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What is Marxism? While functionalists see society as based on value consensus, Marxist sociologists see capitalist society as based on unequal conflict between two social classes: The Bourgeoisie and The Proletariat.

Key Theorists: Karl Marx/ Friedrich Engels/ Louis Althusser 
Key Terms: Capitalism/ Conflict/ Patriarchy/ Proletariat/ Bourgeoisie/ Subordination/ Social Class/ Hierarchy/ Private Property/ Ideological State Apparatus

Marxists see all society's institutions, such as the education system, the media, religion and the state, along with the family, as helping to maintain class inequality and capitalism. The functions of the family are performed purely for the benefit of the capitalist system.

Marxists agree with functionalism that the dominant family type in modern capitalist societies is the isolated, traditional nuclear family.(Meets the needs of society as a tool of capitalism)

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The Family's role in a Capitalist Society

Need of Capitalism: Fit, well fed workers, maintained physically, mentally and emotionally.
The Family's Role: Gender division of labor, the woman looks after children and partner.

Need of Capitalism: A constant supply of new young workers.
The Family's Role: Unit of reproduction- monogamous and patriarchal family. 

Need of Capitalism: An outlet or 'safety valve' for worker's frustrations.
The Family's Role: Gender division of labor, supported by Parson's 'Warm Bath' theory.

Need of Capitalism: New workers who are well socialized and disciplined.
The Family's Role: Nuclear family. Socialize into hierarchy through authoritative parents

For Marxists, the functions of the family are purely performed for the benefit of the capitalist system.

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Key Theorists

Engels(1884)- The origin of private property, the family and the state. 

Monogamy became essential so that property/wealth could be inherited paternally. This brought the women the role of being the instrument for reproduction.  


Family is a 'prop' for capitalist system. 
The domestic labor of housewives is unpaid. Benefiting the bourgeoisie.   
The family consumes products of the capitalists = Maintains position as the ruling class.


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  • Marxists are criticized for ignoring the positive aspects of family life. The view that the family creates an obedient workforce ripe for exploitation is too deterministic.
  • The Marxist view is also out of date, failing to consider the diversity of family life today. Also, parents seem to have lost the ability to control their children. 
  • Radical feminists suggest that Marxists ignore the patriarchal nature of society. 
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