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The concept of economic determinism refers to monocausal determinism by material, economic factors. The idea is often associated with Karl Marx’s ”historical materialism,” but it is not clear that Marx himself was a strict economic determinist, or even a materialist. The Romantic strain in the work of the early Marx did not disappear entirely, which is evident in terms of his view of species being and the teleology of communism. Some commentators differentiate between economic determinism and dialectical materialism, where dialectical materialism allows for more flexibility and may even include a feedback mechanism. Rigid versions of economic determinism are often associated with Marxist-Leninism and Stalinism. In Marxist parlance, the forces of production determine the relations of production in any mode of production. Sometimes that statement is modified to include the disclaimer that such economic determinism is only true in the final analysis. But precisely what ”in the final analysis” means is rarely specified exactly.
Closely related is the concept of economic reductionism (Robertson & White 2005: 355-7), where emphasis is placed on the idea that the economy is closely intertwined with all forms of the culture of consumerism. Thus, for example, advertising images can be viewed as ideological constructs that are the product of economic forces working on decision-makers in corporations. Concern with capitalist globalization has been premised in part on the theory that economic globalization is determinative of all aspects of civil society, not just consumption. Studies of the origins of the ”capitalist world system” have moved the classical Marxist argument about economic determinism from relations of production within nation-states to a global arena that involves the interaction among societies. Wallerstein (1974; 1980; 1989) ”emphasized the causal significance of economic-material factors, relegating other aspects of epiphenomenal status” (Robertson & White 2005: 357). There are also counterarguments which stress ”civilizational” or ”cultural” factors as determinative. Weber’s 1904-6 thesis (2002: 125) concerning the Protestant ethic is often misinterpreted as a one-sided idealist argument, but he explicitly points out that it is not his intention to replace a one-sided economic determinism with an equally misleading, one-sided idealist (ideological-cultural) determinism.
- Robertson, R. & White, K. E. (2005) Globalization: sociology and cross-disciplinarity. In: Calhoun, C., Rojek, C., & Turner, B. (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Sociology. Sage, London, pp. 345-66.
- Wallerstein, I. (1974, 1980, 1989) The Modern World System, 3 vols. Cambridge University Press, New York.
- Weber, M. (2002)  The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. S. Kalberg. Roxbury, Los Angeles, CA.