Sociology: Marx, Weber & Feminist Theory

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Classical Marxist theories have served as a springboard of inspiration for a variety of contemporary theorists challenging the existing state of society and seeking social justice and a fair society. Consequently, feminist standpoint theories, theories that represent a specific disposition, align with common themes found throughout Marxist interpretations of society, with an emphasis on the development of individual schemas dependent upon the relationship between the individual and their economic and material conditions. Although the foundation of the separation of and disparities between classes is applicable in feminist standpoint theory, feminist theories contribute an entirely unorthodox dimension to the Eurocentric, masculinist dominated sociological discourse about oppression: gender.

Marx’s theories of society developed around what he considered an unfair and unjust society in which two classes existed, determined by the coincidence of birth, which Marx coined the bourgeois, the owners of the means of production, and the proletariat, the wage earning laborers who become alienated from their work due to social constraints. Marx believed in historical materialism and class struggle, demonstrating that the private ownership of the means of production enabled the bourgeois to maintain power over the larger, powerless proletariats who provided the labor for the means of production. As a repercussion of this disparity of power Marx concluded social and moral problems were inherent to a capitalist system, which forced competition and created unnecessary antagonisms, essentially isolating the proletariat in their social position for generations.

Feminist standpoint theories corroborate the essence of Marx’s disposition regarding the injustice found in society, as it is acknowledged that there is a clear disparity of power in society among stratified groups of people. Yet instead of focusing on the owner of the means of production versus the wage laborers or proletariats, feminist standpoint theories extend the argument to include the dimension of gender and emphasize the necessity of including feminist experiences. According to feminist standpoint theories, the concrete experience of females and males is historically different, as they are required by society to play very different roles. Feminist theories build on Marx’s standpoint of experience based on social class and include the systematic oppression in a society that devalues women’s knowledge and experiences. One feminist standpoint theorist in particular demonstrated the subtle differences between standpoint theories and Marx’s theories on society. Patricia Hill Collins’ matrix of domination theory agrees that there is a top-down power struggle in society that forces and controls unwilling victims, yet also notes that an individual has the ability to be the oppressor, a member of an oppressed group or both simultaneously, citing gender and class as variables of oppression. Collins continues to purport that it is the oppressed or subordinate individuals and groups in society who possess the most comprehensive social knowledge of power structures and their affects on these individuals and groups due to their social positions. Marx sought change in society and attempted to inspire a revolution amongst the proletariat, with an overthrow of the capitalist system. Collins seeks to understand the struggle with a more complex perspective, contributing the observation that people simultaneously experience and resist oppression, implying that there is more control in the hands of the oppressed than what was previously thought. Just as Marx challenged the capitalist system, feminist standpoint theory further challenges the existing male-biased conventional knowledge. In both theories there exists the implication that the experiences of individuals is shaped by their social position, and a hierarchy of power relations exists among those who have and...
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