coke’ campaign.

(6) – featuring a video of the song ‘Coke is the drink of the Despots’ – sing along if you like!

(7) – A link to the most recent nosweat leaflet which has some nice ‘sweatshop sums’ peppered throughout which provide facts such as ‘Children as young as 10 were found working in a shop for Primark – Primark made sales of 1.1 billion in the sixth months to March 2009.’

The Golden Arches Theory of Decline – This 2016 post by George Monbiot argues that Transnational Corporations such as Mcdonalds are undermining democracy and that a global system which concentrates power in the hands of a relatively few TNCs is not compatible with the democratic will of the people of Nation States – hence why Trump won in the USA – he’s one of the few political candidates to have promised to limit the power of TNCs.

The reproduction of class inequality in education

This video explores the role of social and cultural in the process of the reproduction of class inequality.!/revisesociology/dpf4yejg

This video shows a hypothetical dialogue in which two middle class parents discuss how they might translate their material and cultural capital into educational advantage for their offspring, thereby reproducing class inequality.

material capital is basically money and resources,

cultural capital refers to the store of skills and knowledges middle class parents might have which give their children an advantage in life over working class children.

The reproduction of class inequality through education may be defined as the process whereby middle class children succeed in education and go on to get well-paid middle class jobs, and vice versa for working class children. As a result class inequality is carried on across the generations.

This was one of the first educational videos I ever uploaded to YouTube, but since the company decided to demonetize my account I am deleting everything from YouTube and bringing it to Dtube – a decetralised, blockchain based social media platform – get on the chain, I say!



Related Posts

Cultural Capital and Education – Extended Version


The Marxist Perspective on The Family

Engels believed the nuclear family emerged with capitalism and private property, contemporary Marxists argue the family performs ideological functions.

Marxists argue that the nuclear family performs ideological functions for Capitalism – the family acts as a unit of consumption and teaches passive acceptance of hierarchy. It is also the institution through which the wealthy pass down their private property to their children, thus reproducing class inequality.

The Marxist Perspective on the Family an Overview:

  • We start with an overview of the Marxist perspective in general
  • Engel’s theory of the emergence of the nuclear family
  • The family as an ideological apparatus
  • The family as a unit of consumption
  • Criticisms of the Marxist view of the family.

This post has been written primarily for students studying the families and household option as part of A-level sociology.

Marxist perspective family mind map

Before reading this post, you might like to look at this summary of the key ideas of Marxism.

Overview of the Marxist Perspective

Marxism is a ‘structural conflict’ perspective. They see society as structured along class lines with institutions generally working in the interests of the small elite class who have economic power (the ‘Bourgeoisie’) and the much larger working class (the ‘Proletariat’). The Bourgeoise gain their wealth from exploiting the proletariat. There is thus a conflict of interests between the Bourgeoise and the Proletariat.

However, this conflict of interests rarely boils over into revolution because institutions such as the family perform the function of ‘ideological control’, or convincing the masses that the present unequal system is inevitable, natural and good.

Something else Marxists suggest about the family (like the Functional Fit theory) is that the family type generally changes with society – more specifically, the nuclear family emerges not because of the needs of industrialisation, but because of the needs of the capitalist system.

Engels – The Emergence of the Nuclear Family

According to Engels, the monogamous nuclear family only emerged with Capitalism. Before Capitalism, traditional, tribal societies were classless and they practised a form of ‘primitive communism’ in which there was no private property. In such societies, property was collectively owned, and the family structure reflected this – there were no families as such, but tribal groups existed in a kind of ‘promiscuous horde’ in which there were no restrictions on sexual relationships.

Marxist perspective nuclear family
Hunter-gatherer societies – promiscuous hordes?

However, with the emergence of Capitalism in the 18th Century, society and the family changed. Capitalism is based on a system of private ownership – The bourgeois use their own personal wealth to personally invest in businesses in order to make a profit, they don’t invest for the benefit of everyone else.

Marxism Family

Eventually the Bourgeois started to look for ways to pass on their wealth to the next generation, rather than having it shared out amongst the masses, and this is where the monogamous nuclear family comes from. It is the best way of guaranteeing that you are passing on your property to your son, because in a monogamous relationship you have a clear idea of who your own children are.

Ultimately what this arrangement does is to reproduce inequality – The children of the rich grow up into wealth, while the children of the poor remain poor. Thus the nuclear family benefits the Bourgeois more than the proletariat.

Criticisms of Engels

Gender inequality clearly preceded Capitalism….. The vast majority of tribes in Africa and Asia are patriarchal, with women being barred from owning property, having no political power, and having to do most of the child care and hard physical labour.

Wealthy Capitalist economies such as the UK and USA have seen the fastest improvements in gender equality over the last 100 years. Capitalism, increasing wealth and gender equality within a nation seem to be correlated.

The family as an Ideological Apparatus

The modern nuclear family functions to promote values that ensure the reproduction and maintenance of capitalism. The family is described as an ideological apparatus – this means it socialises people to think in a way that justifies inequality and encourages people to accept the capitalist system as fair, natural and unchangeable.

One way in which this happens is that there is a hierarchy in most families which teaches children to accept there will always be someone in “authority” who they must obey, which then mirrors the hierarchy of boss-worker in paid employment in later life.

The modern nuclear family – a hierarchical structure which supports capitalism?

The Family as a Unit of Consumption

Capitalists/business owners want to keep workers’ wages down so they can make a profit, but to do so they must also be able to sell the workers goods i.e. they must create demand for their products. The family builds demand for goods in a number of ways

1) Families must keep up with the material goods/services acquired by their neighbours and peers e.g. family holidays, cars – this is known “Keeping up with the Joneses”. There are significant amounts of advertising and TV programmes influencing parents in this way.

2) The media and companies target children in their advertising who then persuade their parents through pester power to buy more expensive items. This is particularly bad in the UK where there few legal restrictions on adverts aimed at children; in Sweden advertising aimed at children under 12 is illegal.

Are nuclear families just a ‘unit of consumption’ which keeps capitalism going?

Overall Criticisms of Marxism

  • It’s too deterministic – it assumes people passively accept socialisation and family life, and that the future is pre-determined. There are plenty of families who reject the consumerist lifestyle and many families bring their children up to be independent thinkers.
  • The Marxist perspective ignores family diversity in capitalist society, the nuclear family is no longer the main type of family. In fact, family breakdown may be better for Capitalism – as divorce is expensive and more money has to be spent on maintaining family relationships and later on forming new families.
  • Feminists argue that the Marxist focus on social class inequalities downplays the role of patriarchy, which is the real source of female oppression. Feminists would point out that sex inequalities exist within all families, irrespective of social class background.
  • Marxism ignores the benefits of nuclear family e.g. both parents support the children. The New Right point out that this is the most functional type of environment in which to raise children, and the nuclear family is found in most societies around the world, suggesting it is something people choose.

A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle

Families Revision Bundle Cover

The bundle contains the following:

  1. 50 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within families and households
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering perspectives on the family
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – 3 examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ question.
  4.  9 essays/ essay plans spanning all the topics within the families and households topic.
Signposting and Related Posts 

The Marxist perspective on the family is normally taught after the Functionalist perspective on the Family, and is normally the second of five perspectives on the family within the families and households module in A-level sociology.

Essay plan on the Marxist perspective on the family

Marxist Feminist Perspectives on the Family

Feminist Perspectives on the Family

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