Marx and Marxisms: Lineages and Contemporary Relevance


Ideas of social movements and social change throughout the world in the 19th and 20th centuries were significantly informed by the ideas of one social thinker: Karl Marx. Even today, thinkers in the humanities and social sciences (including media and cultural studies), as well as social and political activists, continue to be engaged with Marx’s ghost. While many detractors would argue—following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War—that Marx’s thought is now irrelevant, others argue the opposite: that the current phase of globalization that we are presently in was, in fact, anticipated by Marx. In this seminar, through a close and in-depth study of Marx’s writings and those of others about him, we will examine the impact of Marx’s ideas on thinking about and practices of social change. The themes in Marx’s writings upon which we will focus include the following: his views on human nature, social structures and individual agency and subjectivity, alienation, religion and ideology, objectification and commodification, social class and power relations, and political economy, including globalization. Following our close scrutiny of Marx’s work in the fall, in the second semester we will study later thinkers whose work has been inspired by Marx and who carried his ideas further and/or addressed new questions in the light of developments since the historical period in which Marx was writing. Among the latter, we will include thinkers such as Gramsci, Barthes, and Williams who addressed questions of culture and hegemony; structuralists like Althusser who dealt with the state and ideology; socialist feminists interested in the relationship of class, gender, and sexuality; more recent thinkers interested in the relationship of space, class, and power, such as David Harvey and Dorren Massey; and current analysts of globalization. For conference, students may work on specific social thinkers in the Marxist tradition and/or examine political and social movements inspired by his analysis.