Karl Marx, one of the founding fathers of sociology, created the related theoretical ideas of base and superstructure. The term “base” describes the forces of production, such as the materials and resources that produce what society requires. All other facets of society connected to these bases are referred to as superstructures.
Karl Marx used the metaphor “Base and Superstructure” to describe the link between the economy, the base of society and its determining factor, and other aspects of society, the superstructure.
“The economic structure of society is always the real basis, starting from which we alone can work out the ultimate explanation of the whole superstructure or juridical and political institutions as well as of the religious, philosophical, and other ideas of a given historical period,” writes German political theorist Friedrich Engels in his book Anti-Duhring.
Base and superstructure explanation
The culture, ideas, conventions, and identities that individuals occupy make up society’s superstructure. It also refers to the political system, the state, and the social structures that make up society’s ruling body. According to Marx, the superstructure emerges from the base and represents the objectives of the ruling class. Thus, the superstructure upholds the authority of the elite and defends how the base runs.
The base and the superstructure are neither static nor naturally occurring structures. Both are social inventions or the culmination of continuously changing human social interactions.
This base and superstructure designate the social relationships of a historically determined society as a whole, wherein material relationships represent the authentic base or the foundation of society and political, religious, philosophical, and ideological relationships, among others, represent the superstructure, which rises upon the given base and is determined by the base.
The historically established base governs the kind and type of social superstructure. The whole social superstructure undergoes profound modification when the economic rules of society are drastically altered.
A dialectical relationship exists between the base and the superstructure. The base and superstructure of class society have a class character. The superstructure reflects the base’s adversarial character in the social construction, such as slavery, feudalism, and capitalism.
Social concept formation and development in a historical era is a complex and sometimes conflicting process. These concepts do not automatically represent economic realities at their base when they enter the world. Individuals developed these concepts and social structures in line with the existing social structures, not independently of economics. Only at times of ripe circumstances for change within the current production relations is the probable shift in the base and superstructure.
Marx’s superstructure was separated into two parts by the political philosopher Antonio Gramsci of Italy: political society and civil society. Civil society refers to the consensus-building components that support cultural hegemony, such as the educational system, whereas political society refers to the organized force of society, such as the military. The values of the base continue to guide both of the components of this superstructure, helping to build and uphold these ideals throughout society.