The Marxist Perspective on family

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  • Believe family is destructive and should be abolished.
  • From 1960 onwards there has been a growing awareness of problems in family life - domestic violence and child abuse.
  • Marxists reject the idea society is based on value consensus and operates for the benefits of all.
  • They see a conflict of interest between a small powerful ruling class and the mass of the population, the subject class or the proletariat
  • Family is seen as one of a number of institutions which serves to maintain the position of the ruling class.
  • Modern industrial societies have a capitalist economic system.
  • Capitalism is based on private ownerships of economic institutions - banks and factories.
  • In capitalist economies investors finance the production of goods and services with the aim of producing profits - investors form the ruling class.
  • The subject class - the workers - produce goods and services and are paid wages for their labour.
  • The ruling class are seen to exploit the subject class - they gain at the workers' expense since their profits come from the workers labour.
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  • Argue the economy largely shapes the rest of society.
  • A capitalist economic system will produce a certain type of society.
  • Institutions such as the family, education system and political system are shaped by requirements of capitalism and serve to support and maintain it.
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Engels- The origin of the family, private property

  • Argued that modern nuclear family developed in capitalist society.
  • Private property is at the heart of capitalism and was largely owned by men.
  • Before 1882 in Britain, married women could not own property - it passed to their husbands on marriage.
  • A key concern of the capitalist was to ensure his property passed on to legitimate heirs.
  • The monogamous nuclear family provided the answer - gave men greater control over women.
  • With only one husband and one wife, doubts about paternity of children are unlikely.
  • Withing the nuclear family, a man could be fairly sure that he had legitimate children with a clear right to inherit his wealth.
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The family maintains capitalism

  • In some respects Marxists views of the family are similar to functionalists - see family as a unit which reproduces and socialises children.
  • Marxists see the family as benefitting the capitalist system rather than society as a whole.
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KEY STUDY - Zaretsky

  • Zaretsky - 1976
  • Examines the family in a modern capitalist society where work is alienating and providing little fulfilment.
  • The exploitative nature of capitalism leads to people seeking refuge in the family.
  • He argues that family cannot meet the high expectations placed on it.
  • In the 1970's Zaretsky observed how housewives kept capitalism going, performing free household tasks in the home and socialising a future generation of workers (children) into a way of thinking that suited capitalist requirements.
  • The family is also a unit of consumption - families buy consumer goods that need to be purchased for capitalism to survive and for profits to be maintained.
  • Marxists argue that family is a means for:-
    • Reproducing labour power - reproduces further generations of workers.
    • consuming the products of capitalism.
    • providing emotional support for workers helping them to cope with harsh realities of capitalism.
    • socialising children to accept the inequalities of capitalist society.
  • Family thus helps to maintain an unjust and explotative system.
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