'Our Table Factory, Inc.': Learning Marx through role play

in Learning and Teaching
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  • 1 University of Toronto Scarboroughnmaghbouleh@utsc.utoronto.ca
  • 2 University of Toronto Scarboroughcchildress@utsc.utoronto.ca
  • 3 Vassar Collegecaalamo@vassar.edu
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Marx's critique of capitalism remains foundational to the university social science curriculum yet little is known about how instructors teach Marx. In post-industrial, service-oriented economies, students are also increasingly disconnected from the conditions of industrial capitalism that animate Marx's analysis. Inspired by the discussion of how a piece of wood becomes a table in Marx's Capital Vol. 1., 'Our Table Factory, Inc.' simulates a diverse array of roles in the chain of production into and out of a table factory to understand key concepts: means/mode of production, use/exchange value, primitive accumulation wage/surplus labour, proletariat, bourgeoisie, alienation, false consciousness, commodity fetishism and communist revolution. We describe the exercise and present qualitative and quantitative assessment data from introductory sociology undergraduates across three small teaching-intensive universities in the United States. Findings detail the exercise's efficacy in fostering retention of material and in facilitating critical engagement with issues of inequality.