Theoretical Ideas of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim in “Practice Theory” Essay

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer


Put forth by Pierre Bourdieu, practise theory is a hypothesis whose agenda is to present people’s actions by way of using their actions or rather practices as the key elements of research.

More precisely, the theory seeks “to liberate agency – the human ability to act upon and change the world –from the constrictions of structuralist and systemic models while avoiding the trap of methodological individualism” (Coser, 1977).

As the paper reveals, the theory has adapted and adopted the views of other renowned theorists such as Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Durkheim.

Practice theory from Karl Marx’s perspective

Max looks at the society from the perspective of adjusting systems of authority that are not natural in a way presents them as natural. To the society, such kinds of unnatural power systems must be made to appear as if they are organic and or part of the process of unstoppable civilisation.

Marx argues that the conscience of the society is formed through economic determinism. This view has always covered the reality from the sight of the society. Marx views the society from a point of capitalism. The society has naturally made the unnatural economic order to appear natural.

On this basis, it is divided into the owners of production means and the labourers. Marx is for the opinion that this state of affairs is just the same as the previous feudal system of existence in the society. According to Wilson (1978), the same war-like system of existence has overly been repeated by the current societies.

This situation has been emphasised to the point of making it look like it is a normal process and that society should never question it. According to Coser (1977, p. 218), the society is shaped by the economic system that it adopts.

Congruent with to Marx’s view of the practice theory, it will always try to enforce this rule and or make it look like it is unquestionable. In fact, in most cases, this tradition is adopted through coercive means. Surprisingly, even religious and educational systems have adopted this trend.

The message in churches, mosques, and schools conform to this system of beliefs and ideas. Capitalism roots its ideology in exploitation of the citizens by enhancing the repetition of this trend and the passage of the same to the next generations.

Due to capitalism, the rich class of people continue to become richer while the poor class becomes poorer. Marx affirms this gap as the reason behind the continued growth of a capitalistic society. The capitalistic society becomes trans-generational and keeps on being reproduced (Coser 1977, p.222).

Through the practice theory, Marx explains that capitalism is inculcated in the society through reaching out for individuals.

Through the capitalist ideology, citizens are made only to think and care about what matters to them. The ideology is spread through books, videos, churches, education systems, television programs, and music.

Practice theory from Emile Durkheim’s perspective

From Durkheim’s perspective, labour specialisation is not aimed at making the society more capitalistic. Distribution of workforce proceeds from the fact that people in the society pursue different interests based on their different skills.

Durkheim argues that the allotment gives the society an opportunity to express itself (1949). Different people get opportunities to follow their dreams and interests. The opportunities shape the society.

In the practice theory, Durkheim views a capitalist society as a competitive society where competition makes it functional and fully stratified. Without this stratification, the society would lose its social organisation.

Capitalism is not all about exploitation of the poor by the rich but the stratification of the society into a certain social order. Skills and talents can be realised through workforce specialisation (Durkheim, 1949). As the poor class gets into the work practice, it realises its dreams and that its skills are perfected.

The practice theory from Weber’s perspective

From Weber’s perspective of the practice theory, competition in the form of labour is positive. Weber affirms that competition is beneficial since it leads to a mature society (1968, p. 29). Competition cannot be entirely negative: it is an ethical aspect of societal development.

According to Weber (1968, p.30), capitalism made the stratification system in the society more relaxed by reducing differences between classes to mark a healthy and ethical societal development. Capitalism bridges the relationship between the rich and the poor.

Terms of work, working conditions, and language of work have changed because of competition in work. Competition and work allotment have brought about respect and better working relations between employers and the employees because employers fear that they would lose their skilled labour to other employers.

Weber is also for the idea that capitalism has an aspect of spiritualism. The society has become extremely materialistic with people worshiping gods and abstract things. The spirituality of the society has also been absorbed into capitalism.

As people worship, they do so with material things in their minds and spirit thus utterly altering the purpose of worship in the modern society. Religion and spirituality ought not to be a source of perpetuation but a remedy to this situation.

Weber is for the idea that capitalism has been on the rise because of its capacity to go without being checked. Hence, it has become a threat to the traditional set of values that were previously held by the society over the years.

Today, people have no choice but to look for and commit themselves to religion to keep abreast with morality (Weber, 1968, p19). The negative influence of capitalism on the society has ended up corrupting all the other springs of morality in the society.

The increased competition for goods in the society today has also resulted to little or no respect for morality in the society.

Similarities among the three theorists

There exist differences and similarities on how Marx, Weber, and Durkheim argue about the practice theory. Marx, Weber, and Durkheim all believe that the society largely depends on its economy. These theorists are for the idea that the wellbeing of the society depends on how its economic drivers function.

This similarity can be attributed to the fact that these three theorists lived in the same century and perhaps witnessed similar economic changes during their time. They all witnessed the industrial revolution.

Therefore, since the industrial revolution period was marked by both materialism and change from the traditional way of life to modernisation, the society was so much changed.

In fact, the industrial revolution evolved made the society. From such influence, the theorists formed their basis with their arguments being largely influenced by their ways of life and the period of their existence. Since their period was marked by industrialisation, their arguments had many facets that depict this bias.

According to Wrong (1970, p.15), the period in which people lives influences their conceptualisation of reality. Max Weber and Durkheim also uphold the argument posed by Karl Marx that the society’s level of evolution and development largely depends on its economy.

Similarly, Marx and Durkheim have also upheld Weber’s point of view that the society evolves as its economy evolves. According to Westby (1991, p.263), the three theorists are for the opinion that a society is constructed on the grounds of materialism and the need to change.

Weber and Durkheim focused on the societal values and morality. Durkheim argued that the level of morality that a society upholds largely influences its development (1964, p. 49).

He also argued that morality and immorality could be passed from one generation to the other depending on how well a certain society reacts to their impact as upheld by Weber who supported the idea that the level of morality in a society will adversely affect its level of capitalism.

The theorists argued around the fact that capitalism will affect the values and morality of the society. Both Weber and Durkheim argued that the fact that capitalism promotes an individualistic way of life, it is likely to affect the value of socialism in the society.

The two theorists are for the opinion that capitalism brings about healthy competition between individuals, societies, and even nations.

However, if capitalism is not checked, it may result in the elimination of all the values of the society. Proper mechanisms ought to be put in place by any society that adopts capitalism as its way of life.

Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim also have a similarity in the way they discussed societal constructs. All the three theorists analysed workforce specialisation as an economic facet that affects the relationships both within and outside that society.

The three theorists showed a strong interest in the way labour and economic development shape the society as a whole.

They all argued that the level of economic development in a particular society is shaped by its labour based on experience that the three theorists witnessed enormous changes in the economy during the industrial revolution.

All the three theorist are for the idea that the level of cohesion in the society will largely depend on that society’s ability to manage labour. The arguments of the three theorists may differ from one point to another though their ideas are rooted on a similar locus.

Moreover, they all based their worldview on the fact that the society is dependent on the sellers of labour and the controllers of the markets. Adopting the practice theory, all the three theorists have their arguments based on the premise that work allotment is a driving force for the economy and hence the society.

Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx exhibit a similarity in the way they argue about reproduction of certain ideologies in the society. Durkheim is for the opinion that certain capitalistic behaviours in the society are intentionally reproduced.

The society trains its members on values that it should appreciate and reproduce (Durkheim, 1949, 17) through societal information sources. Capitalism is trained through video, television, books, songs, and dances to ensure that the society progresses to reproduce similar characters in the next generation.

A son or daughter to a rich man is brought up with the belief that she or he is in charge of the means of production. He or she is also trained that a certain section of the society should provide labour in the industries and other means of production.

Differences between the three theorist’s worldviews

There are various differences in worldview among Marx, Max, and Durkheim. Although the three theorists existed during a similar historical period, their arguments on practice theory differed majorly on their view of how the society is supposed to react to the dynamics that emanate from labour distribution.

The three theorists also pose variant arguments on how the society appreciates and acknowledges workforce specialisation.

According the Marx, labour allocation is the beginning of conflicts in the society. Social conflicts in the society are rooted in the way the society appreciates labour specialisation.

Marx is for the opinion that classes and social stratifications emerge in the society out of work distribution, which creates a gap between the labour providers and those who control the markets hence marking the genesis of the rich and the poor classes of people in the society.

The same stratification according to Marx is the basis for the divisions of those who have and those who do not have. The rich will always want to exploit the poor to create the evident large rifts in the society. There exists a strained relationship between the labourers and the employers.

Marx argues that this splitting up is the basis of social conflicts that have been witnessed in the world since time in memorial.

On the other hand, Emile Durkheim is for the opinion that personnel distribution is normative and unavoidable since the society cannot do without it. According to Durkheim, the normal functioning of the society and its effectiveness will largely depend on its ability to control its personnel.

The society cannot function normally without this force. Hence, every society must develop mechanisms of controlling it. On the same note, it is out of work specialisation that talents are developed and nurtured to help in creating expertise in the society.

Durkheim upholds this aspect since it leads to specialisation in production of goods and services of high quality that offer competition in the crowded markets.

No society can develop without the various labour distributions, which constitute the mechanisms through which capitalism enhances economic and social developments in the society.

According to Durkheim, work allotment will always result in a well-stratified society in which all members know their functions. When market controllers play their roles, the labourers will follow suit.

On his part, Max Weber is for the opinion that capitalism leads to the appreciation of work division. In practice theory, the specialisation therefore results in both societal and individual development.

Weber posits that every member has a role to play in a capitalistic society. For a normal society to develop, every prominent role has to be assigned to a certain individual.

Specialisation leads to specialisation since individuals will play their roles repetitively. Weber also argues that the strategy will result in the perfection of skills that consequently raises the quality of production in the market.

A closer look at the theorist reveals that, while Marx sees capitalism as a coerced means of making people accept divisions among them hence leading to conflict, Durkheim sees it as the most appropriate tool for the normal functioning of the society.

According to Marx, people are forced to accept capitalism as the only way that society can access growth. In fact, Marx argues that the society constructs this ideology as the only available and better system of development. Other methods of societal development are seen as unnecessary and retrogressive.

To him, the society must agree to the terms of capitalism in practice. This notion makes some quotas of the society violently react to the impacts of capitalism. Marx predicts that, since capitalism results in coercion, it may as well lead to a violent revolution in a bid to rebel against it and is impacts.

According to Marx, capitalism works to affirm untrue consciousness in the society. However, Durkheim also appreciates social coercion as a happening in the society. People are forced to accept ideologies that are posed by other members of the society.

A certain class in the society works to ensure that the society follows its (the class) way of thinking. Since the class, which is mostly made up of elites, has a wealth, the elites will use it to coerce the less fortunate to follow what they deem necessary.

According to Durkheim, this ideology amounts to alienation of some intrinsic rights and freedom because of capitalism.

Another difference between Durkheim and Marx’s point of views is realised from how both of them view labour distribution in the society. According to Karl Marx, capitalism upholds this aspect as a tool used by the elites to benefit themselves as owners of the means of production to exploit the poor or the working class.

According to Hermann (2005, p.6), from this exploitation, the society shapes itself into rich and or poor. As Weber views specialisation from a positive point of view, Marx is for the idea that it results in negative societal stratification.

According to Marx, the argument that Durkheim poses of labour specialisation resulting in the perfection of skills during competition does not hold any water. In fact, a person may have a talent in a certain area.

However, he or she may not pursue a career of her choice due to societal stratification that comes with capitalism.

On the other hand, one may have no talent in a certain field, but because the society places him or her in the elite class, he or she is taken to school for training on the skill as a way of edging out the poor out of the normal competition in life.

In capitalistic societies, life favours the ‘haves’ but not the ‘have nots’. Marx argues that capitalism may never result in any visible change in the society. It seeks to maintain the status quo.

For example, a talented actress is featured in a rich person’s shows where she is paid peanuts because she cannot afford to organise and fund such shows.

The rich man pockets all the charges collected from such shows meaning that the talented actress may never realise the fruits of her talent. Her efforts and talents only benefit the elites and hence the negative influence of capitalism.

Marx and Weber thoroughly contrast the idea of competition with that of elimination by Durkheim. Durkheim is for the idea of natural cohesion in the society. However, Marx and Weber uphold the opinion that natural solidarity does not exist and that cohesion is created through the functioning of the society.

Herman (2005) asserts that competition that is created through capitalism develops solidarity and social cohesion. Marx and Weber differ in their opinion of the need for competition in the society.

Marx argues that competition is one of the major facets of unnatural methods of ensuring that the status quo is replicated in the society. For Marx, competition is a societal means of ensuring that the rich class continues to be rich as the poor succumb to poverty.

On the other hand, Weber believes that competition results in societal transformation contrary to Marx’s worldview. The transformative effects as per Weber end up evolving the society.

Contrary to Marx idea that competition results in a feudal system of existence in the society, Weber attributes job distribution to change from the feudal system in the society. The society did away with the feudal system of existence due to competition contrary to believe that competition results in societal feuds.

Weber believes that competition results in a deeper stratification. She also argues that stratification in the society has been relaxed because of capitalism. Weber also attributes the change from the master-servant relationship to that of employer-employee relationship to capitalism.

This shift has utterly transformed the language of communication in the society. Change in language of communication also results in changes in relationships among the society members. Since communication influences the way people interact, the relationships between them can also be enhanced through it.

In this light, Weber attributes the growing social relations in labour to improved language of communication as stressed by Graber (1985, 89). In contrast, Karl Marx sees this notion as semantics with no impact on society. Marx believes that the society cannot be guided by language, but by functional aspects.

Marx and Weber also defer in their view of the notion that economic conditions of a society can result in modernisation. Weber views this notion with suspicion.

To her, economic condition of the society is not the only factor that can result in modernisation since other factors like spiritualism also influence the level of modernisation in the society. Marx views economic development as a deviant fixation while Weber sees it as being spiritual.

Weber also attributes economic development to the entrepreneurial spirit that makes people obsessed to invest in a certain economy.

According to Max Weber, as delivered by Wrong (1970, p. 16), capitalism is a solution to the oppressive forces of society. Weber concerns herself with the ability of capitalism to determine how the society reacts to various forces.


In conclusion, practice theory that has its roots in France after having been developed by Pierre Bourdieu has been adopted and adapted by the arguments of renowned theorists such as Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Emile Durkheim.

The theorists argued similar and in different ways concerning various aspects of the practice theory. The perspective that Marx takes is that capitalism makes the unnatural methods seem natural in the society. It aims at making the society accept the effects of capitalism.

Marx is for the idea that the society is driven by its economic functions. Max and Durkheim uphold the claim that capitalism results in positive competition that in turn results in development of talents and skills and hence better quality of production.

However, although these theorists existed during the same historical period, they also differ in their opinions concerning the practice theory. These differences and similarities make the practice theory a reality in the society today as revealed in the paper.


Coser, L1977, Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., New York.

Durkheim, E 1949, Division of Labour in Society, The Free Press, Glencoe, Illinois.

Durkheim, E 1964, The Rules of Sociological Method, London, the Free Press, New York.

Graber, E 1985, Law and Society in Max Weber’s sociology, in Theory of Liberty, Legitimacy and Power: New Directions in the Intellectual and Scientific Legacy of Max Weber, Routledge & Kegan Paul, Boston, London.

Hermann, M 2005, Assessing leadership style: Trait analysis: The psychological assessment of political leaders: With profiles of Saddam Hussein and Bill Clinton. University of Michigan Press, Dearborn, MI.

Weber, M 1968, Economy and Society: an Outline of Interpretative Sociology, Bedminster Press, New York.

Weber, M 2002, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Roxbury Publishing Company, Los Angeles.

Westby, D 1991, The Growth of Sociological Theory: Human Nature Knowledge, and Social Change, Prentice Hall, New Jersey.

Wilson, E 1978, On human nature, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Wrong, D 1970, Max Weber in (Introduction to) Makers of Modern Social Science: Max Weber, Prentice-Hall Inc., New Jersey.

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