An influential sociologist revives materialist explanations of class, while accommodating the best of rival cultural theory.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, analysis of class and other basic structures of capitalism was sidelined by theorists who argued that social and economic life is reducible to culture—that our choices reflect interpretations of the world around us rather than the limitations imposed by basic material facts. Today, capitalism is back on the agenda, as gross inequalities in wealth and power have pushed scholars to reopen materialist lines of inquiry. But it would be a mistake to pretend that the cultural turn never happened. Vivek Chibber instead engages cultural theory seriously, proposing a fusion of materialism and the most useful insights of its rival.
Chibber shows that it is possible to accommodate the main arguments from the cultural turn within a robust materialist framework: one can agree that the making of meaning plays an important role in social agency, while still recognizing the fundamental power of class structure and class formation. Chibber vindicates classical materialism by demonstrating that it in fact accounts for phenomena cultural theorists thought it was powerless to explain. But he also shows that aspects of class are indeed centrally affected by cultural factors.
The Class Matrix does not seek to displace culture from the analysis of modern capitalism. Rather, in prose of exemplary clarity, Chibber gives culture its due alongside what Marx called “the dull compulsion of economic relations.”
A quite thorough and impressive work, not only a compelling defense of materialism but also a fair-minded if highly critical engagement with cultural theory. It isn’t clear how culturalists—especially the anti-Marxist ones—can effectively respond to this broadside, tightly and cogently argued as it is.
Chibber has accomplished something quite astounding in The Class Matrix—he has developed a sophisticated, elegant, and readable defense of the sociological significance of class structure in understanding and addressing the key problems inherent in capitalism.
The Class Matrix is a clear, compelling, and systematic statement of the view that class is an objective reality that predictably and rationally shapes human thought and action, one we need to grapple with seriously if we’re to comprehend contemporary society and its morbid symptoms.
Concisely and systematically argues the case for the continued importance of class for the radical left today. Vivek Chibber rigorously debunks various long held understandings that characterise radical left thought since the cultural turn.
The Class Matrix is an important theoretical contribution to a wide and lively discussion in the humanities and social sciences about structural and cultural explanation. Chibber’s profound reassessment of the Marxist theory of class in the light of the new culturalist arguments shows in a sophisticated and convincing way that the capitalist economic system and its class structure of capital and wage labor have a special force in constraining the choices of action open to capitalists and wage-workers.
Vivek Chibber’s magnificent new book carves a path forward for structuralist and materialist analysis in a post–cultural turn academic era. Chibber reformulates Marxist theory to recognize the fundamental role of class structure in shaping human well-being while allowing a place for contingency in the generation of collective action. He adroitly uses this framework to shed light on the trajectory of modern capitalism and class formation in the twenty-first century. The Class Matrix is the response to the cultural turn that structuralists like me have been waiting for, and the book does not disappoint.
Along with a materialist critique of the cultural turn, Chibber restores the centrality of class. Lucid theory from a brilliant mind. Sure to generate vigorous debate.
- 224 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.