The Marxist Perspective on the Family

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  • Created on: 08-11-19 18:21

The Marxist Perspective

  • “Structural conflict” perspective: see institutions as functioning in favour of the minority ruling class (the bourgeoisie) who gain their wealth from exploiting the majority working-class (the proletariat), which causes a conflict of interest between the two classes
  • However, the family performs and “ideological control” role, convincing the masses that the current system of exploitation is, in fact, fair, inevitable, natural and good.
  • Similar to the functionalist view, Marxists believe family type changes with society- more specifically, the nuclear family emerged not because it fits the needs to industrialisation, but because it fits the needs of capitalism
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Engels: Explaining the Emergence of the Nuclear Fa

  • The monogamous nuclear family only emerged with capitalism, prior to this, there were tribal societies that practiced “primitive communism” in which there was no private property.
  • In these societies property was collectively owned, and family structures reflected this; instead of set families there were tribal groups in a kind of “promiscuous horde”, in which there were no restrictions on sexual relationships
  • Bourgeoisie started to look for ways to pass on their wealth, instead of sharing it out between the masses, which is where the nuclear family came from. It is a guaranteed way to pass on wealth to sons, as it monogamous relationships, it is clear which children are whose. 
  • Ultimately, however, this arrangement just reproduces class inequality, the rich stay rich by getting inherited wealth and the poor stay poor. Therefore, the nuclear family benefits the bourgeoisie more than the proletariat.
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Criticisms of Engels

  • Gender inequality precedes capitalism; women in patriarchal continents like Asia and Africa are barred from owning property or having high positions of power, and have to do most of the childcare and hard physical labour.
  • Wealthy capitalist economies like the UK and the USA have seen a vast improvement in gender equality in the last century. Capitalism, increasing wealth and gender equality within a nation seem to have some sort of correlation.
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Contemporary Marxism: The Family as an Ideological

  • The family is described as an ideological state apparatus, meaning it socialises its members into justifying inequality and believing that the capitalist system is fair, natural and unchangeable. 
  • One of the ways this happens in the familial hierarchy; from a young age children are taught that there is a higher power above them, which to begin with, is their parents. This mirrors workers exploitation by those in managerial positions later on, during their work-life. 
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Contemporary Marxism: The Family as a Unit of Cons

  • Business owners want to keep costs of wages low so that they can maximise profits. They also want to sell their products to their employees, so they need to keep demand for these high. The family builds demand for goods in a number of ways:
    • Families feel they need to have everything their neighbours, peers, work-mates, etc. have and even more. This is called “Keeping up with the Joneses”. There are significant amounts of adverts and TV programmes influencing parents this way.
    • The media companies target they adverts at children who then use “pester power” to make their parents buy them expensive items. This is particularly imminent in the UK, as there are no laws restricting advertising to children (In Sweden, adverts aimed at children under is illegal)
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Criticisms of Marxism

  • Too deterministic: assumes people blindly accept society’s norms and values without question, and that the future is pre-determined
  • Ignores family diversity and that many women now work full-time
  • Feminists argue that Marxist ideas on class ignore the inequalities between men and women, which is the real source of female oppression.
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