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Karl Marx’s and Max Weber’s Contributions to Sociology


The world knows many sociologists who have made significant contributions to the study of society and its interactions. However, as in any area of knowledge, in sociology, one can single out the founding fathers who created and substantiated science foundations. These founders are considered to be Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim since their theories paved the way for the further development of sociology as a science.

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All three sociologists have some common ideas and significant differences that complement knowledge about the structure and functioning of society, as well as the place of the individual in it. This article will compare and contrast sociological perspectives, methods, and theoretical contributions by Max Weber and Karl Marx to demonstrate the fundamental foundations of sociology based on the ideas of these sociologists.

Comparison of Marx’s and Weber’s Ideas

The ideas of Karl Marx and Max Weber have many similarities since both sociologists devote considerable time to the study of bureaucracy and capitalism that affect the structure and functions of society. Marx and Weber acknowledge that the development of capitalism brought shifts in the social structure as the growth of production changed the quality of human interaction. On this basis, Marx and Weber distinguish classes into which the community is divided; however, their classification is different. Although Marx originally speaks of three classes, such as wage laborers, capitalists, and landowners, more often, his writings refer to two key classes the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (Appelrouth & Edles, 2021).

At the same time, although Weber also divides societies into classes regarding their economic capabilities, he also includes the middle class along with the lower and upper classes. Such a slight difference is of great importance for the ideas of the two theoreticians since according to Marx, the proletariat oppressed by the bourgeoisie must win the class revolution. Thus, the presence of a middle class in Weber destroys Marx’s idea, since its representatives are not oppressed and do not oppress.

Another difference between the two sociologists is the perception of capitalism and state institutions. Marx’s ideas are based on the theory of class conflict, in which capitalism is a means of oppressing the proletariat by the bourgeoisie (Appelrouth & Edles, 2021). In general, Marx believes that class conflict has been the foundation of society throughout history, since there has always been a class that had power and money in its hands, such as the slave owners, and used the subordinate class to accumulate wealth.

However, capitalism is the highest form of exploitation, according to Marx. In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, he says, “Not only are they the slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself” (Marx and Engels, 1848/2010, p. 18). This vision also allows Marx to formulate another theory that encompasses the social interaction of people and their intrinsic motives for action.

The theory of alienation, which Marx formulates, is based on the exploitation of the labor of the proletariat. According to this theory, workers forced to perform routine and hard work experience isolation from society and work (Bratton & Denham, 2019). Alienation from the product arises because an employee does only part of the work and often does not even see the final product. The alienation from the labor process is based on the fact that the employee is obliged to fulfill the requirements imposed by the employer but cannot be creative (Bratton & Denham, 2019).

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This isolation makes people disillusioned with life. At the same time, isolation from others leads to the fact that the employee is only interested in receiving payment, but not in cooperation and communication with other people (Bratton & Denham, 2019). As a result, all these processes lead to isolation from oneself and a lack of a sense of belonging to the profession, which reduces a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. Thus, this theory explains the ideas of increasing individualism as a consequence of alienation and the cause of the capitalistic processes that destroy society, which should ultimately lead to the proletariat’s revolution.

Another theory that follows the processes of oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie is the concept of false consciousness. According to this concept, people perceive individualistic values ​​that are beneficial to the bourgeoisie as fundamental even if they do not correspond to their interests (Appelrouth & Edles, 2021). An emphasis on competition rather than cooperation is beneficial for production owners as it motivates progress. Consequently, owners benefit from imposing these values ​​on workers because they have less doubt about their place and purpose in life. This theory explains the motives of human behavior and position in society imposed by external social influence.

At the same time, Weber also perceives capitalism as harmful to society but analyzes it through rationalization theories. According to Weber, capitalism is completely rational, and although these features make it economically efficient, they lead to negative social change (Appelrouth & Edles, 2021).

Weber identifies four types of social actions, such as instrumental-rational, value-rational, traditional and effective. Instrumental-rational and value-rational actions are aimed at achieving a goal based on effective tools and calculations or values, respectively (Appelrouth & Edles, 2021). Traditional actions are based on an established routine that most often has no effective purpose, and affective actions are triggered by emotional impulses (Appelrouth & Edles, 2021).

According to Weber’s theory of symbolic internationalism, capitalist society increasingly resorts to instrumental-rational actions or bureaucratic institutionalism. This process will eventually lead individuals into the trap of a bureaucracy that will deprive them of expression variability and lead to ” disenchantment of the world” (Appelrouth & Edles, 2021, p.319). Weber wrote in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, ” But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage. ” (1930/2005, p. 123). This expression compares machine technology, which was supposed to be a benefit to society but became a heavy burden, according to Weber. Thus, n these processes and consequences, Weber sees the greatest problem of capitalism.

Consequently, another difference between the ideas of Weber and Marx is the vision of the future of capitalism and society. According to Max, the oppression of the proletariat will eventually lead to revolution, and the workers who are in the majority will triumph. Thus, an individualistic capitalist society will be replaced by a society of cooperation, equality, and prosperity. However, Weber did not see a solution to the problem of bureaucratization and rationalization and predicted that capitalism would lead society into a standardized world based on rational generalizing principles.

Comparison of Methodology and Approaches

It is also worth noting significant differences in their approaches to the formation and substantiation of ideas considering Marx and Weber’s theories. Marx, in his works, concentrates on the analysis of the features of capitalism to explain how they destroy society and what will ultimately lead to the collapse of such a socio-economic structure. For example, criticizing the form of the division of labor and production, Marx emphasizes their shortcomings and formulates economic laws but does not speak about their origin. At the same time, Weber focuses on the study of the causes and forces that led to the formation of this type of organization in society and why it appeared in Western civilization. This approach also allows Weber to predict the development of capitalism and form a theory of rationalization.

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Moreover, sociologists in their research use various methods of analysis and theory formation. Marx relies on historical materialism and traces the development of the productive forces, or labor, which was used to create material goods throughout history (Appelrouth & Edles, 2021). In other words. Marx studied the relationship and struggle between the classes of owners and workers, which manifested themselves in various forms in different historical eras, such as slavery and feudalism.

At the same time, Weber uses a scientific approach but formulates it differently from the options used in the exact sciences. Rather than developing precise generalized arguments that cannot be applied to the study of society, Weber offers a set of facts, that “when taken together, have an elective affinity with a particular outcome” (Appelrouth & Edles, 2021, p. 318). This approach allows general arguments to be developed based on a combination of causes related to a specific effect (Appelrouth & Edles, 2021). Thus, these features demonstrate how the difference in the approach of the two sociologists leads them to different conclusions in the study of the same topic.

Contribution of Marx and Weber

The contribution of Marx and Weber to the development of sociology is equally significant since they laid the foundations in the science of the study of society. Marx proposed such concepts as alienation, false consciousness, and class consciousness, which explain the external influence of society on the individual. At the same time, the theory of social conflicts substantiates the theoretical foundations of society. In addition, it is also important to note that Marx’s work also influenced political science and economics and became the basis for the formation of political regimes in some countries of the world, albeit in a distorted version.

Weber contributed both to the explanation of the processes of interaction between society and the individual and the methods of studying sociology. The concept of the stratification of society presented the theoretical structure of human interaction, while the theories of rationalization and bureaucratization explained the ongoing processes and social changes. At the same time, the scientific method of studying sociology, which is based on the development of common arguments based on a combination of reasons, allowed sociologists to combine mathematical accuracy and humanitarian diversity of variables influencing the results. Consequently, both theorists made significant contributions to the development of sociology and influenced the work of their followers.


Thus, the analysis of the main theories of Marx and Weber demonstrates that although sociologists have many similar ideas, different approaches and methods to the study of society have led them to different conclusions. While Weber focused on the reasons for the development of capitalism and the social changes that it entails, Marx identified the main characteristics and disadvantages of capitalist society. These approaches have allowed sociologists to formulate theories and concepts that explain social interaction from different perspectives. Thus, Marx and Weber made significant contributions to the study of sociology, laying the foundations for the development of this science.


Bratton, J., & Denham, D. (2019). Capitalism and classical sociological theory. University of Toronto Press.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2010). Manifesto of the Communist party. ( S. Moore & F. Engels, Trans.). Marxists Internet Archive. Web.

Appelrouth, S., & Edles, L. D. (2021). Classical and contemporary sociological theory: Text and readings (4th ed.). Sage.

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Weber, Max. (2005). The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. (T. Parsons, Trans.). Routledge. Web.

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