Marx’s Influence on Community Development

1 January 2017

This essay explores Marx’s influence on community development, within the parameters of social justice. I felt it was necessary to narrow down the focus of this topic as Marx has been translated, philosophized, reiterated, rewritten and rethought by a plethora of philosophers, sociologists, economists etc. I am also concentrating on Marx’s written ideas with regard to Western civilization. This essay does not enter into debate or description of contemporary Marxist or neo-Marxists approaches.

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Also, included in the discussion is conflict theory within which Marx’s ideas are formulated. Five of Marx’s major contributions to sociology and economics are described to inform the essay. These entail alienation, economic life and other social institutions, social classes, conflict as a theory of social change and capitalism. The general concepts of Marx’s theories are analyzed in relation to community development, its definition and the notion of social justice. Community Development – definition and theory

Bell and Newby (cited in Popple & Quinney 2002) found 98 definitions of the term community alone by 1971. There have been many well-documented sociological debates over the concept of community as well (Popple and Quinney 2002). For the purpose of this essay it is important to present a working definition of community development that is ‘both distinctive and universal and can be applied to all types of societies from the post-industrial to the pre-industrial’ (Hustedde & Ganowics 2002) as the topic is both historical and contemporary.

I agree with Hustedde and Ganowics (2002) in that the definition of community development given by Bhattacharyya is one that encompasses such criteria. Bhattacharrya’s (2004) simple definition is the process of promoting solidarity and agency. Solidarity is understood as ‘shared identity and norms’ (Bhattacharyya 2004, p. 12). Agency is defined as the ‘capacity to create, reproduce, change, and live according to’ one’s own ‘meaning system, to have the powers to define themselves as opposed to being defined by others (de Certeau cited in Bhattacharyya 2004, p. 2).

Community development to date has not been linked to or developed into one descriptive and or cohesive theory since it draws on a variety of disciplines such as sociology, psychology, economics and political science (Kenny 1996; Tesoriero 2010). In examining various theories it can help us to understand people’s behaviour, develop a framework in order to better comprehend events and develop tools and methods for more efficient practice.

The United Nations has targeted various ways in which disadvantaged individuals may be able to participate in the self-promotion of social justice such as organizational, informational, developmental, constitutional, legal and political (Craig 2002). However, Craig and Mayo (cited in Craig 2002) state ‘my own additional emphasis would be on the role of community development as the means by which the excluded and the marginalized can act on their own behalves in this search’ (Craig 2002, p. 671). Marxism, which has its roots in conflict theory, (Giddens 1993a; Ritzner & Goldman 2004) is linked to the basic issues of social justice.

During the mid nineteenth century, Marx saw the issues of social conflict between two fundamental classes, the working class proletariat and the capitalists of which the latter had power over the other translating into oppression and exploitation (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner 2000; Van Krieken et al. 2000). It is from the standpoint of conflict theory that Marxists and neo-Marxists have examined the position of power in the capitalist system, which rests in the minority hands of those with economic control (Van Krieken et al. 2000).

Craig (cited in Craig 2002, p. 70) said of the present day market that it is ‘the fundamental cause of much injustice, both social and economic’. Marx’s concept of conflict has influenced today’s community development practice offering theories on which to analyze and study social injustices Today, the same issues of oppression and inequality though different in historical context are the major challenges for community development in that it strives to manage and transform the conflictive issues of social relations, power struggles and oppressive elements within a society (Kenny 1996).

These issues are antithetical to the goals and aims of community development and it is by studying and applying Marx’s theories to situations in the world and the community that change and social justice can hopefully be attained. Marx and capitalism Marx contributed five major concepts to sociology: alienation, economic life and other social institutions, social classes, conflict as a theory of social change and capitalism (Abercrombie, Turner & Hill (2000).

All of these concepts are pertinent to community development as they involve members’ participation, which are evident in work, society, class, social change and capitalist society. These concepts are also embedded in the community structure in one manner or another. Marx’s early writings represent his philosophy on what it is to be human and fulfilled (Kenny 1996 p. 82). He believed that people fulfill themselves or become fully human in the way that they are productive in the material world (Kenny 1996).

Marx saw labour as ‘man’s self-confirming essence’ and the ‘primary most vital human activity’ (Swingewood 2002, p. 31). However, with the inception of capitalism Marx believed that man’s labour had been transformed into an alienated object outside of himself resulting in dehumanization or alienation (Swingewood 2000). Marx also acknowledged that alienation could exist on a personal level with respect to individuals’ feelings in addition to the alienation brought about by social and economic systems of capitalism (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner 2000).

It is the latter to which Marx is most often referred. Alienation can be seen as counter productive in relation to the concept of agency, an essential element in community development. Marx is most frequently alluded to as an economic determinist since he identified the central features of social activity to be the results of economic structures (Abercrombie, Turner & Hill 2000; Ritzer & Goldman 2004). In Marx’s perspective the capitalists of the dominant wealthy upper class were able to become more cohesive in their ties and communications than the subordinate working class (Ritzer & Goldman 2004).

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