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The Class Matrix

The Class Matrix

Social Theory after the Cultural Turn

Vivek Chibber

ISBN 9780674245136

Publication date: 02/08/2022

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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.”

Praise

  • 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.

    —Chris Wright, CounterPunch

Author

  • Vivek Chibber is Professor of Sociology at New York University and the author of Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital and Locked in Place: State-Building and Late Industrialization in India. He is a contributor to the Socialist Register, American Journal of Sociology, Boston Review, and New Left Review.

Book Details

  • 224 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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