Karl Marx, Anthropologist

By Thomas C. Patterson | Go to book overview

6

Anthropology for the Twenty-First Century

Marx was indeed an anthropologist. His anthropology was empirically grounded in the changing realities of everyday life in his own society broadly conceived and in accounts of other societies—initially past societies in the West and increasingly contemporary societies in other parts of the world. The rich detail of his empirical anthropology is perhaps most evident in his journalistic accounts and his analyses of capitalist society and the capitalist mode of production. His anthropology was also rooted in a life-long exploration and elaboration of the ontological categories—i.e., the essential or core features—that characterize and structure human existence. Marx honed his philosophical anthropology in the 1840s after completing his doctoral dissertation and continued to refine his views in subsequent writings like the Grundrisse. These inquiries buttressed his critical analyses of both the contradictions of modern society and the possibilities and contingencies of alternative pathways of social change in the immediate future. Marx's anthropology was therefore cautiously optimistic. He clearly realized that societies were different from one another; that they change; and that they will keep on doing so.

As we saw in earlier chapters, Marx argued (1) that individual human beings engaged in creative and self-creative activity and enmeshed in webs of social relations are the fundamental entities of society, and (2) that both the nature of the individuals and their social relations with each other change historically (e.g. Archard 1987; Brenkert 1983: 227; Gould 1978: 6). Another way of saying this is that human beings create themselves through praxis, and their sociality creates them as social individuals in a community. These social individuals are shaped by their history and plot the course of their actions within the constraints imposed by their bodies and their social relations with others. Nevertheless, they experience both their everyday life and history as individuals. In Marx's (1857–8/1973: 84) terms, they are “dependent belonging to the greater whole” and “can individuate [themselves] only in the midst of society.” Moreover, since their social relations are neither fixed nor immutable, the particular form they assume at any given moment “is a historic product [that] belongs to a specific phase of their [sociohistorical] development” (Marx 1857–8/1973: 162).

In the same context, Marx (1857–8/1973: 158, 161–3) also argued logically that “relations of personal dependence (entirely spontaneous at the outset) are the first social forms,” and that in pre-capitalist societies “individuals, … although their

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Karl Marx, Anthropologist
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chronology xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: The Enlightenment and Anthropology 9
  • 2: Marx's Anthropology 39
  • 3: Human Natural Beings 65
  • 4: History, Culture, and Social Formation 91
  • 5: Capitalism and the Anthropology of the Modern World 117
  • 6: Anthropology for the Twenty-First Century 145
  • Notes 173
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 219
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