Social sciences are perhaps the most theorized disciples in the field of academia. This is because most of the things that happens are social; that is, between one person and the other. Human interaction has led to intensive theorization of social, economic and political issues affecting humanity. Some of the most prominent theorists are Karl Marx and Michel Foucault. This term paper seeks to discuss some of the concepts propounded by the two theorists. It begins by a description of what they postulated followed by an analysis or evaluation of the concepts presented. Thereafter, there will be an application of the concepts discussed by the two theorists in the present day popular culture. Both Karl Marx discuss the issue of power but while Karl Marx focuses on economic power, Foucault focuses even on personal or individual power.
Karl Marx was a 19th century German economist and revolutionary socialist. He was also a renowned historian, journalist and philosopher. He is considered to have been one of the founders of the social science thought. On top of having played a pioneering role in the establishment of the socialist movement, he is also credited for the foundation of social science as it exists today. There is no doubt that Marx was highly affected by the background of his upbringing. Having been brought up in a wealthy family, he was very much interested in the economic lives of the people he lived around; including the rich and the poor. Moreover, his life experiences would not have made much impact if it were not for his critical mind and unique approach to issues. On this light, he was able to propound many theories. Moreover, only one of them, or a collection of similar ones are featured in this view. His theories were published in most of the books they wrote together with Friedrich Engels.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are the founders of Marxism. This was a group of theories that cut across sociology, economics and politics. One of the key things that the theories addressed was the question of power as it arose from differences in society. A key tenet of Marxism was the proposition that society advances in a dialectic collection of struggles between the rich and the poor. He calls the rich bourgeoisie and the poor proletariats. The former are known for controlling the production process while the latter are the sources of labor. However, due to the selfishness of the bourgeoisie, what he calls bourgeoisie dictatorship, the proletariats are usually mistreated. This capitalistic model, Marx observes, will be ultimately replaced by a situation he calls socialism.
According to Marx, socialism would involve a case where the working class, formerly the proletariats, controls the production process. Moreover, this would not be given in silver platter. The poor will have to organize themselves in a revolution that would literally overthrow capitalism. This kind of society would be classless. It will also be stateless in a sense that there will be no governed and governors. In his theory, Marx was confident that the poor and the working, who are the majority, are able to bring about the socio-economic change.
In the same dialectical evolution, socialism would be replaced by communism. Under the latter, there would be no control by a few. Governance would be by consensus but not through manipulation and coercion. Marx’s ideas were so strong in the 19th century that some of the powerful nations of the time adopted them as their socio-political and economic ideologies. The best examples were the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union. However, since the capitalists thought that communism would be a disastrous, or at least take away benefits from them, they greatly opposed its spread. A good example was the action of the U.S. in trying to stop the spread of communism. As a result, the Cold War was fought, in about four decades after Marx’s death.
Michel Foucault was also a social theorist, historian and philosopher. This Frenchman only differed with Marx in that he was also a literary critic but not an economist as Marx was. This may have formed the basic difference in the way the two approached social analysis. Perhaps, because of his literary criticism, Foucault was more focused on individuals than on the society at large. This accomplished philosopher made great leaps in personalized studies in psychiatry, human sexuality, social anthropology and prison life. A key component of Foucault’s theories is how power could be used by individuals to control others as well as social institutions.
Since he focused on the individual, Foucault was keen to explain how power was used to coerce other people and influence them in a certain direction. Since human beings are naturally selfish, in most cases, they would use power to their own benefit or advantage. In his theory of power, since human beings have differential psychological abilities as well as sexuality, they are bound to misuse others. According to Gaventa (1), ‘His work marks a radical departure from previous modes of conceiving power and cannot be easily integrated with previous ideas, as power is diffuse rather than concentrated, embodied and enacted rather than possessed, discursive rather than purely coercive, and constitutes agents rather than being deployed by them’. Although he was interested in the idea power was disruptive, he was convinced that power was everywhere and that each person could attain his or her personal power.
It is important to note that Foucault did not just focus on the negative aspects of power. He also observed that power could be used to the betterment of the society. For instance, the rhetoric power helps people to move masses through speech. Additionally, truth is some kind of power. This is because truth is usually associated with research and that what is actually truthful is based on facts. This power is important in promoting unity in society. In other words, Foucault propounds that power could be positive or negative, depending on who is entrusted with it.
As put forward at the beginning, the two theorists have propounded concepts to do with the issue of power. There is a need to propose which of the two theories is better than the other. Marx was concerned with power in society emanating from political, social and economic struggles of the poor trying to overthrow the rich. By closely scrutinizing the writings of Marx and Engels, it is clear that the two were great thinkers who revolutionized scholarship and the progression of social science thought. Although Marx was brought up in a rich setting, he was able to transcend his sphere of life and understand the problems that the poor went through. At that time, industrial revolution was also very rampant. It was therefore easy for anybody with a keen eye on details to observe that the laborers, proletariats, were being exploited. It appears that Marx was for the idea that the forces of demand and supply are not left as the only determinants, for instance, of prices. Therefore, Marx, it can be said was concerned with the common good.
Although Marx delivered a pioneering piece on the concept of socio-economic modeling, there still exists debate on who should control the market. Is it the forces of demand and supply or the State? In his original observation, when forces of demand and supply were left to be the sole determinants, selfish people would take advantage of the poor. Although there are somewhat mild points of convergence between the theories of the two authorities, Foucault’s concept of power is a bit different.
There is a marked difference between Marx and Foucault. One of them, as already seen, is the point of focus. While Foucault focused on the individual, Marx focused on the society. Moreover, a more critical perspective could be taken up in a bid to understand the differences between he two. It is apparent that Foucault was born three decades after Marx had died. He was born in 1926 while Marx died in the 1890’s. Therefore, this generational difference may have laid a basis for their differences. Although the differences were not much, their perspectives were different. While Marx was a Marxist, Foucault was a post-modernist who was influenced by some aspects of structuralism.
Although Marx had dealt with the issue of use of economic power to control masses, Foucault seem to have gone back to pre-Marxian thought that it was necessary for a few people to be in control. By analyzing trends in knowledge acquisition, psychological processes as well as physiological endowment, Foucault seems to have supported the idea that Marx has rejected: control.
Marx’s concept of economic power of a society or group of rich people was fixed. It was a matter of dialectical and fixed course of development, progression and evolution. In other words, there was only one way for proletariats to get out of oppression: overthrowing the rich. In Foucault’s view, there are many sources of power. These may include one’s physical strength, psychological disposition such as strong personality, speech, among others. These ‘powers’ could be used to deliver the individual out of a situation.
Having looked at the two theorists, it is not in order to conclude in absolute terms that this theory is better that other one. On the contrary, all the theories have strengths and weaknesses. It also depends on what aspect one wishes to consider. From one aspect, Marx’s theory could be better than Foucault’s and vice versa. Perhaps one of the major determinants of how good a theory is would be its focus: whether it focuses on the individual or the society. If the society is more important than the individual, Marx’s theory would be better than Foucault’s.
The concept of manipulation and control is well seen in X-Men, a 2000 American movie that was directed by Bryan Singer. Since movies are a representation of what happens in society, the movie can also be explained in terms of the two theories discussed above. In the movie, Magneto plans to mutate leaders from different countries while attending a world summit. However, it was realized that if the machine was successful in mutating the leaders, all of them would die. Before that, they were forced to declare their identities. In the lenses of Foucault, this is an instance of misuse of technological power at the disposal of the experts. Although the leaders are at a UN meeting discussing world issues, including economics, a group of people felt that they needed to be mutated. On the other hand, in terms of Marxian tradition, it could be said that the world leaders were like the bourgeoisie who took advantage of the poor citizens. As a result, they rose against them; the way Karl Marx envisaged in his theory in which socialism and communism were to replace capitalism.
This write up was geared towards discussing two theorists at three levels. The firs one was a description of their theories followed by an evaluation of the theory that could be termed to be better then the other. This was achieved by discussing the theme of power as evidently propounded in Marx’s as well as Foucault’s theories. These theories could also be applied in the popular culture to explain how a few people decided to use power to their own advantage. It was considered that it society is greater than the individual, Marx’s theory would be better than Foucault’s because the latter focused on the individual.