Functionalist Interpretation of Marx’s Historical Materialism

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Over the past centuries, the world has experienced an evolving pattern of patriarchal practices. There is constant change in human societies and the way they operate. The concept of patriarchy refers to the overall manifestation of male dominance over women and children in the community. However, in the current world, the practice varies from one society to the other. For instance, in countries that have liberal democracies, such as Canada, England and US, females from such nations enjoy improved autonomy and engage massively in the workforce, political freedom, liberty of speech and expression. On the other hand, women from nations including Iran, Bangladesh and Iraq have limited rights, and thus their male counterparts enjoy more dominance in such settings. Effective interpretation of Marx’s historical material is significant because it enables people to comprehend and develop key emancipatory knowledge that is necessary to the evolution of patriarchy.

In order to have deep insight into the patriarchal evolution, a proper understanding of Marx’s historical materialism explanation is necessary. Based on the Colin Farrelly argument, functionalist interpretation of the model equips people with the ability to unfold significant knowledge that helps in tracking the changes happening in human society and the evolution of patriarchy. There is a growing aspect of diversity and a quest for knowledge on the division of labor in different cultures on a sexual basis (Farrelly 3). The disparate need to understand historical epochs has resulted in severe challenges that affect feminism. Political theorists have participated in the events to unfold imperfect and incomplete information to facilitate understanding of serious emancipatory knowledge. The involvement is significant because it enables philosophers to formulate ways of amending the oppression women face in society. In order to achieve the objective, theorists are forced to act at certain levels of generalization. The abstractions entail considering factors such as evidence, historical contingencies and complications that facilitate comprehending patriarchy. The approach enables individuals to give priority to the critical emancipatory knowledge instead of including possible information required to enhance societal transformation.

Applying the functionalist interpretation of Marx’s concept of historical materialism through the topics of persistence, creation and evolution of patriarchy is essential in redressing the challenges in society. Upon suitable amendment of Marx’s concepts to incorporate the significance of reproductive and caring labor, it then adheres to the creation of patriarchy (Farrelly 4). Generally, in society, patriarchy is formed due to necessity. In the beginning, the practice starts with the division of responsibilities whereby women are directed to perform the mothering role. The split of duties is important and is required for people to survive in the community because each person will focus on the specific area of production.

In society, the subordination of females becomes a norm and is further intensified by the development of frameworks that facilitates the stabilization of the oppression towards production. The formulated superstructures guarantee males an effective dominance over females in the society. The patriarchal practice began in the period of slavery and still continues in the reign of capitalism. Furthermore, another Marx point of view known as diachronic materialism offers an essential explanation of relations productions such as ownership of caring labor and reproductive changes over a period of time.

The strong forces of productive capitalism facilitated some of the patriarchal modifications. For instance, after the pressure related to fertility levels amongst women declined because of reduced infant mortality and mid-life deaths, the society opted to utilize the massive idle labor of females outside mothering. The knowledge and effort of women were then used to facilitate production in society. The participation of females played a significant role in enhancing labour-intensive needed for economic development.

Generally, human beings have basic needs to fulfil in order to have a better life experience. It is necessary for people to meet their wants and other aspects of life such as social and political. It is through labor that the fundamental needs can be achieved. It is, therefore, necessary for people to exert more energy and dedicate themselves to sustaining the appropriate living condition. The scarcity of goods in the environment is the key driver that facilitates and prompts individuals to work for their daily survival.

It is through work that people manage to obtain their basic wants. However, the aspect of scarcity imposes an effective challenge for human beings more than the labor itself. In reality, not all kinds of work will serve the needs of people over a long period of time (Farrelly 6). In order to be guaranteed survival, the labor should be able to suit the need of external forces and problems that individuals encounter at different places at given times. For instance, during the early years when people engaged in hunting and gathering, the labor provided exceeded searching for food and encompassed building shelters and other activities in which both genders participated.

The pressure from external sources prompted the establishment of two types of labor in the society, namely, reproductive and caring and warfare labor. That is work was necessary, especially for the group of people to produce and raise their young ones. Similarly, it was a must for individuals to protect their territories and tribes from possible invasion by invaders or attacking other communities if the conditions demanded.

In the early societies of hunters and gatherers, warfare was common amongst the different groups of people who were prompted by several reasons, such as limited resources. Human beings engage in conflicts as a way of finding long term solutions to their grievance in the environment (Reed). In most cases, the problems such as natural disasters, mistrust and fear of people prompted individuals to involve in dangerous feuds. Furthermore, the combat allowed them to confiscate valuable resources from the enemies, thus making the victors have adequate possessions that would protect them during tough times. Therefore, it became necessary for the people in the early societies to invest heavily in warfare labor.

Moreover, both the early and modern societies have allocated enough resources necessary to facilitate reproducing and raising healthy young ones through reproductive and caring labor. Following the dangerous and extreme conditions that the past people lived in, the likelihood of having at least two children grow to adulthood was insignificant; thus, couples had to dedicate themselves to having as many pregnancies as possible to increase the possibility. The societal status, such as the lack of proper healthcare that would promote the protection of the infants in the primitive society, made women bear more babies. This aspect promoted group survival whereby females focused on rearing offspring.

The pressure to engage in warfare and maintain a high fertility rate in society resulted in the development of the human collectivity of the social groups. The aspect properly explains the concept of the sexual division of labor. The human settings, males engaged in typical work where others are involved in conflict labor that causes a massive death rate amongst them and also improves the security of the whole society. Similarly, women effectively participated in the reproductive and caring roles to ensure the community attains a higher fertility level, which is beneficial for the wellbeing of the population. The practice enhanced the element of labor division that enabled the people to survive the awful conditions in the ecosystem. The adoption of men and women’s division of labor created the foundation of class relations evident in capitalist settings. These aspects are what have been further modeled, reshaped and reinforced through political and legal institutions leading to the production of patriarchy.

Based on the functionalist explanation, Marx’s synchronic materialism asserts that the economic structure of the human society influences the superstructures such as the political, legal, and non-economic institutions and religion. To understand the framework of capitalism, the roles of superstructures are essential in providing relevant facts. In most cases, synchronic materialism evades the economic determinism that renders the institutions epiphenomenon. From this perspective, Marx’s concept categorizes the economic factor as the critical element that other aspects depend on. However, the argument is not correct because economic structure requires frameworks.

Superstructures such as religion have a significant impact on material relations. According to Marx’s argument, the Protestantism act of changing the key holidays into working days induced the beginning of capitalism in society. It, therefore, implies that there is no impossibility of two-way relation between the institutions and the base. In other words, synchronic materialism is capable of accommodating the reality, which states that components of the patriarchal framework such as religion, social practices, and laws have impacts on the production relations. The effects are profound in connections pertaining to the reproductive and caring labor of women (Reed 53). Condoning issues such as domestic violence and rape or discouraging divorce will enhance the perpetuation of patriarchal relations. The connections make females be more economically reliant on men by ensuring the ability to access the means of production and resources are negotiated through the sexual relations women have with men.

Despite the contribution of functionalist explanation in understanding the Marx’s historical materialism, the concept of Farrelly does not furnish people with critical emancipatory knowledge. According to the philosopher’s arguments, it is difficult to identify the exact challenges that promote the patriarchal practice in human society. The reasoning is mostly tied to the Marx’s theory thus making the Farrelly’s interpretation to be more of criticism rather than an elaboration.

In summary, the functionalist interpretation provides deep insight into Marx’s historical materialism. The arguments made by Farrelly provide a proper understanding of the patriarchy and the practices that facilitate it. Political theorist plays a significant role in unavailing core superstructures that have the ability to determine the critical emancipatory knowledge. The need to have group survival has prompted and encouraged the development of massive labor division between men and women. The production relations influence the existence of patriarchal practices in the capitalist society. The nature and condition of economic structure determine the kind of political, religious, or laws to be engaged. Therefore, it is evident that Marx’s historical materialism has the potential to equip people with an adequate understanding of how the male dominance over females occurs in relation to reproductive and caring labor. The relations of productions effectively contribute to the establishment of patriarchy system in human society.

Works Cited

Farrelly, Colin. “Patriarchy and historical materialism.” Hypatia. vol. 26, no. 1, 2011, pp. 1-21.

Reed Jr, Adolph. “How racial disparity does not help make sense of patterns of police violence.”, 2016, Web.

“Marx, race, and neoliberalism.” New Labor Forum. Vol. 22. No. 1. Sage CA: Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2013.

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DemoEssays. "Functionalist Interpretation of Marx’s Historical Materialism." March 17, 2023.