Identity and Ideology: Sociocultural Theories of Schooling

By Stanley William Rothstein | Go to book overview
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The Social Relations of Production

Until now we have talked about production in capitalist society without explaining what we mean. According to Marx, the process of making commodities is one way that unpaid surplus labor is extracted from workers and used by capitalists for their own advantage. 1 Workers and capitalists come together in an unequal relationship, which determines who rules and is ruled in the workplace. Owners of the means of production set the conditions under which labor will be performed. The free worker, in this process, is in reality a "hireling." The only force that brings owners and workers together is their common pursuit of money and personal interest. The producer is unconcerned about individuals he employs save as they satisfy his need to create surplus value from their labor. Labor is viewed as a commodity, a cost of doing business. The free laborer becomes a worker only when capital is available to make use of him. In Marx's words, the worker can "exist as capital only as long as capital exists to use him. 2 The existence of capital is his existence; it shapes the content of his life, though remaining indifferent to it. The workman who is subject to this fate can hardly be anything else but a commodity in human form, an individual not belonging to himself but alienated from himself." 3 The "free" worker is free in theory only. In reality, he does not control the forces upon which his existence depends. The work he needs to sustain himself and his family is given to him by capital, and this work can be denied him. The wages paid, the ways in which work is accomplished, the location and conditions under which workers are rewarded or dismissed, all influence the manner in which people relate to one another in their social lives. For Marx, writing more than a century ago, the crucial element in the production process was


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Identity and Ideology: Sociocultural Theories of Schooling


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