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Historical materialism is a methodological and explanatory framework for understanding social, political, and environmental conditions and change, based in the thought of Karl Marx. It suggests that the various forms of human institutions and social organization are dependent upon the “production of material life” in communities, and is described most famously in the preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy of 1859. There, Marx calls the ensemble of the material “productive forces” and their corresponding relations of production, as they exist at any one place and point in time, a “mode of production,” and offers as examples “Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois [capitalist].” Historical materialism is thus an explicitly materialist theory of history, for each of the social formations that make ...

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