Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory is a critical essay critic and an influential figure in the New Left, Raymond Henry Williams. In Marxist theory, capitalist society consists of two parts: the base (or substructure ) and superstructure. The base. Type: Chapter; Author(s): Williams, Raymond; Date: ; Page start: 37; Page end: 45; Web address: ?id.

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Essential Writingsedited by Jim McGuigan, But what is it about this tripartite division in politics or culture that is a retreat from Marxism? This means, of course, that we have no built-in procedure of the kind which is indicated by the fixed character of an object. Dominant is the culture that exists today. In certain societies it is possible to find areas of social life in which quite real alternatives are at least left alone.

Supersgructure sum, the conceptions of art are part of the superstructure while the production and distribution of art occurs through real economic relations. Adorno Herbert Marcuse C. This notion of hegemony as deeply saturating the consciousness of a society seems to be fundamental. Now when we talk of the superstrucure, and of primary productive forces, it matters very much whether we are referring, as in one degenerate form of this proposition became habitual, to primary production within the terms of capitalist economic relationships, or to the primary production of society itself, and of men themselves, material production and reproduction of real life.

The educational institutions are usually the main agencies of the transmission of an effective dominant culture, and this is now a major economic as well as cultural activity; indeed it is both in the same moment. He argues that Marxist ideology is based on a certain economic structure which might be ambiguous when placed in the modern cultural scenario which is fast changing.

What this can show us here about the practice of analysis is that we have to break from the notion of isolating the object and then discovering its components. A Lecture on Realism Chapter The components of a work of art were the real activities of the base, and you could study the object to discover these components. And this can only be so, in a complex society, if it is something more substantial and more flexible than any abstract imposed ideology.


Both constituents of this superstructure are still informed by the values of the base, serving to establish and enforce these values in society. Materialism does not reject the whole of idealism. A meaning or a practice may be tolerated as a deviation, and yet still wikliams seen only as another particular way to live.

They contribute to the effective dominant culture and are a central articulation of it. In the practice of politics, for example, there are certain truly incorporated modes of what are nevertheless, within those terms, real oppositions, that are felt and fought out. But if we are to say this, we have to think again about the sources of that which is not corporate; of those practices, experiences, meanings, values which are not part of the effective dominant culture.

Objects and Practices Now I think the true crisis in cultural theory, in our own time, is between this view of the work of art as object and the alternative view of art as a practice.

Raymond Williams: Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory

For if we come to say that society is composed of a large number of social practices which form a concrete social whole, and if we give to each practice a certain specific recognition, adding only that they interact, relate and combine in very complicated ways, we are at one level much more obviously talking about reality, but we are at another level withdrawing from the claim that there is any process of determination. It is worth observing one further implication behind the customary definitions.


There will be areas of practice and meaning which, almost by definition from its own limited character, or in its profound deformation, the dominant culture is unable in any real terms to recognize.

Means of Communication as Means of Production Chapter They express also and significantly some emergent practices and meanings, yet some of these may eventually be incorporated, as they reach people and begin to move them. Any modern approach to a Marxist theory of culture must begin by considering the proposition of a determining base culturaal a determined superstructure.

Base and superstructure

Yet when it comes to the man who plays the piano, whether to himself or to others, there is no question: I would say that we can recognize them on the basis of this proposition: Barracks communism Base and superstructure Bourgeoisie Bourgeois democracy Bourgeois nationalism Bourgeois socialism Capitalist mode of production Class struggle Commodification Dialectics Dictatorship of the proletariat Historical materialism Imperialism Liquidationism Lumpenproletariat Means of labor Metabolic rift Petite bourgeoisie Primitive accumulation of capital Proletarian internationalism Proletarian revolution Pure communism Revolutionary spontaneity Revolutionary wave Scientific socialism Socialist mode of production Super-imperialism Theoretician Two stage theory Wage slavery Workers’ council Workers’ control World revolution.

Sign up here for discounts and quicker purchasing. Raymond Williams’s article reproduced here signalled iin more explicit engagement with Marxist theory than hitherto in his work. Need help logging in?

Base and superstructure – Wikipedia

In Orthodox Marxismthe base determines the superstructure in a one-way relationship. In this process, of course, the dominant culture itself changes, not in its central formation, but in many of its articulated features. John Plamenatz makes two counterclaims regarding the clear-cut separation of the base and superstructure.