Marxist School

South_Aisan_University Summer School on Marxism 

Social theory is an intrinsic part of courses that are run as part of different streams of social sciences. And social theory as the existence of a varied school of thoughts indicates has been a contested terrain. While there are works of scholars pointing in general about the relationship between knowledge production and the politics of state (Apple, 2003), there are specific arguments in context of social theory that talk of theory as a contested field. May and Powell, for instance argues, how “theories often mirror the norms and values of their creators and their social times, reflecting culturally dominant views of what should be the appropriate way to analyse social phenomena” (2008, p.2).Image from Summer School on Marxism 2015

The idea of theory as connected with social reality and therefore grounded deep into it also emerges from an analysis of emergence of different schools of thought at distinct historical conjunctures. An indication towards this can be found in how Parsonian framework insisting on equilibrium, balance and harmony or Daniel Bells idea that property relations were no longer the determinants of inequality because there were other sources of power, and power became an important factor determining inequality emerges in post-World War II situation when capitalism was ascendant in terms of growth and a counter narrative to the Left was being forged (Kumar, 2012).

Social theorists have tried to explain how theories are not unrelated to the social realities. For instance, when Horkheimer argues that theory is experiential he is essentially saying that theory is a reflection of the reality. “Theory is stored-up knowledge, put in a form that makes it useful for the closest possible description of facts” (2002, p.188). There should not be any dissonance between the lived reality and the theory. He writes: “If experience and theory contradict each other, one of the two must be reexamined” (2002, p.188).

Alexander does not take it exactly in the same direction but does indicate the conjuncturality of history and social theory (Alexander, 1995). For him “Social theory must be considered not only as a research program but as a generalized discourse, one very important part of which is ideology” and the “intellectuals must interpret the world, not simply change or even explain it” and they must not loose the element of historicity. He goes on to say “it is as a meaning structure, as a form of existential truth, that social scientific theory functions effectively in an extra-scientific way” (ibid, p.13).

Gradually, in the history of 20th century social theory one confronts voices of dissent and reinterpretation emerging within many schools of thought and different theoretical frameworks emerging as a consequence of opposition and reaction to the existing body of knowledge. One may count the emergence of subaltern school of thought to feminism; leave aside post-modernism, critical realism and others in this long lineage.

Given the turmoil and ferment of social theory as a general field of study it has been observed that Marxian Social and Economic Theory continues to remain an area of enquiry central to social science disciplines, whether sociology, political science, history or economics. This is taught across disciplines and has been one strand of theory, which has remained alive and vibrant unlike many other strands. This is also a theoretical project which allows possibilities of imagining alternatives and has provided space to debate those possibilities within its own field unlike many other rigid and deterministic theoretical projects. In a situation where students and researchers have been dealing with this social and economic theory it appears relevant to conduct short duration courses dealing with it. Methodologically, the course demands an interdisciplinary approach because of the above mentioned reasons.

The course organized by the Department of Sociology, South Asian University and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in the summer of 2014 and 2015 covered the following aspects:

  • The Method of Political Economy
  • The Transition and Mode of Production Debates
  • Forms of Value, Money and Commodity Fetishism
  • What is Capitalism; Generalised Commodity Production; Capital Relation; Wage Labour
  • Primitive Accumulation: Concept and Debates
  • ‘Land’ in Marxian Theory
  • Cultural Question in Marxism
  • Theorising the Capitalist State
  • Marxist Theories of Crisis
  • History of Crisis and the Latest Crisis
  • Marxist Historiography in India
  • Capitalism in India
  • The Agrarian Question in India
  • Understanding Caste
  • Marxism and the Caste Question
  • Gender question and Marxism
  • Marxism and the Third World Women
  • Social Movements, Class Struggle and Capitalist Crises

There has been a huge response to the initiative and one is expected to take it forward once the resources are mobilized for the same.



Alexander, Jeffrey C. (1995) Fin de Siècle Social Theory: Relativism, Reduction, and the Problem of Reason, Verso: London

Apple, Michel W. et. al., (2003) The State and the Politics of Knowledge, Routledge Falmer: New York and London

Horkheimer, Max (2002) Critical Theory: Selected Essays, Continuum: New York

Kumar, Ravi (2012) Education and the Reproduction of Capital: Neoliberal Knowledge and Counterstrategies, Palgrave Macmillam: New York

May, Tim and Powell, Jason L. (2008, second edition) Situating Social Theory, Open University Press: Berkshire