Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hypatia Paper on Patriarchy and Historical Materialism

My paper entitled "Patriarchy and Historical Materialism" has been accepted for publication in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia. Here is the abstract of the paper:

Why does the world have the pattern of patriarchy it currently possesses? And why do patriarchal practices and institutions evolve and modify the way they have tended to over time in human societies? This paper explores these general questions by integrating a feminist analysis of patriarchy with the central insights of the functionalist interpretation of historical materialism advanced by G.A. Cohen (1978, 1988). The paper has two central aspirations. Firstly, to help narrow the divide between Analytical Marxism and feminism by redressing the former’s neglect of the important role female labor has played, and continues to play, in shaping human history. Secondly, by developing the functionalist account of historical materialism to take patriarchy seriously, useful insights for diagnosing the emancipatory challenges that women face in the world today can be derived. The degree and form of patriarchy present in any particular society is determined by the productive forces it has had at its disposal. According to historical materialism, technological, material and medical advances that ease the pressures on high fertility rates (such as the sanitation revolution, vaccinations, birth control, etc.) are the real driving force behind the positive modulations to patriarchy witnessed in the twentieth century.

I integrate Cohen's functionalist account of historical materialism with Gerda Lerner's account of the history of patriarchy.

A basic summary of my central arguments are:

(1) basic materialism: Humans have basic needs, the fulfillment of which is a precondition for any other form of life (e.g., social, political or intellectual life). To meet our basic needs humans had to labour. And the precarious situation of early hunter-gatherer societies meant that a priority had to be given to two important, and interdependent, kinds of labor: (a) warfare labor-- protecting one’s tribe from invasion by other tribes, as well as invading others when need be; and (b) reproductive and caring labor- the labor necessary to create and raise offspring. A group highly vulnerable to either predation or low birth rates would not survive long in the external conditions typical of the Late Pleistocene and early Holocene. This early division of male and female human labor thus set the foundation for the class relations that arise in slave, feudal and capitalist societies. For these are the relations of production of patriarchy. Relations that are further shaped, molded and reinforced by the legal and political institutions that arise in early states.

(b) synchronic materialism:
The subordination of women becomes formalized, and intensified, by the creation of superstructures that help stabilize these oppressive relations of production. Such relations give men effective control over the reproductive and caring labor of women. These patriarchal superstructures begin in slave societies, but continue through feudalism and capitalism.

(c) diachronic materialism: the productive forces of capitalism permit the modification of the worst forms of patriarchy. Once the pressures on maintaining high levels of fertility subside, due to declines in infant, maternal, and mid-life mortality, a greater portion of female labor can (and must be) utilized outside the home. Working outside the home permits women to make important impacts on the superstructure of society, thus resulting in greater political inclusion and equality. Diachronic materialism maintains that the degree and form of patriarchy in a society is determined by the productive forces it has at its disposal.

The ideas for this paper were first expressed on this blog a while back (see here and here).