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relative autonomy

relative autonomy The renewal of Marxist theory inaugurated by Louis Althusser and his associates in the 1960s had as one of its aims the rescue of Marxism from the charge of economism (or economic determinism). According to Althusser, the social totality consisted of four distinct sets of practices— economic, political, ideological, and theoretical—in complex combination with one another. None of these practices should be thought of as reducible to any of the others. On the contrary, each has its own ‘relative autonomy’ within limits set by its place in the totality. Critics have argued that in the absence of any specification of what these limits might be, the concept lacks explanatory content. The most sustained attempt to apply the concept in substantive analyses will be found in the works of Nicos Poulantzas.

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