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May 29, 2013 / C H Thompson

Feminism continued

Feminists and other contemporary sociologists identified shortcomings with major classical sociological theories. This was because early definitions of the social world excluded significant parts of human action and interaction such as those typically occupied by women and children. Classical sociologists showed little interest in or analysis of institutions such as the household, family, or community where women’s experiences have often been centred.

The division of labour for Marx and Durkheim, provide an example of this. Durkheim’s division of labour is the division of tasks in the public economy through role allocation. During Durkheim’s time women did not generally participate in the public labour this effectively eliminated women from Durkheim’s division of labour.

Consequently as functionalists identify the division of labour as being fundamental to social equilibrium, a male value consensus becomes central to social solidarity. Such a status quo makes women largely invisible to the functionalist social world. This begs the question as to whether women’s activities ever contributed to Durkheim’s concept of social-facts? If not, then women were clearly never a part of early sociological discourse.

This wasn’t confined to Durkheim. Marx’s, concepts of class, exploitation, surplus labour, and capital accumulation had little to do with female experiences. Similarly, Weber’s class, status, and party, domination, authority, bureaucracy, and rationality are all part of a public sphere in which women play little part.

These classical sociologists recognised patriarchy but not in the now familiar feminist discourse of patriarchy as a socially construct. Instead ‘patriarchy’ for Weber, Marx and Durkheim was an expression of biological or natural differences between genders. From this perspective patriarchy was considered to be a natural part of traditional authority over women expressed within a social and political system which involved the exercise of power by males over females, family, children, and household. A point cleverly identified in this Harry Enfield clip below titled ‘Women Know Your Limits!’

To summarise the social world of the classical sociologists generally excluded the actions of women.  As a result, sociology as a discipline did not have much to say about women.  While each of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim did have some comments on women particularly regarding their roles within the family, these were generally limited comments and their sociological models would differ very little if women did not exist until the substantive rise of feminist academics.


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