This paper attempts to explain why some individuals accept class subordination in their societies. Class subordination is a product of social and economic injustices of the past which led to inequalities (Abrahams, 2006). In this context, the underprivileged members of the society were considered to belong to an inferior class. For example, the black Americans have always been considered a low class society due to their race.
The persistence of class subordination in society can be explained by three theories namely, truth and power, the culture industry and the German ideology. The paper will begin by summarizing the main concepts of these three theories. The theories will then be evaluated in terms of their abilities to explain causal relationships, and their internal and external validities. They will then be used to explain the persistence of class subordination.
Truth and Power: Michael Foucault
Foucault explained how power distributes itself under various systems of authority. He also explained how the influence of power on truth is facilitated by discourses which can either be true or false. Foucault asserts that truth is the result of power relations as well as the systems which it follows (Calhoun, 2007). Thus, truth changes as the systems that it follows change. Since the socio-political systems are made up of many individuals, power is shared among members of the society.
The society uses its knowledge to create discourses which represent power and truth. Thus, truth is determined by both power and knowledge (Calhoun, 2007). According to Foucault, there is equal distribution of power in society. Power and knowledge operates through language. Consequently, power exists in all parts of the society and is always changing.
The Culture Industry: Horkheimer and Adorno
Horkheimer and Adorno used the Marxist concept of alienation to explain the experience of consumers in the modern or capitalist society. By evaluating the aspects of popular culture such as music and media, they concluded that capitalism leads to loss of skills and culture (Calhoun, Classical Sociological Theory, 2007).
This creates a society whose members can not distinguish the real world from the deceptive world associated with the culture industry. The world operates under false consciousness which perpetuates the domination and oppression associated with capitalism. This situation is facilitated by the media which creates the propaganda that encourage people to accept their conditions.
The German Ideology: Marx and Engels
Marx and Engels explained the development of the feudal society and “how tensions between productive forces and the form of intercourse” (Calhoun, Classical Sociological Theory, 2007) created capitalism. The class conflicts, political tensions and false consciousness are the sources of revolutions in societies.
According to Marx and Engels, the relationships that exist in a capitalist society leads to the creation of the underprivileged class that bears all the burden of the society (Calhoun, Classical Sociological Theory, 2007). The rich exercise power over the poor, and thus, revolutions are directed against the ruling class (the rich). Therefore, the communist revolution is meant to eliminate inequality in wealth production and the rule of social classes. Additionally, it is only through revolutions that the underprivileged can achieve justice.
Key Concepts and Theoretical Strategy
Foucault’s theory of truth and power explains how the society uses its knowledge and power to create truth. Thus, this theory focuses on action. It illustrates how discourse is used to represent power, which in turn represents truth (Calhoun, Contemporary Sociological Theory, 2007). Foucault’s analysis focuses on the macro level. He asserts that power is possessed by the society as a whole. Thus, he does not consider the power held by individuals.
Horkheimer and Adorno’s theory of the culture industry describes how the popular culture has changed the society by creating false consciousness. Thus, their theory focuses on social structure. They adopted a macro level (society as a whole) analysis by illustrating how the popular culture, through the media, shapes people’s perceptions of their socio-economic conditions (Calhoun, Contemporary Sociological Theory, 2007).
Marx and Engel’s theory of German ideology explains the causes of tensions that exist between various social classes in society. They analyzed the socio-economic characteristics of each social class and how such characteristics led to tensions. Consequently, their analysis focused on social structure. In particular, they analyzed the class structure, means of production and distribution of wealth and power. Their level of analysis focuses on groups, various social classes.
The theory of truth and power explains the causal relationship between power and truth. As explained earlier, discourses are used to represent power which in turn represents truth to the society (Calhoun, Contemporary Sociological Theory, 2007). For instance, citizens exercise their power by electing their leaders.
The leader then exercises his or her power as a ruler and this power is accepted as legitimate. The acceptance of the power, thus, represents the constructed truth. Thus, the ruled tolerate class subordination since they believe in the truth embedded in the power exercised by the ruler.
The theory of culture industry illustrates the causal relationship between popular culture and false consciousness, domination and oppression. The popular culture creates false consciousness. The false consciousness perpetuates domination and oppression by pacifying the masses to accept their plight. In this context, it is false consciousness that causes acceptance of class subordination.
The theory of German ideology explains the causal relationships between social inequalities and tensions that are experienced in society (Calhoun, Classical Sociological Theory, 2007).
Revolutions and class conflicts are caused by inequality in the distribution of wealth and power; battle of ideas and false consciousness. According to the theory of German ideology, people (the oppressed) accept class subordination since they lack the means to overthrow the ruling or dominating class. Consequently, they resort to revolution as the only means to fight for their rights.
The conceptual qualities of the culture industry theory are concrete. In nearly all societies, we can verify that the popular culture has a great influence on how people perceive their social, cultural and economic conditions. The media is used by the ruling classes to justify their status.
The theory of truth and power is parsimonious since it can effectively predict behavior (Abrahams, 2006). For instance, the reaction of the society concerning a social phenomenon such as class subordination can be predicted through discourses that influence people’s perception of class structure.
The theory of German ideology is both generalizable and falsifiable. It is generalizable because in most societies, tensions or conflicts are caused by inequalities among social classes. However, the theory is falsifiable since social conflicts, in some cases, have always been resolved without revolutions.
The external validity of the theory of German ideology can be explained by empirical evidence. For example, lack of democracy and equitable distribution of resources led to class struggles in the Arab spring. Initially, the oppressed citizens had to accept class subordination since they lacked the means to fight for justice.
Eventually, they revolted against the ruling class and achieved justice. The theory of culture industry is also externally valid (Abrahams, 2006). For example, the emergence of popular culture and modern technology has changed the purpose and style of modern entertainment. Most Hollywood movies are produced through computer-based graphics rather than actual acting and this discourages individual creativity. Besides, Hollywood is a profit driven entity that seeks to outperform its competitors (live performers).
The external validity of theory of truth and power can be explained by modern system of governance. The citizens in democratic countries use the constitution (discourse) to justify the privileges enjoyed by the leaders and the public. Thus, the subordinated class (the ruled) accepts their status due to the legitimacy of the power exercised by the rulers.
According to the theory of truth and power, people tolerate class subordination since they believe in the truth represented by the power exercised by the dominating classes.
The theory assumes equal distribution of power which facilitates acceptance of the truth it represents. However, power is not always equally distributed, and thus, power might not be accepted because it represents truth. In the context of the culture industry, class subordination is accepted due to false consciousness (Calhoun, Classical Sociological Theory, 2007).
The concrete and generalizable concepts of this theory make it suitable for explaining the persistence of class subordination. Finally, the theory of German ideology asserts that class subordination is accepted due to a lack of means to overthrow the dominating classes. However, through revolution, the subordinated class can achieve justice.
Abrahams, F. (2006). Contemporary Sociology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Calhoun, C. (2007). Classical Sociological Theory. New York: Blackwell.
Calhoun, C. (2007). Contemporary Sociological Theory. New York: Blackwell.