The Sociological Theories of Karl Marx

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  • 0:01 Sociology
  • 0:35 Karl Marx
  • 1:38 Marx and Sociology
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the theories of Karl Marx and discover how he contributed to the field of sociology. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.


There are many parts to a society. So, there are many ways to study society. The scientific study of society and social behaviors is called sociology, and it's a big area of study. In order to understand the many complexities of human societies, sociologists have developed several viewpoints, or theories, to help establish the basic concepts of the field. Some theories deal with the sizes of groups in society. Others deal with production of morals and values. And some deal with the economy and the creation of social classes. That's where we find Karl Marx.

Karl Marx

In the 19th century, a German philosopher named Karl Marx began exploring the relationship between economy and the workers within that system. Over his lifetime, Marx developed a theory that human societies progress though a struggle between two distinct social classes. The proletariat, the workers, are the lower class. They perform the labor, but the upper class managers, bosses, and rulers, called the bourgeoisie, get the profits. In this system, which became known as Marxism, governments existed to protect the wealthy, not the common good.

To arrive at this conclusion, Marx studied and wrote on philosophy, economy, and politics. Marx formulated these into a scientific study of society. Thus, he is considered to be one of the founding figures of sociology as a discipline. Marx believed that with a mixture of historical research and scientific methods, society could be analyzed logically and rationally. This idea, of course, is still followed by sociologists today.

Marx and Sociology

In sociology, Marx's theories are used to study society through economic systems. Specifically, Marxist sociology looks at the ways economics define social roles and expectations. There are several fundamental questions that this theory seeks to address. First, how is money used to control the working class? Second, how are social classes defined by type of work? Third, what is the relation between workers, money, the government, and society? Finally, how does the economy influence social inequality?

Marx's theories formed a sociological perspective called conflict theory, which stated that capitalist societies were built on conflicts between the workers and the rulers. In this theory, society relies on class conflict in order to keep the wealthy in power and the poor as subjects to the government. Conflict theory has been used to examine several aspects of society that are built upon class conflict, which Marx argued were designed to protect the wealthy, not society as a whole.

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