Capitalism is defined as an economic "system of wage-labour and commodity production for sale, exchange, and profit, rather than for the immediate need of the producers" (Marshall, 1998: 53). As observed by Karl Marx, capitalism transformed a small proportion of a society's population into capitalists, or those who own the factories and industrial businesses, while the larger proportion of the population became wage labourers, a grouping which Marx called the proletariats. These workers gain the wages needed to live through the sale of their labour to capitalists in the capitalistic industries (Macionis, 1997: 76). Though both Karl Marx and Max Weber, sociologists living during the 19th century, observed this economic system, each conjectured a different explanation for its rise. Marx employed a materialistic approach in his explanation of the rise of capitalism, believing that the ways by which people make material products shapes the whole of society. Weber, finding Mar!.
x's explanation for the rise of capitalism too narrow, explained that in addition to technology, ideas also have a shaping power upon society, and capitalism was a product of both. Contrary to this belief, Marx believed that a society's ideas simply reflect the system, or mode of production in place within that society. Though both sociologists expressed different views concerning the rise of capitalism, each believed that capitalism caused alienation amongst the members of society. Marx believed that the wage labourers developed feelings of alienation and isolation because of their powerlessness in relation to the capitalists (Macionis, 1997: 80), while Weber believed that alienation resulted from the dehumanisation of individuals by the capitalist, bureaucratically dominated society.
As previously stated, Marx's approach to understanding the rise capitalism involved the idea of materialism, or that the lives of people in a specific society are shaped by the way material products are produced.