Classical sociological theory - Marx, Weber, DurkheimMay 31, 2021
♪ Music ♪ In this lecture, Dr. Tom Rudel analyzes three theorists of
classicalsociology: Marx, Weber, and Durkheim. He points out that all three are structuralists, but that each identifies a different force as structuring economic activities and results. He describes Marx's focus on the factory as the site of production and consumption and notes that contemporary theories about routine production and world systems were derived from Marx's theories. He then summarizes the theories of Weber, who sees the rationalized state structuring production and consumption and highlights ecological modernization and notions of a world society as updates of Weber's theories. Finally, he analyzes Durkheim's ideas about occupations and the division of labor as structuring economic activity and points out the theoretical assumption that stability and technological development are generated by economic specialization.
Okay, so what we're going to do is talk about Marx, Weber and Durkheim and what I'm going to give you is a brief synopsis of their theories. We are not going to cover all the work of each of these people because they wrote enormous amounts of things on very diverse topics. Okay, so the first thing about these theorists is that they have been chastised, properly 35 or 40 years ago, for ignoring the role of the environment in their general debates about society and that criticism is well founded; No doubt about it. What I want to do today is alter the intellectual agenda a little bit and talk about the usefulness of his theories as a heuristic tool for exploring the relationships between the environment and society, so this is a somewhat different kind of intellectual agenda than the one has typically been used. made by looking at the three of them.
Well, let me talk a little about what the three of you share in terms of intellectual starting points. One is that they were all, all three of them, concerned about what Polanyi calls the great transformation, in other words, the massive industrialization and urbanization of European societies, particularly to some extent in the 19th century, and basically they were all trying to explain it. , but from somewhat different starting points. All three of them applauded Darwin's work and, in fact, reading them again, you can see kinds of co-evolutionary schools of thought and where ecology and society, economic sociology, to some extent parallel each other.
They, we talk about the amount of work that they did and then finally all these people in a census are examining the context within which market changes occur, so if they're thinking, trying to relate this to what the economist had Let's say the last time you met, it was largely about the internal context or structures around market exchanges. Well, let's say if we call them all structuralists, one of the key ways to differentiate the three Marx, Weber and Durkheim is the type of structure that they focus on, so if you're talking, thinking about Marx, think about the factories. , factories that convert natural resources into commodities through human labor; that's really the focus of most of his analytical work.
If you're talking about Weber, you want to think about rules, but you also want to think about offices that contain bureaucracies that enforce rules, and these are not just public offices, but also offices of private companies. And with Durkheim you also have to think about norms, but here you also have to think about cities that house different types of occupational specialists with different sets of norms. Okay, so let's start with Marx and then we'll do Weber and then we'll do Durkheim and they'll try to summarize and extract a couple of lessons about how one might look at the relationships between environment and society using their theories, so With Marx, The factory owners were involved in an insatiable pursuit of profits that they make by exploiting both workers and natural resources, so the owner is, in a sense, the central human figure to at least understand how this process works.
Technological changes are there, they are the forces of production that interact with production relations to produce changes in production and in the structure of factories. A crucial concept, which we are going to spend a little time on, a good amount of time, has to do with the idea of a metabolic gap, that as industrialization occurs, this metabolic gap opens up between the city and the countryside. So basically what happens? The thing is that, with the improvement of transportation, these various entrepreneurs, owners of the means of production, strip rural areas of their natural resources and feed them for factories that produce an increasing flow of goods and increasing amounts of pollution.
So what this means is that if you think about cities and the countryside, what happens in these places actually starts to diverge. In cities, there is this massive accumulation of natural resources that are transformed into increasing goods, as the number of workers increases and in the process they generate more and more pollution, so we should think of cities as places where resources accumulate. and they collapse. - and pollution builds up and natural areas or, sorry, rural areas are becoming places stripped of their natural resources, so think about cuts, if you're thinking about forests, think about transition districts and you'll get a, then , that?
What emerges here is a kind of fissure between rural towns and societies, on the one hand, and urban towns and societies, on the other. There is also, and this is what Marx called the metabolic gap, there is a social psychological component in this, Marx does not talk much about it, but the inhabitants, basically urban, are alienated in some way from their natural world there, the two already They are not, they no longer interact in any way on a daily basis with the places that produce the resources they work with every day, so you see this crack, this crack that we were talking about has a kind of experiential dimension.
So what is the metabolic gap? So this is this, this is a notion that is actually derived from the work of a German soil scientist, Justus von Leibig, and the essential notion is that, in the normal properties of soils, all kinds of metabolic reactions take place. . builds organic matter in the soil, among other things. With industrialization and increasing demand, intensification of agriculture and, in a sense, industrialization of agriculture, these metabolic processes break down. In other words, the increasing use of chemical fertilizers leads to soil depletion and a desperate search for, among other things, fertilizers that work, so if you're trying to think about the guano rage, you might remember it in the middle of 19th century, due in part to this desperate search for fertilizers to rejuvenate or rehabilitate soils that have been depleted by increasingly industrialized agriculture and therefore this is the type of soil mining in rural areas that is part and parcel of this larger metabolic gap that Marx talked about.
Okay, so how would Marx fix the metabolic gap created by capitalism? Well, he's really not very clear about this. He talks about, well, somehow producers will associate in this post-capitalist phase and that will lead to a more preventative or more environmentally friendly type of soil manipulation, so if you're talking about real socialist regimes, it's not really there are none. of them in the 20th century, with the possible exception of the Cuban regime of the 1990s, is largely committed to taking the goal of sustainability with respect to soils or other aspects very seriously. Okay, so new theoretical deviations from using Marx's theories as a starting point.
There are quite a few of them and they've been quite productive, meaning they've written a lot of articles, they've been cited quite a bit, they've definitely made a difference. So the first one I'm going to talk about here involves Alan Schnaiberg, whose name came up just a few minutes ago, and when we were talking about the production treadmill, Lori talked about it, so here's this. The idea that it's consistent with the notion of this insatiable drive for profit on the part of the owners of the means of production, that you need to continually keep throwing goods out the factory door, you know?
Owners, businesses, and workers get stuck in this rut of, think about assembly lines, and this is necessary to keep making profits, okay. In recent years, neo-Marxists have made more references to this notion of Jevon's paradox: his paradox is essentially one in which one might think that with greater technological advances and greater efficiencies, for example in the case of coal, that It was his For example, the Jevon example, that that would lead to less use of coal, but what was in fact observed historically was in fact a more efficient use of coal, but instead of a reduction in the amount of coal that was being used, in fact it was an expansion, as people found new uses for now cheaper raw materials, i.e. coal, so that was Jevon's paradox, instead of getting a decrease in the amount of coal that was used, an increase was obtained. with greater efficiency in the use of coal and this is probably due in part to this persistent type of production routine and its constant search for new markets by capitalists involving advertising that is an integral part of this production belt.
Well, a second line of development again that is Marxist in origin involves world system
theoryand Andrew will talk about this later today in much more detail. And this is this idea, I basically believe it, maybe others won't agree, but it basically takes the metabolic divide, that division between the urban, the city and the rural area and expands it to a systemic world in terms and conversations, incorporates for the first time Colonial relations between a metropolis and its colonies enter into it, so, from a global systemic point of view, the metropolis becomes the factory, the place that consumes natural resources and generates pollution levels and the periphery, the rural area.
It becomes the periphery, rural area, that is, the colonies; They are stripped of resources to feed the factories in the metropolis, at least in its initial phase in the 19th century, a large number of colonial empires could be understood in those terms and what is obtained in this type of process is What economists called vertical trade was that of unprocessed raw materials from a colonial environment to an urban industrial environment in Western Europe or the United States and in exchange for manufactured goods, well, with terms of trade that were declining. throughout this period, meaning it was an advantage to the producers or manufacturers, a disadvantage to the producers of the natural resources and this type of exchange is sometimes called unequal ecological exchange, in part because what is happening here is an exchange that does not take into account.
We must take into account the environmental degradations that are occurring in the places of production, in the places where natural resources are produced and, if we think, if we want a classic contemporary example of this, It would be a situation in which a country in the European Union imports oil. Indonesian palm. Well, the oil palm in Indonesia has been devastated by large areas of the outer islands and fires have occurred related to its massive production. At the same time, if France is one of the large consumers of oil palm, it has shown gradual types of reforestation, what is obtained in this context are quite different environmental trajectories based on this unequal ecological exchange.
Well, and finally, Polanyi's
theoryof double movement, this is a notion that comes from his book
However, this list of neo-Marxist works is quite impressive in the sense that they attract, they have attracted wide intention, wide attention, a lot of this work has been done, it is a real source for contemporary environmental sociology. With that, here are some references about Marx, these are just some very basic ones. Well, let's talk a little about Max Weber. First of all, again a huge amount of work. There are a lot of books out there, he does this comparative historical work on India, China, the ancient Middle East, that wasn't enough. He moved on; he made The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, basically an argument about the origins of capitalism in 1905 and then he,after his wife posthumously published
One of the arguments that we goOne of the arguments, probably its main one in
The State also grows alongside these capitalist enterprises, it is a kind of parallel growth and exhibits similar qualities of increasing the diffusion of rational deliberations and, in this case, perhaps managing, manipulating or at least ordering social relations. as they change during the course of capitalist expansion. Well, then, from our point of view, one of the most important legacies that Marx has, I mean, excuse me, that Weber has is that he is really the first theorist to give an independent role to the state. in the process of capitalist development, then Marx certainly has a role for the place, for the State, but often the State is seen as an instrument for the owners of the media, of the means of production, okay, and there were some vigorous debates that developed.
In the 20th century Marxists talked about this, but nothing like that, the point is that Weber really puts the state front and center. What this means is that if you are at work thinking about environmental reforms, chances are that Weberian types of analysis will be front and center in your analysis, you will at least come across some Weberian ideas, even if you don't. We call that during work on environmental reforms in whatever particular area you're talking about. Well, but Weber does talk, for example in his work on the State he talks about the traditional type of authority and, that is, where essentially the authority of the structures of state relations is extracted from the family analogically from the family, so that the head of state be seen as a father, okay, and what this means is that the relations within the state are, I assume what they are, sometimes he refers to it, he refers to it as a patrimonial type aspect, he speaks on the patrimonial status.
During the course of modernization, there is this process of rationalization that continues and increasingly state policy and decisions about state personnel are made on a more meritocratic basis and many times democracies develop at the same time, so this kind of, with this kind of With the expansion of rationalization, the State changes its shape in a fundamental way. So let me take some of the Weberian analysis, take this kind of core Weberian analysis and quickly go over some of the strands of Weberian analysis that you can see in environmental sociology, so actually the first one is not that visible, but it's there. more or less there.
One is the use of the notion that development involves the expansion of meritocratic bureaucratic structures within, between states, okay, and so this is a kind of line of analysis that refers to both environmental regulations and any regulation. in any other area. in which the State is involved and, therefore, if we have to explain, for example, the high levels of corruption that make it practically impossible to enforce environmental regulations in a developing country, we have to go back to what is now known such as Neo-patrimonial political structures that are at the center of those states and that involve people obtaining positions and then using them for private, personal benefit and, in the case of, say, air pollution in Mexico City, which may lead to a slowdown in the implementation of air pollution control laws, okay, so neo-patrimonial states are key here.
Well, so there is something, a variation, the people who call themselves world society theorists are people who to some extent see the expansion of similar political structures across state borders, in other words, states, new states tend to imitate the old states in terms of their structure; Well, you know, if you want to be called a state, you need to have a department that regulates the environment, so let's do what people did, you know, a couple of islands over and have it and develop a department of the environment. This and, similarly, one might expect to see, you know, that people were talking about the post-Paris idea, that there could be global peer pressure, in other words, that countries coming up with meaningful plans to reduce GHG emissions would generate a kind of pressure to create similar types of plans in other countries.
You could say that this dynamic is driven at least by, in this kind of argument, by this process of rationalization to some extent, so it has a sort of Weberian notion. So the environmental state again encourages ecological modernization processes because they are, it's a rationalization, they reduce the amount of environmental damage that new machines create, that is, ecological modernization; It basically involves cleaning, basically the substitution of a dirtier technology, a cleaner technology for a dirtier technology and you could argue that it is part of a rationalization process. And, you know, there are all sorts of examples of replacing cleaner fossil fuels with dirtier ones, it's certainly just one of them, but Weber would see this as a rationalization process, okay.
And then finally, one more example, this time it's a different control agent, it's these round tables of producers of sustainable raw materials, sustainable oil palm, I'll stick with that, the oil palm example. The governance of these global flows by these commodity producing associations would be another example of this type of rationalization process on a global scale. Regime theory in political science, which I suppose you may not hear about, is a similar type of argument about the development of these rational institutions to govern the use of resources or commodities; It has a Weberian tinge. Okay, a couple more little segways about Weber and then we'll talk about Durkheim.
One of the things is that most planning processes are interpretable in Weberian terms; In other words, planning processes are rationalization, the attempt to use rationality to arrive at a distribution of resources or goods that meet a variety of objectives, some of them environmental, some of them social, okay, that kind of argument , that kind of process is something that Weber was right about, so if you want to revisit some of the aspects of how these planning processes work, Weber would be a good intellectual starting point. And Lewis Mumford, in fact, in the mid-20th century, made these points about planning processes and the degree to which they can be understood in a Weberian-type framework.
So if you're talking about planned reductions in GHG emissions in many ways, what's happening is a process that Weber would have understood very, you know, would have understood almost intuitively that fits into the intellectual framework of his. He also suggests, and I'm not talking about anyone else, that some of these emerging social formations driving environmental reform processes could end up taking a corporate and corporatist form. By corporatist I mean institutional structures that link the macro with the micro, and that are executed through things like intercapitalist companies, but also unions and sometimes coordinated from above sectorally, and then some of these corporatist frameworks Yes we take into account the intellectual, the history of these things is a bit ugly, I mean, they are the first places they were introduced in the 20th century, where the fascists entered, the fascist states in the 1930s in Spain and Italy also, but you see them, the same kind of social formation in France after the Second World War, so it's not exclusively the kind of thing that appears in these unpleasant early examples, but it seems to me that this corporatist framework as a form facilitating micro macro interactions is where we're going, it's also something that I think Weber would pick up on and say yes, this is more of the same.
A couple of references for Weber. Well, so Durkheim, again a wide range of studies, probably the most famous is his study of suicide and its variations from the Catholic to the Protestant and from the rural to the urban population in France, but there is a sociology of religion, There are the rules of sociology. method. Lori did a great job going over them very quickly. What we are going to focus on here today is the first thing she published, which is this Division of Labor in modern society, which was her doctoral thesis; It's quite a start to a career.
Well, sorry for the text here, but basically the theory is that when you can, when competition intensifies, when you increase populations and put them in the same place, and that kind of increased competition leads people to specialize and trade. products made through specialties. So occupations arise as people become specialists in particular activities and therefore you get this more pronounced division of labor, so think about the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which roughly coincides with the emergence of modern professions. Weber, I mean, Durkheim was right. He is, interestingly, the only one of the three
classicaltheorists to assign a prominent role to demographic growth or change at least in, and remember again they focused on the great transformation, but population is a relatively insignificant variable in all three. of these theoretical constructions, although less with Durkheim than with the others.
And, again, there is technological change, but this time mainly by specialists who play a role in this general dynamic, which drives urbanization and industrialization. Three decades ago, a prominent, now deceased, environmental sociologist, Fred Buttel, noted that there is something of a commonality between Durkheim's theory of the division of labor and land use patterns, and in particular the point is that, Just as people become more specialized, landscapes become more specialized. So a quick way to look at this, if you look at US agricultural farms, one of the dramatic things about them is that over the last 30 to 40 years has been the decline of mixed cattle and livestock operations. crops;
Virtually all farms now produce crops or most of the animals come from feedlot operations of one type or another, so that is a circumstance where people have specialized in agricultural tasks, so the notion here is that as occupations specialize, landscapes specialize. So a couple of lousy examples, probably from California, but one is Yosemite National Park. Parks are very specialized land uses and they, the people in those parks, are organized to provide a particular kind of service to visitors, a very specialized kind of recreational service, right there. There are these places in the Central Valley, that are organized around the production of almonds, well, they have organizations that are, of almond producers.
These specialists, to some extent, actually govern how land use occurs, at least on a daily basis, in these types of environments. Well, this level of specialization goes on and on and on; I mean you can talk about arts districts in cities, you can talk about single-family homeowner residences in the suburbs, and the crucial point would be that this specialization of these land uses has an impact on changing the landscape and, in particular, Here are types of impacts manageable again since Durkheim. So the point is, when you talk about these specialist producers, they sometimes have unusual reactions to the prospects of change and a couple, I just put a couple of them on the board here, but I'll talk about a few more. tomorrow when we talk about spatial analysis, but, you know, the ranchers who oppose the Keystone pipeline or the homeowners who oppose fracking are specialists or they mobilize specialists who are pushing against a very, a landscape change that aredefending capitalists, okay, so The politics of these kinds of processes are, to some extent, derivable from Durkheim's original kind of work on the division of labor.
Well, a couple more things, so that this division of labor can be combined with other work, some of it later than others more or less contemporary with Durkheim. Central place theory, in many respects, can be understood as a type of environment in which specialists will thrive, at least find that greater land use is possible within a particular context where there are more people and, in part, this is a derivable from Durkheim's work. But the point is that Durkheim's central place theory and division of labor can complement each other in quite effective ways. In many respects, the classic type of human ecology produced by the Chicago School people in the 1920s is another example of this type of specialization: the creation of storage zones outside the city of Chicago.
The concentration of financial transactions and in different districts of downtown Chicago; all of that is in some ways an application of Durkheim and then I would argue that the creation of some of these growth machines, this is a more contemporary type of theory, urban growth machines that produce housing or produce some type of activity. and they do it iteratively, in other words, over and over again because they can make money doing it, every time a new interstate is built, they do it, it's a specialized type of social formation that works very well in a particular type of The Context is fine and, again, can be derived, to some extent, from Durkheim's original work.
By the way, there is less work here than with Weber or Marx, so if you are thinking of classical theorists and an opportunity, think of Durkheim. Okay, so conclusions; Well, first of all, I want to say, I and this again is me just talking about my own sense of things, but if what you encounter in your work are inequalities or inequalities in terms of environmental impacts with respect to the environment. degradation as part of history, the most likely kind of fruitful theoretical touchstone for that work, at least with respect to the human component, is Marx, okay, he's just a, he, he, his notions about metabolic breakdown and work.
Of the successors to him have provided a really wide range of concepts, a useful range of concepts for analyzing various types of impacts, inequality in terms of impacts is fine. If his approach is more restorative, in other words, how do we achieve reforms, how do we somehow improve these kinds of situations, it seems very difficult to avoid using Weber, in some ways because his notion of rationalization seemed to be crucial. Compared to most environmental reform efforts and to the extent that corporatist-type agreements are thought of as something we are going to have to resort to to achieve deep or large-scale reductions in GHG emissions, it seems to me Yes, it is necessary to start with your Weberian and Durkheimian types of analysis and advance to the forms that these corporatist agreements will take. ♪ Music ♪
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