Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Infrastructure is the interconnected structural elements that provides a basis on which a society is organised or develops.

explanatory context

The general meaning of infrastructure refers to the basic system of transportation and utilities that are used in a society.


Infrastructure is a term used in Marxist analysis to refer to the economic basis of society (sometimes referred to as ‘the base’). The infrastructure is manifested in the relations of production. The relations of production in capitalism, for Marx, were essentially constituted, on the one hand, by owners of the means of production, and on the other, by workers who sold their labour power. This process was enabled, supported and perpetuated by superstructural elements such as the church, the mass media, school and other organisations that encouraged maintenance of the status quo.


The infrastructure is sometimes referred to as the base or economic base.

analytical review

Investopedia (2013) states:

The basic physical systems of a business or nation. Transportation, communication, sewage, water and electric systems are all examples of infrastructure. These systems tend to be high-cost investments, however, they are vital to a country’s economic development and prosperity. Infrastructure projects may be funded publicly, privately or through public-private partnerships.


Anthrobse (undated) states:

Marx was the first to see society as a system, an identifiable creature, with its own dynamics, its own logic, its own inherent development. Later, others would describe this system differently, but they would still describe it as a system, and Marx was the first to do this in a systematic way.

As regards Marx's own idea of what constituted the internal "glue" of the system, it was clearly biased toward what is often called "the material". This we may understand, roughly, as the physical "stuff" without which we would not even exist. It follows that social control of access to such physical "stuff" (food, fuel) is the key to social power. Marx refers to this as the infrastructure of society. On this level society is produced as such, and the basis for this production is most fundamentally, material. Through material production we create the fields and houses, roads and machines that make it possible to live in our society. On top of this production of the material base (infrastructure, basis) of existence, there exists an Überbau - a superstructure - an organization and ideology, that reflects over the infrastructure and legitimates the power relations that obtain in relation to it. Between the infrastructure and the superstructure, and between the component parts of each, there pertains a constant tension, a dialectic, which drives forth social change - towards greater and greater concentrations of power.


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines infrastructure as:

The interface between a sociocultural system and its environment. In sociocultural materialism it contains the principle mechanism by which society regulates the amount and type of energy from the environment.


The McGraw-Hill (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines base as:

That part of society which conditions, if not determines, the nature of everything else in society. For Marx, this was the economy. (Marx)

associated issues


related areas

See also


Researching the Real World Section


Anthrobase, undated, Marx, Karl Heinrich (1818–1883), available at, accessed 23 January 2013, still available 7 June 2019.

Investopedia, 2013.

Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, page not available 20 December 2016.

McGraw-Hill, 2004, Sociological Theory: Glossary , available at, accessed 14 May 2013, page not available 12 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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