False consciousness

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False consciousness is a term used by sociologists, and expounded by some Marxists, to designate the way in which material, ideological, and institutional processes in capitalist society mislead members of the proletariat and other class actors. These processes are thought to hide the true relations between classes and conceal the exploitation suffered by the proletariat.

Origins and meaning[edit]

Engels used the term "false consciousness" to address the scenario where the ideology of the ruling class is embodied willfully by a subordinate class.[1] "Consciousness", in this context, reflects a class's ability to politically identify and assert its will. The subordinate class is conscious: it plays a major role in society and can assert its will due to being sufficiently unified in ideas and action. Engels dubs this consciousness "false" because the class is asserting itself towards goals that do not benefit it.

Later development[edit]

Marshall I. Pomer has argued that members of the proletariat disregard the true nature of class relations because of their belief in the probability or possibility of upward mobility.[2] Such a belief or something like it is said to be required in economics with its presumption of rational agency; otherwise wage laborers would not be the conscious supporters of social relations antithetical to their own interests, violating that presumption.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Letter to Mehring". 1893.
  2. ^ Marshall I. Pomer (October 1984). "Upward Mobility of Low-Paid Workers: A Multivariate Model for Occupational Changers". Sociological Perspectives. 27 (4): 427–442. ISSN 0731-1214. JSTOR 1389035.
  3. ^ This phenomenon is most accentuated in the United States, and has given rise to what some European Marxists[who?] refer to as "class transference"[1].

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