Why is the New Family So Familiar?

Julie Torrant


The Opportunism of the Transpatriotic Left

Putting Materialism Back into Race Theory: Towards a Transformative Theory of Race
Robert Young

Global Networks, Imperial Culture
Rob Wilkie

Crisis and Contradiction in Globalization Discourse
E. San Juan, Jr.

(Un)critical Reading and the Discourse of Anti-Communism
Grover Furr

Reading is the Other Name of Class
Kimberly DeFazio





In the wake of the decision of the supreme court of the state of Massachusetts, USA to legalize same-sex marriage, one commentator writes: "Half a dozen years ago, the notion that two men or two women could marry had never occurred to most [US] citizens—even to most liberals. Today it is an article of liberal faith, up there with abortion rights. And half a dozen years from now, gay marriage may well be established and commonplace beyond the need for editorial comment" ("The Meaning of Marriage", LA Times, 14 July 2004). We are, as the writer suggests, in the midst of a period of rapid family change in the U.S. and other advanced capitalist countries in the late-twentieth century and early twenty-first century, changes that have become the topic of heated controversy in the mainstream media as well as academic theory journals. From the relation between sexuality and marriage, to the use of new reproductive technologies, to gay parent families, to single-parent families and cohabitating couples without children, to international adoption, to eldercare and childcare needs, to what is called the "new family", etc.—changes in "family" and the impact they have on the family's role in society have become unavoidable issues.

In this essay I address some of the new shifts in family and their historical significance by focusing on "the new family". What is commonly referred to as the new family is the ensemble of multicultural, polysexual and multigenerational relations that have come to characterize "family" life in the late 20th century. These families are, for instance, "lesbigay" families which may be composed of several co-parents and their children, "divorce-extended" families which include spouses, ex-spouses, new spouses, and all of these spouses children, and "transnational" families with members living in different countries, even different continents. They are also composed of couples from different cultures, races, and/or nations, single-parents and their children, co-habitating couples with or without children, and many other configurations. But where my analysis differs from most analyses today is where it locates the sources of the changes in family life and family relations. Whereas most focus on the surface changes of the family and on this basis declare that, for instance, the gay family or the transnational family represent radical departures from the family forms of earlier periods in capitalism, the argument I develop here is that the "new family" is an effect of the working of the laws of motion of capital and the unfolding of the class contradiction at the root of the capitalist division of labor. Specifically, it is a product of changes in how surplus-value is extracted as well as the deepening of this extraction. This "new" family, like the "old" family, is an economic unit that works to define the boundaries of inheritance of private property and economic liability for social reproduction (which it places on the shoulders of exploited workers), and as such works to reproduce private property relations. The new family, in short, represents changes in the division of labor in capitalism, rather than the transformation of capital. But the new family, in its dominant representations, is also an ideological construct that works to deflect attention away from the deteriorating material conditions for working and living in global capital and block investigation into the cause of these material conditions.

An exemplary ideological representation of this new family is the film Under the Tuscan Sun. The film traces the emergence of a multicultural, polysexual and multirelational family in contemporary Tuscany that has as its core a heterosexual American woman who purchases a run-down villa while on vacation with a gay tour. The very fact that this single heterosexual woman is vacationing on a gay tour is of course itself a sign of the shifts in the "common sense" and the "acceptable" that the film will portray. The main character, who is recently divorced, starts out alone and in a more "traditional" and "familiar" context, but by the end of the film she is hosting a wedding and surrounded by her new family. The family includes a Polish immigrant worker who has been part of a team of Polish workers who have been refurbishing her villa, his new (Italian) wife and her family, the main character's Asian-American lesbian friend and her newborn baby, and the new American lover of the main character. At the end of the film the main character remarks that she had dreamt of a wedding and babies in her villa and that (although not quite in the form she had expected) she has gotten all the things about which she dreamt. Though she is still "straight", we are meant to understand that she has "learned" that (old) "dreams" (of children, weddings, etc.) can come in different (new) forms, and that they should all be embraced.

Yet, to briefly take one characteristic blind spot of dominant representations of the new family, one of the telling unsaids of the film's portrayal of the new polysexual, transnational family is the material conditions of labor that have forced millions of people from the former Soviet bloc to migrate to the West to find work since the fall of the communist regime in 1989. In Poland, the homeland of the migrants in the film, the post-Soviet period has led to an increase in the number of working class people who are forced to migrate to other countries as a result of deteriorating social and economic conditions brought about by capitalism. In "Migration Movements from and into Poland in the Light of East-West European Migration" Krystyna Iglicka writes, for instance, that "emigration has slowly become a domain of blue-collar workers unable to adapt to market requirements" (6). The so-called "inability to adapt" here is of course a euphemism for the devastation that capitalism has brought on to workers in the East since 1989, devastation which has also led to an alarmingly widespread traffic for the global sex trade.[1]

How, then, does the film depict the Polish workers? The film suggests that it is the Polish immigrant's individual "love" and "desire" for his wife-to-be as well as his ("pure") love of Italy that compel him to assimilate into Italian culture, including its family culture. In doing so, it completely erases the material conditions of Poland and leaves out entirely the way in which such assimilation is underpinned by global economic relations of need. That is to say, it turns the economic relations which force people to move to places with higher wages and better working and living conditions, into personal relations of subjective desire. All of the film's relations become relations of "choice". The film uncritically celebrates the "'new' family" and in doing so it covers over the contradictions of contemporary capitalism such as the inequalities and hardships that both lead to and are (if in new forms) perpetuated by migration. 

The film's uncritical celebration of the new family is symptomatic of what I theorize in this essay as "elective" theories of the new family. Elective theory sees the "'new' family" as a series of singular families which are the product of the desires of individuals. Family forms, on these terms, "elect" to engage in various practices and relations. Families and family members, in other words, are not seen as situated in the broader context of material relations within which they work to survive—instead they make choices which, while "constrained" to varying degrees, are ultimately individual choices that exceed such structures as class.

Elective family theory, like all dominant theory, is articulated in several idioms. For instance, Kath Weston's theory in Families We Choose is one of the most "extreme" of the "elective family" theories. She explicitly argues that study of (new) family should only be study of the subjective aspects of these families. She writes, "More useful than rhetorical attacks on a monolith called 'the family' are ethnographically and historically grounded accounts that ask what families mean to people who say they have or want them" (199). Not surprisingly, given her subjectivist tendency, global political and economic conditions—such as the shifts in the gender division of labor which have required and enabled loosening of gender norms—are completely erased in Weston's account of the emergence of gay families. These families are, according to the logic of her text, the products of individual (and perhaps to some degree "group") desires.

In contrast to Weston's "extreme" form of "elective family" theory, both Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim and Judith Stacey write "middle-ground" versions of this theory. Beck-Gernsheim goes so far as to implicate—at least indirectly—the new families in the flexibilization of the labor market and is, at points, critical of the impact of these shifts in the labor market on family. In the preface to the English edition of Reinventing the Family, for instance, she writes that: "attitudes and actions demanded by the new labour market do not make people fitter for a life of close and dependable long-term relationships" and that "[n]ot only children but also couples suffer when work stretches further and further round the clock and round the globe" (xi). However, she refuses to address the material conditions of "labor market" when she argues that "class" as well as religion and tradition are no longer determining aspects of individuals' lives. For Beck-Gernsheim, the history of the (post)modern family is part of the history of progressive "individualization" where each person has her own relation to the labor market. She writes of "life under conditions of individualization": 

To put it simply, whereas people used to be born into a number of social givens (such as class or religion), they now have to do something, to make an effort of their own—for example, by maintaining their position on the labour market, or by applying for housing benefit and giving reasons why they should receive it. Here it is necessary to know how to assert oneself, to prevail in the competition for scarce resources (Reinventing 44). 

For Beck-Gernsheim differences come down to differences in power, or knowing/not knowing how to "assert oneself". That is, Beck-Gernsheim takes up a Weberian theory of class as a market situation, which works to erase "class" as the relation of exploiter (capital) versus exploited (labor). What Beck-Gernsheim cannot explain from this position, which renders invisible (and thus natural) the profit motive, is why resources are "scarce"—that is, scarce for some—at the same time that there is such enormous wealth and potential to produce wealth in the world. In fact, Beck-Gernsheim ends up occluding the question she herself raises (of the scarcity of resources) when she theorizes the family as a post-economic space, which is what is at stake when she argues that the "post-familial" or "negotiated" family is no longer "a community of need" but rather "elective affinities" that are based on "choice and personal inclination" ("On the Way" 66; Reinventing 33-41).

Judith Stacey's theory, on the other hand, is perhaps one of the most "subtle" of the "elective family" theories. In response to criticisms of her early work on the new family, she makes a point of acknowledging that within what she calls the "postmodern family condition" there are "haves" and "have-nots". She writes, "only a minority of primarily affluent citizens enjoy the kinds of resources that enable them to realize much of the tantalizing potential of postmodern options" (37). Nevertheless, she argues that "postmodern changes in work, family, and sexual opportunities for women and men do open the prospect of introducing greater democracy, equality and choice than ever before into our most intimate relationships, especially for women and members of sexual minorities" (9). Not only does Stacey tend to "forget" her qualifications about democracy and freedom when she turns to analyze the new family, especially the gay family, but she argues that what is necessary to realize the "democratic potential" of the new families is not ending the relations that produce unequal access to social resources, but working more ethically within them. She writes, for instance, that "[t]he challenge of postmodernity, as of democracy, is to learn to live with instability and flux as responsibly, ethically and humanely as possible" (12). In other words, according to Stacey the fundamental conditions of "democracy" are already in place, all that is necessary to "realize" the "potential" of democracy is (the correct) individual "values" that will enable efforts to live ethically within "postmodernity". Here one's wishes for and belief in the possibility of a good (or at least better) life for oneself and others, or one's "desire", becomes the essential determinant of the family, the logic that also informs Under the Tuscan Sun. A key theoretical underpinning of this argument, like Beck-Gernsheim's argument, is that class in contemporary society is not relations of production but rather a matter (simply) of "occupational and personal circumstances" (7).

From the framework of "elective families" as articulated by theorists such as Stacey, Beck-Gernsheim and Weston, the main features of interest in the "'new' family" are its "diversity" and its "flexibility". Therefore, because it is seen as particularly diverse and flexible, the lesbigay family is often marked as exemplary of the "elective family". For instance, Judith Stacey writes that what she calls the "queer" family "crystallizes the general processes of family diversification and change that characterize the postmodern family condition" (108). This is an argument also articulated in the cultural mainstream. Michael Cunningham's novel A Home at the End of the World, which was recently made into amovie, is an exemplary representation of the "flexible" "queer" family. The narrative revolves around the development of a gay family with Jonathan and Bobby, two sometimes lovers, at its core. Bobby and Jonathan meet and become lovers as teenagers. However, the family they form includes, at one point, Jonathan's best friend and Bobby's lover, Clare, and Bobby and Clare's biological child who is being raised by Bobby, Clare and Jonathan. This family changes (again) when they take in Jonathan's ex-lover, Erich, who is dying of AIDS. Clare says, when the triad of she, Jonathan and Bobby are considering taking Erich in, "We have room for a stranger here, don't you think? It's not like we lack for anything ourselves" (314). In other words, having no distinct boundaries, this "queer" family is represented as a family which morphs and changes depending on the needs and wishes of its members. For instance, Clare later decides that this family does not meet her and her child's needs and, unannounced, leaves the family. As opposed to a typical narrative of the fordist, nuclear family, where this would probably lead to a bitter custody battle or at least the attempt to find Clare and the baby, Bobby and Jonathan—as representatives of the flexible gay family—accept this as what Clare needs and wants and adjust themselves to their new, smaller, family.

However, the characterization of the lesbigay family as "diverse", or pluralistic, works to obscure the fact that lesbigay families, like all other families, are divided by class. On the one hand there are (lesbigay) families that own private property and thus can live off profits deriving from exploitation of workers, and on the other hand there are (lesbigay) families that do not own private property and thus must sell one or more members' labor on the market in order to live. In fact, in Cunningham's novel, it is the exceptional situation where Clare inherits some money so that she and Bobby and Jonathan can buy a big house in the country where Clare does not have to work for wages, that enables this family to take in Erich. In actuality, however, it is the underlying social division of labor between capital and labor that shapes the contemporary family (not miraculous infusions of cash), and ensures that a working class gay family with children will ultimately have more in common with the working class "traditional", heterosexual family than with a gay family of the capitalist class. It has however become virtually impossible to discuss such structures of commonality (which require connecting the concrete to the abstract, and the surface to the underlying structures), since "elective family" theories (following their counterparts in other post-theory discourses) have so effectively displaced such concepts as class and division of labor with notions of "difference", "individual choice", "affect", "contingency", "consumption", etc., all of which privatize the family and separate it from the division of labor under capital.

As I demonstrate throughout my essay, elective theories of the new family are ultimately ineffective for understanding the laws of historical material change in the family and, therefore, what kind of change is needed in order to materially transform family relations and bring about freedom from economic inequality in social reproduction. This is because elective theory isolates changes in form and appearance from the deep-lying economic relations that shape them. They focus primarily on superstructural changes that have occurred in the "post-fordist" era of capitalism, without ever inquiring into what drives these changes. In effect, these theories not only offer surface-level descriptions of significant changes, but they also, as a result, cover over the exploitative economic relations that families are forced to confront in their everyday lives, due to the ever expanding gap between those who sell their labor-power to survive and those who profit from the private appropriation of surplus-labor. In contrast to elective theory, I put forward a materialist analysis, or a political economy of the family, which sees the different family forms as underpinned by the social division of labor. From this perspective, family and family relations are the effect of the social relations of production—relations between those who work in order to survive and those who profit off of the labor of others. In this view, the "'new' family" is a product of shifts in labor relations and as such it is an economic institution and a product of what Marx calls the "dull compulsion of the economic relations" (Capital, Vol. I 726). That is to say, the economic relations that shape the family are rarely perceptible to everyday experience, though all aspects of life are shaped by them. In order to come to grips with them, and understand their place in the social totality, theoretical analyses are needed which go beyond the surface to expose the deep structures of social life and what is necessary to change them. 

In what follows I put forward an analysis of some of the key concepts necessary to understand family relations as rooted in material relations, and then demonstrate how these concepts can help us re-understand shifts in family in the U.S., paying particular attention to family relations in what is commonly referred to as the "fordist" and "post-fordist" periods of capitalism.



In order to begin to theorize the political economy of the (new) family, it is necessary to establish some of the key concepts of a materialist analysis of family. Specifically, the concepts of "division of labor" and "mode of production", which undergird one of the most significant contributions to materialist theory of the family: Frederick Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (a text I discuss at further length below). Especially in light of the dominant displacements of the core concepts of Marxism I mention above, it is necessary to return to some of the "primary" concepts and "founding" texts of historical materialism.

"Division of labor" is a key concept from a materialist perspective because it explains the organization of societies. What Marx calls the "social division of labor" refers to the various kinds of useful labor that are performed in a given historical society and the way these labours are distributed among people. This social division of labor is the determining aspect of social organization. Take, for instance, the contemporary family. The way in which the family is inserted in the social division of labor (via the adults in the family) determines the various aspects of the family member's lives. This is because this insertion—whether the adult family members are owners or workers, and if they are workers, what kind of work they do, what kind of hours they work, and so forth—determines the family's access to resources, both in terms of financial resources and in terms of time and energy. For instance, owners have access to luxury housing and thus their children have access to elite public schools as well as private schools, whereas workers, and particularly workers situated in "low-skill" jobs, have access only to substandard housing and thus substandard schools (as well as no or substandard childcare, healthcare, etc.). Whether or not family members work for wages or profit off the labor of others and, if they work for wages, the kind of work the family's providers do also determines the amount of time and energy these providers have to devote to meeting the emotional and other non-financial needs of the various family members, including the children, as well as the family's access to cultural institutions and so on. It is in this sense, as well as others I discuss below, that the family is an "articulation" of the social division of labor.

In this view, it is because the fundamental condition of "society" is the existence of living human beings, which necessitates, before everything else, "eating and drinking, housing, clothing and various other things" (The German Ideology 41-42). that the social division of labor is the determining aspect of the social. In other words, the fundamental condition of society is the production of the means of subsistence. This production, however, always takes place within a certain social division of labor (or what Marx later called the social relations of production), which forms the basis of human society. This theory of the division of labor is necessary not only because it enables understanding the logic underlying social organization and thus the structuring of people's daily lives, but also because it enables understanding the principle (of production) upon which societies develop through history and thus enables the production of knowledge that enables intervention into this development.

Marx and Engels articulate the principle of social development in The German Ideology when they argue that the division of labor develops as the productive forces of societies develop—that is, as the instruments of production and labor-power grow more powerful (i.e, more able to produce greater quality and quantity of product in the same amount of time). In other words, with the developing forces of production, the social division of labor becomes more and more complex. Moreover, as I discuss further below, as the division of labor develops so does the division of property. In capitalist society, for instance, the primary social division of labor is between capital (those who own the means of production) and wage-labor (those who only own their own labor and thus must sell it on the market in exchange for means of subsistence). However, there are numerous secondary social divisions of labor such as the gender division of labor. By "secondary" here I do not mean that these divisions of labor are unimportant or do not have a profound impact on people's lives and life chances. Rather, I mean that the primary division of labor, between capital and wage-labor, and particularly the profit motive that is embedded in this division of labor, determines the secondary divisions of labor. For instance, the gender division of labor shifts as the needs of capital in its quest for profit change. For example, during the World Wars when millions of men were drafted into the armed services, women were drawn into the workforce because capital needed them to take over the "men's" work in the social division of labor, but when the men returned from the war, the women were pushed out of the workforce and in particular were pushed out of what were considered "men's" jobs in order to form a highly exploitable segment of labor as well as to avert a crisis of (male) unemployment and underemployment that would have given rise to massive labor unrest.[2]

Again, new productive forces necessitate new divisions of labor, with the (total) social division of labor becoming more and more complex. This is not to say, however, that this process is smooth and non-conflictual. In fact, Marx argues that as the forces of production develop they come into conflict (or contradiction) with the relations of production and, in turn, the relations of production become a fetter on the forces of production. This contradiction leads to a social revolution wherein the social division of labor is radically transformed so that it no longer conflicts with the forces of production, but enables their development. This understanding of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production is crucial to the Marxist understanding of social justice, which revolves around the need to transform the social, class division of labor that fetters the forces of production, because it is the transformation of the social division of labor that will enable the full and socially-determined use of the existing forces of production and enable their further development. It is my argument that the changes in the contemporary family, for instance, from a fordist, nuclear to a post-fordist, post-nuclear family, are best understood as compelled by the developing contradiction between the forces of production that are being developed within capitalism and the capitalist social division of labor (property relations), or what Marx later called the social relations of production.

To explain, briefly, a point that I will address at greater length in the third part of this essay, in capitalist society, the development of the forces of production is propelled by competition between capitalists for profits. However, the development of these forces of production, or the development of the productivity of labor, increases the organic composition of capital which in turn leads to what Marx calls "the tendency of the profit rate to fall". As the rate of profit falls, this, on the one hand, works to block production from going forward as capitalists find it harder to find profitable investments and thus the social relations of production, and in particular the profit motive embedded within them, block the realization of the potential of the forces of production that have developed. On the other hand, capitalists work to increase the rate of exploitation in order to counter the falling rate of profit. However, increasing the rate of exploitation means increasing surplus labor (profits) to necessary labor (wages) and thus in this way, once again, the profit motive embedded in the social relations of production blocks the potential of the forces of production for meeting workers' needs. The changes in the contemporary family are an effect of capitalists' need to re-organize (at the least the secondary) divisions of labor in order to buoy a falling rate of profit.

It is necessary, then, to articulate more explicitly the relationship between division of labor and "class" because class means inequality not simply diversity of relations. Division of labor, of course, implies some kind of co-operation between and among people for survival because no one person performs all the labors necessary to produce the means of subsistence. As Marx and Engels argue, "the existing stage in the division of labour determines also the relations of individuals to one another with reference to the material, instrument, and product of labour" (The German Ideology 32). Put another way, the "various stages of development in the division of labour are just so many forms of property" (32). While the first forms of ownership are communal forms of ownership, as the forces of production develop this enables the production of a surplus "over and above [the] maintenance costs" in means of subsistence which is the condition of possibility of the development of social divisions of labor that are class forms of ownership (The Origin 118). That is, ownership wherein one class owns and controls the means of production (the instruments of labor and raw materials) and thus can force the other class to produce a surplus product which they appropriate as their own. Here the "co-operation" between people within the division of labor becomes a matter of economic coercion of one class by another. In other words, the division of labor in these societies refers to a structure of private property relations which provide the basis of class societies. Thus, in class societies the social revolution (the transformation of the social division of labor or the "relations of production") which is compelled by the forces of production is complicated because it is in the interests of one part of the society (the ruling class) to maintain the existing division of labor, and particularly the primary social division of labor (the class division) and thus block the transformation of society.

Here, we need to return to the question of social equality. In capitalism, the social division of labor is determined anarchically, through competition among capitalists for profits (see Capital, Vol. I, chapter 14). This means that the amount of time devoted to any given type of (useful) labor—which might include such useless production (in terms of meeting social needs) as the production of weapons for imperialist wars—is determined by the needs of capital in its drive for profit. The fact that production can be organized so as to produce an over-abundance of, say, milk (which consequently must be destroyed), while billions of people starve—a clear marker of social inequality—is an effect of the private ownership and control over social resources. In concrete terms, it is the capitalist production relations which produce unmet needs within the families of the advanced capitalist countries and beyond. Or, to put this differently, the social division of labor under capital "implies the possibility, nay the fact, that intellectual and material activity, enjoyment and labour, production and consumption, devolve on different individuals" because the surplus produced by laborers is appropriated by owners (45). The only way to end this inequality and establish material equality for all individuals and families is to abolish the class division of labor so that ownership is collective ownership on the basis of which decisions about the social division of labor are made according to what is necessary to meet the needs of people rather than what is necessary to producing and extending profits.

On the basis of this theorization of "division of labor" Marx developed the concept of "mode of production" which makes explicit the theory of determination implicit in Marx's theorization of division of labor. That is, the forces of production (the instruments of production, the raw materials available and the historically developed labor-power) determine the social division of labor, or the social relations of production, and these social relations of production in turn determine "the legal and political superstructure" as well as "forms of consciousness". This concept of "mode of production" is theorized most succinctly in Marx's "Preface" to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. He writes: 

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life (20-21). 

I am of course aware that it is around Marx's understanding of determination that there has been enormous controversy, both over whether Marx's theory understands the forces of production to be determinate of the relations of production and the relations of production to be determinate of the superstructure and around whether this is in fact a correct or valid theory. However, Marx is quite clear in his theory of determination not only here in "The Preface" but elsewhere in his writings. For instance, in The Poverty of Philosophy he writes "In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production [...] in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist" (166). Again, it is the development of the forces of production, with this development as both the product and the praxis of labor and the basis of the further development of the praxis of labor, which determines social relations. It is these social relations in turn which determine the "superstructural" relations of reproduction such as family relations.

Moreover, I understand the theory of determination of the relations of production by the forces of production and the superstructure by the relations of production to be the theory that most accurately grasps the historical reality. For instance, we cannot have a classless society with the forces of production as they exist under feudalism because, for one, feudal forces of production determine that workers are dispersed over a large geographic distance because they must farm the land with relatively primitive tools. With these forces of production, there is not the centralization of workers that is necessary to give rise to worker organization capable of taking over the means of production in a form of collective ownership. In contrast, with their development of industrial means of production, capitalist forces of production lay the basis for classless society by, for instance, bringing workers into global association with one another and concentrating them in cities (see, for instance, The Communist Manifesto on the development of the proletariat).

At stake in this controversy is Marx's understanding of the "mode of production" as a determinate totality. This is important because it is this understanding of the mode of production as a totality that leads Marx to theorize the relation between the forces and relations of production in capitalism as one of deepening contradiction. That is, a "contradiction" is a relation of uneven development within a totality, an unevenness that ultimately leads to the transformation of that totality. Again, it is my argument that it is this deepening contradiction between the forces and relations of production that is the underlying force behind changes in the family as a part of the political-cultural "superstructure". Moreover, it is this underlying contradiction that will lead to the transformation of the capitalist social relations and thus the end of the privatized family.

As I have suggested, Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State is an invaluable resource because it is perhaps the most sustained attempt to explain the family from a historical materialist perspective. Developing out of the analysis of the division of labor, Engels theorizes the family, or what he calls the "monogamous" or "individual" family as the basic economic unit of society. This individual, or "privatized" family is a unit, or group of people, that owns certain resources, and the differences between and among these units (i.e., families) are rooted in what constitutes their individual resources, which corresponds to their place within the division of labor.

The family, as an economic unit, has not always existed. It emerges, according to Engels, with the emergence of private property relations. As I have argued, private property (class) relations—which represent a certain form of division of labor between those who own private property and thus appropriate the surplus-labor of others, and those who labor for this owning class—become possible when the forces of production have developed to the point where labor can produce a surplus over and above the means of subsistence necessary to maintain the laborer. This takes place, according to Engels, in the stage of "upper barbarism" with the development of cattle breeding, metalworking, weaving, and agriculture. It is only at this point—when a surplus can be produced—that there is a material interest in controlling the labor of others and with this control, one group of people (i.e., one class) is able to amass the surplus product in the form of private property. When it becomes possible to amass private property, a need emerges for an institutional structure that will enable passing down this private property and thus reproducing the private property relations. Reproducing the private property relations means reproducing the social division of labor between "worker" and "owner", or those who labor and those who do not need to labor because they live off the labor of others. The "monogamous" family, revolving around a monogamous, married couple, is the institution which emerged to serve this purpose. Engels writes: "[Monogamy] was the first form of the family to be based not on natural but economic conditions—on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property" (128). Specifically, the privatized family was instituted in order to produce legitimate heirs to inherit property. It is the younger family members who inherit the private property of their elders. Thus as an economic unit the family works to define the parameters of inheritance of private property. As such, not only is the class division of labor necessary to the emergence of the privatized family, but the privatized family is necessary for the reproduction of this division of labor.

Of course private property for some means no private property for others. Thus while for the owning class, family is a relation of property, for the working classes it is a relationship of propertylessness and what the children of these families inherit is the compulsion to labor for the owning class in order to access the means of subsistence. Thus, from a different angle, we see again how the family works to reproduce the existing division of labor. Like the owning class, the working class families (except in the case of slavery, in which there is no privatized family among the working class) have the right to ownership of resources. However, the primary resource for working class families is their labor-power. What this family owns and shares amongst its members is its labor-power and the means of subsistence accessed through this labor-power. Thus, the salient feature of the privatized family for the working class(es) is that it defines the parameters of social and economic responsibility for "care" of others. In other words, those in the family have the right to care from the other people in their family and they also have the obligation to care for these others. Eleanor Leacock references this aspect of the family when she writes that as the communal property and the communal kin group that was linked to it was broken up, "the individual family separated out as an isolated and vulnerable unit, economically responsible for the maintenance of its members and for the rearing the new generation" (41). This means that the individual family is responsible for accessing the means of subsistence for its members. This individual family is distinct from the family in communal societies where wealth is shared among the entire clan and thus it is the clan, not the procreative unit of mother and father, that is economically responsible for the young. On the other hand, how the individual, or privatized family goes about obtaining the means of subsistence depends on the property relations dominant at the time and thus family changes as these property relations, and the division of labor underlying them, change.

Given the displacement of Marxist concepts and approaches to questions of the family in contemporary cultural theory, Engels' discussion of "upper barbarism" and the emergence of private property may seem remote from contemporary debates about the (new) family. However, his theorization of the emergence of the privatized family as an economic unit is quite important and relevant because it works to de-naturalize this family and the particular form it takes under wage-labor/capital relations. Such de-naturalization is crucial in the contemporary moment because extremely ahistorical arguments are being marshaled in defense of various conservative social agendas, from marriage promotion to the marriage amendment. For instance, President Bush in a recent radio address states that "The union of a man and woman in marriage is the most enduring and important human institution" when in fact monogamous marriage and the individual family it gives rise to are relatively recent human institutions. Moreover, the current form of marriage, bourgeois marriage arising from wage-labor/capital relations, is only a few centuries old. Such theorizations of the privatized family of capitalism as a transhistorical institution block inquiry into the reasons why family changes and thus how family can be changed for the better.

From the materialist perspective, however, it is not enough to explain the origin of the privatized family. It is necessary to explain why it remains today, particularly among the working class who have no private property to pass down. To do this, it is necessary to remember that the primary role of the worker in capitalism is to produce profit for the capitalist. The private family is the institution through which the reproduction of the worker and the working class takes place, ensuring the expansion of capitalist accumulation. In other words, what makes the family an economic unit from the perspective of the workers is that it is separated from the means of production and subsistence and made economically responsible for the maintenance of its members and the rearing of the young. The private family under capitalism is an effect of the way in which workers, having been isolated from the means of production and, therefore, from the social wealth that they produce (which is appropriated by the owners who distribute a portion of it according to what will increase their rate of profit not according to the needs of workers) are also isolated from each other and forced to meet their needs in small economic units rather than collectively. Thus even the "meeting of needs" within the family is always in accordance with the material interests of capital to (simply) reproduce workers in order to increase private property, rather than meet the needs of all. This is, concretely, what I mean when I say that the family is an "articulation" of the private property relations, or the existing social division of labor, because it is the private property relations—the class relations—that determine that families are isolated from the means of production and thus isolated from each other as laborers who must sell their labor to capitalists on the market. It is this isolation from collective ownership of the means of production that forces workers to form families as small economic units that work to ensure their members' survival and well-being.

Engels' theorization of the origin of the privatized family is also important because, by explaining the material relations upon which the family as an economic unit (and its relations of inequality) rests, it also explains the material basis upon which the contradictions of the contemporary family must be transformed. He writes "We are now approaching a social revolution in which the economic foundations of monogamy as they have existed hitherto will disappear" (138). They will disappear when "the greater portion. . . of permanent, heritable wealth—the means of production—[is transformed] into social property" thus "reduc[ing] to a minimum all this anxiety about bequeathing and inheriting" and putting an end to the need for the privatized family (138-9). In other words, when the private property relations are transformed into relations of collective ownership, parents, for instance, are no longer charged with sole responsibility for rearing their children or providing for them financially, this is instead a collective responsibility. Engels writes, for instance, that "[w]ith the transfer of the means of production into common ownership, the single family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into social industry. The care and education of children becomes a public affair; society looks after all children alike, whether they are legitimate or not" (139). Under relations of collective ownership of the means of production, the family is no longer an articulation of the private property relations but of the collective property relations and all children, as well as adults, are cared for.

It is necessary to note that Engels makes the argument he does because he is writing at a time—the mid- to late-1800s—when the forces of production and thus the relations of production are being radically transformed. He is writing, that is, during the height of the shift to industrial production in Europe and especially England. At the same time that the social relations of production are being transformed in Engels' contemporary moment, and because of this transformation, all the relations that follow from them such as family relations, are being transformed. Engels writes about these changing family relations, and particularly the decline of the working-class family, in such texts as The Condition of the Working Class in England. It is the contemporary social transformations that enable Engels to view the family as a historical and historically changing institution. Moreover, he puts forward the argument that he does, emphasizing the possibility for another family transformation with the end of private property relations, because he takes the side of the working class in the class struggles of his day. He is interested, in particular, in changing society so that the majority can enjoy a much more satisfying life such as is not possible under the social relations being established. In contrast, the "elective family" theorists take the side of the ruling class by claiming, in essence, that the contemporary "flexible" family is "as good as it gets" and thus these theorists work to enable adjustment to the imperatives of contemporary capitalist social relations which, as I discuss below, require such a flexible family. To give a specific example of this, the vulnerability and contradictions of the privatized family of contemporary capitalism are naturalized by Judith Stacey: 

The challenge of postmodernity, as of democracy, is to learn to live with instability and flux as responsibly, ethically and humanely as possible. To do so we must cultivate individual resilience, flexibility, courage, and tolerance while we work collectively to provide the best forms of social and cultural supports we can devise to cushion the inevitable disruptions and disappointments, the hardships and heartaches, that all families and humans must inevitably confront (In the Name of the Family 12).

Here, Stacey represents the various historical limits of the family under contemporary capitalism, such as the constant battle to provide the means of subsistence through wage-labor under increasingly exploitative conditions, limits which are rooted in the private property relations, as an "inevitable" part of (all) human life. As such, the only thing to do is to provide as much "cushion" as possible (under these very same relations) through such structures as a welfare state for the blows this society delivers. In contrast, historical materialism works to explain the historical limits of the contemporary "flexible" family—and the relations that give rise to it—so as to enable superceding these limits, through the praxical transformation of the wage-labor/capital relations that produce these limits, such as the subjection of workers to a constant state of economic insecurity in which one does not know if one will have a job and thus the means of subsistence for one's family from one week to the next or one year to the next. 

While I argue that Engels' materialist theory of the family is not only relevant but necessary today, the vast majority of family theorists have abandoned Engels' theory of the family on the basis of the claim that the situation today is much more complex than it was in Engels' day and thus Engels' ideas no longer hold. This is the argument that Michele Barrett makes, for instance, in her introduction to the 1986 Penguin edition of The Origin. She argues, specifically, that while certain aspects of Engels' analysis may have made sense in the nineteenth century, they no longer make sense now. For example, while Barrett argues: "One of the strengths of Engels' analysis is the way in which he specifies differences between marriage as between different social classes (23-4), " she also states that "these differences have not really survived the century that Engels observed them" (24). According to Barrett, Engels represents the proletarian family as a "pure" form based on "individual sex-love" because he argues that it is only in this family, where there is no private property that "[s]ex love . . .can. . . become the real rule" (135). In contrast, Barrett argues, bourgeois marriage is represented by Engels as a matter of "prostitution", especially on the part of bourgeois women, because it leads people to, in essence, sell themselves in marriage to another person in exchange for access to private property for themselves and their children. Barrett argues that this representation of the distinction between the proletariat and bourgeois family is no longer accurate, stating that "the vast expansion of women's education and professional employment has rendered bourgeois women financially independent in varying degrees" while "the increase in working-class home ownership and severe disadvantage of women workers in terms of pay and job security has made them more dependent on a male wage than Engels wanted to concede" (24). 

But far from refusing to "concede" the "severe disadvantage of women workers" relative to men, the materialist position, developed on the basis of the framework Engels provides, sees this disadvantage as an effect of women's location in the social relations of production. Unequal relations in the family reflect unequal relations outside of it. This is why Engels argues that it was women's movement into wage-labor in the nineteenth century that enabled the emergence of equality in proletarian marriages and thus marriages based on sex love (135). The implication here is that if women are not integrated into and given a significant role in production and are restricted to reproductive labor in the family, then equality within the family cannot be achieved and marriage based solely on sex love is undermined. What he refused to "concede" in other words was that the gender relations between men and women were caused by the family itself. For Engels, the contradictions of the family cannot be solved without abolishing exploitation, or the system of wage labor, since the family is an articulation, or manifestation, of private property relations. Barrett, by contrast, in suggesting that the family of the working class and the family of the bourgeois have become more similar rather than less, denies that there is a fundamental class contradiction between labor and capital.

However, the bourgeois and proletarian families are not the same, as I have argued, because the bourgeois family owns private property in the form of means of production and therefore is supported by profits deriving from the exploitation of workers while the proletarian family does not own private property and thus is supported by wages earned by members of the family. In other words, these two types of family have entirely different positions within the relations of production. This has profound effects on the experiences of the family across these two forms. For example, as I have noted, the bourgeois family, which has access to surplus labor expropriated from workers, can either buy a house in the best public school district or send their children to private school. In contrast, workers' children must go to the school in the district their parents can buy or rent into. This means for the majority, the best schools (which are the best schools because they have the most resources) are out-of-bounds and they generally get a second-rate education as a consequence. This works to reproduce class as well as status differences as education is a key predictor of life chances. In fact, in order to avoid their children being disadvantaged in the job market, many "middle-class" parents are buying houses in the "good" school districts which are generally not affordable for them. As Warren and Tyagi argue in The Two-Income Trap, this is leading to skyrocketing rates of bankruptcies, foreclosures and debt among "middle-class" families.[3] In other words, the inequalities that families experience when it comes to access to education for their children, which are rooted in social division(s) of labor, give rise to a whole range of other inequalities and hardships.

Barrett's argument is exemplary of the "elective family" theorists because it is around this point of whether the (new) family is an economic unit that there is a contestation between historical materialist and "elective family" theorists. This is a crucial point because the claim that the new family is an affective space of "freedom" and "choice" is largely based on the argument that it is a post-economic space. For instance, in "On the Way to a Post-Familial Family: From a Community of Need to Elective Affinities", Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim argues that the family in industrial capitalism is no longer an economic unit because it is no longer a unit of production (57). In her book, Reinventing the Family Beck-Gernsheim modifies her argument by saying that "the family has more and more been losing its significance as an economic community" (viii). Why, then, in Beck-Gernsheim's view, is the family at least residually an economic unit? This is because she sees the "traditional family" (or what I will argue is the fordist family) as an economic unit in that women are still, to some degree, dependent on men. This is what is at stake when Beck-Gernsheim writes that "Within this framework of relations between the sexes [where women were relegated to the newly forming private, domestic sphere], which was geared in principle to a 'halved modernity' . . .a new form of dependence began to assert itself: the woman became dependent on the man's earnings, while he needed her everyday labour and care to be capable of functioning in the workplace" ("On the Way" 58). It is from this position that Beck-Gernsheim sees the "'new' family", marked by gender equality, as a supercession of the family as an economic unit.

However, the family is not an economic unit because it is a unit of production, nor is it an economic unit because (some) women are still to some degree dependent on men, which is the result of the gender division of labor within social production. Rather, as I have argued, what makes a family an economic unit is that it is an articulation of the private property relations which, as a consequence, defines the parameters of inheritance of private property and social relations of "care". What Beck-Gernsheim's "elective family" theory does is to erase the fundamental (class) divide within the institution of family and thus de-link it from the primary social division of labor. From this position it can appear that the problems of the family can be solved on the basis of public policies and the development of a new ethics of consumption (as in developing an ethics in response to new technologies of reproduction which are making "designer" babies possible) because it is not fundamentally divided by class. This, however, takes the pressure off of this primary social division of labor which has now become outdated by the development of the forces of production.

In order to test the effectivity of the materialist theory of the family as an articulation of the social division of labor—versus the elective theory of the family as a site of new subjective freedom—in terms of its capacity to provide a historical explanation of the emergence of new family (sub-)forms, I am going to turn, below, to a materialist reading of two different family forms at two different periods of capitalism. That is, I am going to look at the shift from the nuclear family of fordism (or industrial capitalism) to the post-nuclear, or flexible, family of post-fordism (or early global capitalism). Because the dominant theories of fordism/post-fordism are "superstructuralist" theories, I will also contrast these theories to the materialist theory, arguing that the materialist theory is the most effective theory for not merely describing, but explaining the emergence of the "new", post-fordist family as well as the problems this "new" family faces.



Underlying elective theories of the new family today are assumptions about the shift from fordism to post-fordism that are drawn from the dominant theories of "fordism/post-fordism". The concepts of fordism and post-fordism have been developed and deployed by economists and other social scientists as well as theorists of cultural studies in order to delineate economic and social changes that have taken place, particularly in the advanced capitalist nations, in the twentieth century. Broadly speaking, "Fordism" is understood as marking the emergence of mass production and consumption of standardized goods, the development of such institutions as an interventionist or Keynesian state, and (perhaps more controversially), a certain form of rigidity and hierarchy not only in economic relations, but also in terms of people's "personal" or family relations and identities. While "fordism" is named for Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company, which introduced a mass production system between 1913 and 1914, "fordism" is largely understood as being fully developed only in the post-war period, and only in the industrialized West. The decline of fordism and emergence of post-fordism as a period is most often understood as beginning with the end of the post-war boom in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In broad terms, "post-fordism" is understood as marking the decline of mass production and mass consumption and the emergence of more "flexible" forms of production and more "flexible", "pluralistic" forms of consumption as well as "personal" and/or family relations and identities. It is also, for many, associated with shift away from manufacturing and towards a "service" and "information" economy and a decline in the Keynesian or "welfare" state.

Like all attempts to define or delineate periods, the theorization of "fordism" and "post-fordism" (or what some identify as the crisis of fordism) is controversial, with some theorists calling into question whether such a periodization has any validity—have there been significant shifts in the economy and society? Does it make sense to link these shifts in order to delineate a historical period?[4] My argument is that the dominant theories of fordism/post-fordism are "superstructuralist" theories and, as such, are ruling class ideology. That is, the dominant theories of fordism/post-fordism explain social contradictions, which are the effect of wage-labor/capital relations (class) in terms of surface changes in the culture of capitalism and, in doing so, provide imaginary "resolution" to material contradictions. Superstructuralist theories benefit the ruling class by denying that the class relations from which this class benefits are at the root of these social contradictions.[5] As ideology, the dominant theory/ies of fordism/post-fordism respond to actual problems and developments in the economy and society but not in a way that is, in the end, explanatory. For instance, as the dominant theories argue, in the period from the 1920s to the 1950s there were significant shifts in the production process towards mass production with the introduction of moving assembly lines and other innovations, and there have also been shifts in the institution and ideology of the family since the 1960s as the nuclear family lost its status as the statistical norm, and to a large extent has lost its status as the ideological norm, at the same time inequalities have widened.[6] What is at issue here, most importantly, I argue, is not so much whether significant changes have taken place, but the status of these changes—are they transformative changes or reformative changes?—and the question of the determination of these changes—why have these changes occurred? The dominant theories of fordism/post-fordism are, I argue, superstructuralist theories because they see superstructural changes such as a shift from manufacturing to services or the re-formation of the institution of the privatized family or the emergence of new subjectivities (as opposed to changes in the basic social division of labor) and (implicitly or explicitly) read these as fundamental changes in capitalism, whether they see this transformation as positive or negative. As I will demonstrate, the emphasis on the superstructural changes in capitalism in the last century leaves economic continuities unaccounted for. A more effective, because comprehensive, analysis of the "new", or "post-fordist" family begins from the concepts I have discussed above, namely the mode of production and social division of labor.

In order to understand and assess the dominant theories of fordism and post-fordism, particularly in terms of their implications for understanding changes in the family, it is necessary to move beyond broad summary of and claims about these theories to a Marxist analysis of their arguments. In order to provide such an analysis, I will engage two influential theories of fordism and post-fordism which represent two different threads of dominant (post)fordist theory. The first is Michel Aglietta's theory of (post)fordism, or what he calls (neo)fordism, and the second is Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's theory of (post)fordism.

Michel Aglietta is the "founder" of the French "regulation" school which also includes such theorists as Alain Lipietz and Robert Boyer. Although once the dominant theory of (the crisis of) "fordism", Aglietta and his regulation school have lost some of their dominance to such writers as Antonio Negri. However, I engage Aglietta's theory here because it has been so influential in the development of theories of (post)fordism. For instance, in his "Appendix on Some of the Theoretical Sources of These Theses" Negri, while trying to distance himself from the "explicit reformism" of the "recent" theorizations of the school of regulation, himself acknowledges the significant influence it has had on his own thinking ("Twenty Theses" 178-179). In addition, Aglietta's work represents one strand of the theory of fordism/post-fordism that, while seeing a structural shift in or crisis of fordism, is generally less celebratory of this apparent "transformation" in the economy and society than theorists whose work tends to be more frequently cited today such as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt and Stuart Hall. The more sophisticated "elective" family theories, I argue, draw on both these threads for some of their central theoretical assumptions.

According to John Allen, Aglietta's A Theory of Capitalist Regulation was the first "attempt to systematically construct a 'history' around the concept of Fordism" while it also worked to theorize the emergent crisis of Fordism (547).Two of the key "problems" that Aglietta's work attempts to address are: 1) why, despite the crisis tendencies of capitalism, were the economies of the advanced industrial nations able to achieve a relatively long and stable period of capital accumulation known as the "long boom" that also corresponded to a period of relative social stability? 2) why did this long boom end, ringing in an era of deepening inequalities? At the core of Aglietta's "answer" to these questions is his theorization of "fordism" as a "mode of growth". For Aglietta, a "mode of growth", or "mode of development" is a cultural structure that enables a period of relatively stable economic growth such as the long boom. Aglietta argues that a mode of development is, in essence, a "regime of accumulation" with a supporting "mode of regulation". While Aglietta presents his theory as providing "intermediary" concepts between the mode of production and the concrete level of the individual and the enterprise, that is, as "supplementing" Marxist concepts and thus extending their explanatory power, as I will explain, Aglietta's concept of mode of development is really a radical rewriting of Marx's concept of the mode of production which works to displace this concept (Aglietta A Theory 68-70). This is important, I argue, because this displacement is key to understanding the (in)effectivity of Aglietta's theory for explaining the "fordist" versus the "post-fordist" family.

According to Aglietta, a "regime of accumulation" consists of "a labor process" and the way this labor process is articulated to a mode of consumption. The "fordist" regime of accumulation is thus defined not only by a labor process that involves mass production of standardized products, or "economies of scale" via semi-automatic (moving) assembly line production in plants organized through Taylorist management structures (as opposed to the earlier craft-based production), but also by the way in which this labor process (i.e., mass production), is articulated to a "mode of consumption" (i.e., mass consumption of standardized products). He argues that the crux of the long boom was the way in which within Fordism, high wages for workers were linked to rapid increases in productivity, and thus as a regime of accumulation, Fordism was constituted by mass production that was caused by the mass consumption such relatively high wages made possible.

According to Aglietta, a regime of accumulation is impossible without a corresponding mode of regulation which coordinates individual and group action through norms and institutions such as a standard forty-hour, 9-5 work week, mass unions and collective bargaining, the welfare state and—most significantly for my argument—the nuclear family. For instance, in his early work , Aglietta argues that "status" relations are important because they are manifested in "acquired habits" which "stabilize the maintenance cycle of labour-power into a routine" (A Theory 157). In other words, Aglietta is arguing that "status" helps to define and establish a social consumption norm. In the process of making this argument, he also implies that the value of labor power is not determined by the labor-time necessary to reproduce the wage laborer and thus by the level of productive forces, but rather is determined by social "status" and consumption norms and thus argues that reproduction determines production. The family, in this view, is important because it "transmits" consumption norms and status codes "from one generation to the next" (157) and thus enables high demand for goods that, according to Aglietta, is essential for maintaining a mode of development.

As Aglietta argues explicitly in his later work, from this view, it is ultimately the mode of regulation (norms and institutions) that determines the social because this mode of regulation constitutes what Aglietta calls the set of "mediation mechanisms" that enables the "enormous productive potential" of capitalism to be harnessed to the aim of social progress ("Capitalism" 49). Aglietta writes: "The mode of regulation manages the tension between the expansive force of capital and the democratic principle" (53). In other words, Aglietta is arguing that the mediation mechanisms works to "resolve" what from a Marxist view is the contradiction between the forces and relations of production. Here, we see the way in which Aglietta displaces the concept of "mode of production" with "mode of development" because he argues that it is not the social relations of production which ultimately determine whether the forces of production developed within capitalism are put to the use of meeting people's needs, but "the democratic principle", or a cultural value—an aspect of the cultural superstructure—which determines whether the potential of these productive forces will be realized. From this view, it is, in the end, the "democratic principle", a cultural value, which saves capitalism from itself because it enables redistribution of wealth (for instance, in the form of rising wages linked to increases in productivity) that enables maintaining the high consumer demand that keeps mass production going. Thus, from this view, the shifts manifested in the shift from fordism to post-fordism represent a fundamental shift in the social totality which Aglietta now understands as a "mode of development" constituted by the forces and relations of production on one side and the superstructure on the other, with the superstructure as determining, rather than a "mode of production" with the forces of production on one side and the relations of production on the other, with the relations of production (as they come into conflict with the forces of production) as determining of the superstructure.

From Aglietta's view, which is less celebratory of the crisis of fordism than theorists such as Stuart Hall ("The Meaning of New Times"), Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (Empire) and even other regulationists such as Alan Lipietz ("Post-Fordism and Democracy"), the basic problem of the post-fordist era (or what he calls neo-fordism) thus far is that while changes in the labor process have rendered the existing set of mechanisms of mediation incompatible or obsolete, a new set of mechanisms of mediation has not yet emerged. In making this argument, Aglietta, in effect, argues that capitalism has undergone a fundamental shift—it was once an economic system which (if in a mediated form) met people's needs—which is the basic logic of the argument that it was the fordist "mediation mechanisms" which once enabled the "enormous productive potential" of capitalism to be harnessed to the aim of social progress—but is now a system which does not meet people's needs. In this sense Aglietta rewrites Marxism into a form of "institutionalism". It is social institutions, not the social relations of production (that is, the division of labor), that determines social life.

The issue here is not, however, ultimately whether Aglietta maintains Marxist concepts and a Marxist framework, but how effective is his theory of the shift from fordism to post-fordism, particularly in terms of its ability to explain both why the post-fordist family emerges and what is at the root of the problems this family faces. To clarify the issue further, when I refer to the problems of the post-fordist family, the central problem that needs to be explained is why are the material conditions of the contemporary, "post-fordist" family deteriorating and what is the relation between the changing family structures involved in the shift from the fordist, nuclear to the post-fordist, post-nuclear family and these deteriorating conditions? Given the way in which conservative social theorists from James Dobson (of the organization Focus on the Family) to Rick Santorum (It Takes a Family) to David Blankenhorn (Fatherless America) have attributed the deteriorating material conditions of the contemporary family on these very changes in family structures and thus work to remove any blame for these deteriorating material circumstances from any broader social structures and relations, this is a particularly urgent question which all "left" theories of the family today must address.

For Aglietta, the crisis of fordism—which was in part due to worker resistance to the constrictions of the fordist labor process and in part due to inherent limits of fordism's ability to develop productivity—means a crisis in the production of identity.[7] This is because neofordism produces a "flexible" labor force, by which I take Aglietta to be referring, at least in part, to a decline in permanent employment, or the "casualization" of labor. Aglietta sees in this crisis a confusion of identity, or an inability of workers to place themselves within society. This confusion of social identity is tied up, in Aglietta's view, with a rise of individualism brought on by a "generalization of wage labour during the post-war boom" ("Capitalism" 70). Here, Aglietta seems, at least on the surface, to be putting forward a materialist analysis in that he identifies the shift in values (towards individualism) as an effect of the generalization of wage labor. However, Aglietta is quite contradictory on this point because he also argues that it is the failure of the mediation mechanisms that produces individualism. He writes: 

Taken to extremes, individualist demands tend to dissolve the social fabric from which such demands derive their validity. Or else, the impact of globalization on organizations makes individuals unsure of their identity within society and destroys the bonds of solidarity that once allowed the collective expression of individual experiences. Individualism is then a negative force in the sense that it results from the failure of the mediation mechanisms to produce social cohesion (70-71).

That the family is one of these failed mediation mechanisms whose failure, from Aglietta's view, is responsible for the deteriorating material conditions within post-fordism is made clear when he writes that "although some of the dynamics of consumer demand were generated by efforts to improve the living conditions of the family as a group, changing lifestyles [i..e, changing family structures] diverted another part of this dynamism into the satisfaction of individual desires" (70). This statement marks that Aglietta, like the "elective" family theorists, understands the crisis of the nuclear family as matter of a shift in cultural values when he alludes to the changes in family structures as a matter of "changing lifestyles" and "the satisfaction of individual desires". The only difference between these "elective family" theorists, or at least those coming from the political left, and Aglietta is that Aglietta, like cultural conservatives, seems to take a negative view, overall, of this cultural development. For him, the family has fallen prey to individualism and this is why it has failed to produce social cohesion.

Leaving aside for the moment the contradiction's within Aglietta's argument (that is, the way he argues that the failure of the family and other such mediation mechanisms is both the cause and the effect of increased individualism), the question, again, is how effective is this (seemingly materialist) theory he puts forward that the generalization of wage relations works to promote individualism and that such individualism is at the root of our social problems?

Say that Aglietta is correct and the generalization of wage labor promotes individualism and this individualism, as it manifests in the failure of mediation mechanisms such as the family, is the cause of our social problems. At the site of the family, what this implies, as I have marked above, is that the changes in the family are an effect of "individualism". What are some of these changes in the family? Two of the key changes are the increase in two wage-earner families with women moving into the workforce and the increase in divorce and single-parent (i.e., single-mother) families. The logic of Aglietta's argument, if addressed to the question of the shift from fordist to post-fordist family, implies that women have moved into the work force and many have divorced their husbands (because the majority of those seeking divorces are women) in order to satisfy their individual desires.[8] There are some significant problems with this argument. One of the problems with the argument is that it does not explain why people's concern with forming emotionally satisfying relationships should be read as "individualism" rather than a focus on relatedness. In addition, the reasons women give for divorce differ across the classes and class strata. For instance, in "People's Reasons for Divorcing: Gender, Social Class, the Life Course, and Adjustment" Paul R. Amato and Denise Previti report on a study that indicates that people from lower socio-economic status groups tend to report divorcing on the basis of "problematic behavior" such as abuse rather than "relationship-centered causes" such as incompatibility and personality problems (622). In a book-length study, For Richer, For Poorer: Mothers Confront Divorce Demie Kurz finds that of the mothers from Philadelphia she interviews, 19 percent, nearly one-fifth of the women in the sample, reported domestic violence as the primary reason for their divorce, while 17 percent attributed the end of their marriage to "hard living" (when "men's difficulties holding jobs led to alcoholism, extended absences, and related behavior that threatened their marriage" [46] and 19 percent to their husbands' involvement with another woman. Only 19 percent cited personal dissatisfactions (45). Thus, to say that divorce today is caused by people pursuing their individual desires is not only to trivialize emotional needs, but is to greatly misrepresent the issues involved, particularly for poor and working class women and men, and to cover over the material relations behind the problems within the contemporary families that lead to divorce.

Beyond these problems, the explanatory force of this explanation in terms of its ability to explain not simply that families have changed and are changing, but why they are changing in the ways that they are, is quite limited. For instance, if women are divorcing because of their embrace of "individualism" how does this explain that most women retain custody of their children after divorce? Wouldn't this explanation suggest that women would leave their children as well as their husbands in a divorce? After all, being a single parent, with all the financial and other difficulties this entails, is hardly a formula for satisfying one's "individual desires". Moreover, if the changes in the family are an effect of "individualism" then why do these changes include increasing numbers of gay and lesbian people getting "partnered" or married and raising children together, forming what are called "gay families"? Why is one of the forms of the post-fordist family the neo-extended family in which adult children live with their parents? In fact, the term "boomerang children" has been coined to mark the tendency for children to complete college, for instance, and then come home to live with their parents. These children often live at home for financial reasons (they cannot afford to live on their own). Why should we understand this—parents efforts, for instance, to enable their children to live at the kind of living standard they have grown up with by allowing them to move home after college or after a divorce, or. . .—as a matter of "individualism" on the part of parents? This "explanation"—the new family is an effect of individualism—in other words, does not actually explain why the family has been changing in the ways it has been changing in the shift from fordism to post- (or neo-)fordism. In addition, we have to ask, if the issue is that extending capitalist relations have brought about this individualism and thus these changes in the family, why did the family change when it did if these relations were, as Aglietta says, extending through the post-war boom? If this extension accelerated at a certain point, and began to include more women, then why did it accelerate when it did and the ways that it did (including women in many low-wage fields, for instance)? Aglietta's theory does not provide answers to these questions.

At the same time Aglietta's individualist argument leaves us at a loss to explain why the family has changed in the multi-faceted ways that it has changed, it also leaves us at a loss to explain why and how these changes in family structures are associated with declining material conditions. Aglietta suggests that changing family structures are part of a cultural process that leads to a decline in the cultural valuing of "the democratic principle" and the corresponding value of "solidarity" which leads to a lack of social cohesion, the kind of social cohesion that enables effective trade unions and other institutions that enable redistribution of wealth towards workers. In other words, Aglietta suggests that the decline in solidarity produced by the decline of fordist mediation mechanisms such as the fordist family has led to a situation where capitalists have been able to run rampant, extracting enormous profits from workers and producing deteriorating material conditions as an effect. But can this explain the relation between changes in family structures and deteriorating material conditions that conservative cultural theorists are so keen to point out? If capitalists are running rampant and causing deteriorating conditions for families, why are these conditions deteriorating, in particular, for the "new" families such as single-parent (i.e., single-mother) families? If a woman gets divorced, and takes her children to form a single-parent family, why is this family, which has fewer adults and the same or fewer children than the fordist, male breadwinner family had (because people on average have fewer children now than in the 1950s, the height of the fordist family) in a worse financial situation than those remaining fordist families with a single, male breadwinner? With the same number of wage-earners as the fordist family and a smaller number of mouths to feed, why is this family worse off, on average, than one-wage earner, fordist families? "Individualism" does not explain this. After all, isn't "individualism" supposed to help us get ahead in the workplace? If this is the case, then these very "individualistic" female breadwinners should be better off than their (apparently less individualistic) male counterparts in "intact", single male breadwinner families. In short, this is not an effective theory of the shift from fordism to post-fordism for explaining why family structures are changing and in the ways they are changing or what is the relation between these changing structures and the deteriorating conditions of (especially certain forms of) the contemporary family. This is because, as I discuss below, Aglietta displaces the concept of the social relations of production, or division of labor, in his theory of fordism/post-fordism with the concept of "mediation mechanisms" (i.e., superstructural institutions).

While Aglietta puts forward a theory which subtly displaces questions of economics with questions of values, Antonio Negri, along with Michael Hardt, puts forward a theory of post-fordism that is significantly bolder about this displacement, and its emphasis on subjectivity as the determining aspect of history in post-fordism. In other words, Hardt and Negri are bolder about arguing that post-fordism marks a break in capitalism wherein workers and their families, while once determined—if in a rather attenuated way—by economics, are self-regulating.

Like Aglietta, Hardt and Negri also understand fordism, at least in the advanced capitalist countries, as a factory and assembly-line production system with high wages for workers linked to rapid increases in productivity (Empire 240). In addition, Hardt and Negri, like Aglietta, see the fordist organization of labor and society as rigid and hierarchical. They call this structure a "disciplinary society" (after Foucault), which is operationalized through "disciplinary institutions (the prison, the factory, the asylum, the hospital, the university, the school, and so forth)" (23). In this respect, the notion of "disciplinary society" is very similar to Aglietta's concept of "mode of regulation", however, Aglietta's mode of regulation has a more positive connotation. Hardt and Negri write: 

Disciplinarity is at once a form of production and a form of government such that disciplinary production and disciplinary society tend to coincide completely. In this new factory-society, productive subjectivities are forged as one-dimensional functions of economic development. The figures, structures and hierarchies of the division of social labor become ever more widespread and minutely defined as civil society is increasingly absorbed into the state: the new rules of subordination and the disciplinary capitalist regimes are extended across the entire social terrain (243).

Here, Hardt and Negri's "disciplinary society" seems to correspond to Aglietta's fordism as a "mode of development" in that it includes both a system of production and the "society" that is aligned with that production system. Hardt and Negri also argue for an "economic" determination of fordist subjectivity when they write that "productive subjectivities are forged as one-dimensional functions of economic development" (243). In this articulation, they echo the Frankfurt School and Marcuse's "one-dimensional man" and posit the worker-subject of fordism as a subject who only knows himself as he is reflected in the (hierarchical) structure of the organization for which he works. Thus, they also see identity in fordism as "fixed" or "rigid". However, they differ from Aglietta in that they see the political and cultural structures of fordism as a matter of domination, not democracy. 

As I have begun to mark, as in Aglietta's theory, the question of "identity", or what Hardt and Negri understand as "subjectivity", is at the core of their argument about fordism, and particularly the fordist family, and its relation to post-fordism, and especially the post-fordist family. However, for Hardt and Negri, the post-fordist family is not a matter of a (negative) "confusion" of identity, but a new freedom of subjectivities. Hardt and Negri theorize the withering away of the family as institution in postmodernity, or post-fordism (for Negri and Hardt these two terms are basically interchangeable), under the pressures of a globalizing market. Hardt and Negri argue, for instance, that the fordist institutions, or the institutions of "disciplinary society" are "everywhere in crisis and continually breaking down" (196). They are in crisis because a new mode of labor control or "sovereignty" is necessary in order for capital to dominate the new global market and family is one of those institutions of modern, fordist production that mediates (connects) "capital and sovereignty" (328). In other words, new production and new sovereignty means the need for new institutions of mediation.

Again, for Hardt and Negri the restructuring of the capitalist regime of production in post-fordism means the end—or really the crisis—of the disciplinary regime of fordism and its institutions. At the same time, they argue that in the "society of control" that emerges through this restructuring, these institutions still produce subjectivity. The "society of control" is not, from this view, a utopian space. For instance, they write that "[o]ne should not think that the crisis of the nuclear family has brought a decline in the forces of patriarchy. On the contrary, discourses and practices of 'family values' seem to be everywhere across the social field" (197). Here, Hardt and Negri point to their argument that what is happening in the shift from disciplinarity (modern/fordist) to control (postmodern/post-fordist) is that the boundaries of institutions are breaking down and thus their ideologies work across the social field. However, the shift to a society of control also means that there is a new freedom, or at least flexibility, of subjectivity. They write: "The indefiniteness of the place of production corresponds to the indeterminacy of the form of the subjectivities produced" (197). How they reconcile their ideas about ideologies of (fordist) institutions expanding their reach at the same time they argue that the breakdown of the fordist institutions enables the emergence of plural subjectivites is left unanswered. What is clear is their celebratory stance toward the new plural subjectivities. This stance is made evident when they argue that "we might think" of the crisis, or what they call the continual "corruption" of subjectivity in post-fordism "as de-generation—a reverse process of generation and composition, a moment of metamorphosis that potentially frees spaces for change" (201). My understanding of Hardt and Negri's theory as it relates to the new family, then, is that it posits the new family forms as new forms of subjectivity that emerge when this "space of change" emerges. These new forms are "gay" (versus "straight") families, "transnational" (versus national) families, "step" (versus "intact") families and so on.

What is, at least on the surface, puzzling about Hardt and Negri's argument about the breakdown of the fordist institutions and the opening up of the new freedom of subjective "difference" is that they critique postmodern and postcolonial theories for their uncritical celebration of "difference", or difference within the proletariat, while, it would seem, themselves taking a celebratory stance in relation to such difference. They write: "Empire too is bent on doing away with those modern forms of sovereignty and on setting differences to play across boundaries. Despite the best intentions, then, the postmodernist politics of difference not only is ineffective against but even coincide with and support the functions and practices of imperial rule" (142). They explain what they mean when they say that postmodernist politics of differences supports the new rule when they turn to a discussion of mainstream (i.e., bourgeois) management and organization theory. They show that far from excluding differences, the new management practices are focused on including difference and then organizing their "energies and differences in the interests of profit" (153). Here, Hardt and Negri make a point that I would certainly agree with—that is, that the construction of "differences" in capitalism, including post-fordist capitalism, is ultimately aimed at expanding profits. However, Hardt and Negri reconcile their critique of postmodernism with their celebration of difference in a way which is quite contradictory. That is, for them, the opening of new spaces and subjectivities with the shift to imperial rule is an effect of the transformation of production, a transformation wherein the "value" of labor cannot be contained within the capitalist allotment of variable capital (wages) and labor is an autonomous force which no longer requires capital. However, this transformation of production, which is marked, for instance, by the dominance of "services" and "information" over manufacturing, is itself brought about, according to Hardt and Negri, by an autonomous, labor-driven transformation of subjectivity.

For Hardt and Negri, unlike Aglietta, factory-worker resistance to the constraining work rules of fordist production is just one site of a broader resistance to the rigid structures of fordist society in the 1960s and 1970s. They argue that this resistance not only took the form of the rejection of the fordist factory discipline of "eight hours a day, fifty weeks a year, for an entire working life" but a more general rejection of the disciplinary society, or factory-society. Hardt and Negri write, for instance, that the refusal of the disciplinary regime "appeared in a wide variety of guises and proliferated in thousands of daily practices" including "the college student who experimented with LSD instead of looking for a job, " "the young woman who refused to get married and make a family", and "the 'shiftless' African-American worker who moved on 'CP' (colored people's) time" (274).

Not only is resistance a society-wide phenomenon for Hardt and Negri, but this resistance is, in itself, the (only) cause of the shift from fordist to post-fordist production. They understand the shift from fordist to post-fordist production as a shift from a national and territory-bound system to a global and de-territorialized, though centrally-commanded, system. This is also a shift from a system of production that revolves around the assembly-line and machine manufacturing of a tangible product to a computerized and information, communication and affect-based system of production with services and their intangible products such as feelings at its core. Hardt and Negri argue that these shifts in production are anticipated, and in fact necessitated by, the development of the "new social movements" including anti-imperialist movements and the student and feminist movements of 1968. They write: "[t]he movements anticipated the capitalist awareness of a need for a paradigm shift in production and dictated its form and nature" (275). This is a subtle way of saying that consumers produced the shift to post-fordist production because they began to value different lifestyles such as experimenting with drugs instead of a nine to five job and the production that supported these lifestyles. In other words, while in fordist, disciplinary society "identity" was determined by economics, economics are now determined by "identity".

Hardt and Negri's understanding of the determination of this production shift by popular resistance based on new cultural values is made clear when they write: 

The various forms of social contestation and experimentation all centered on a refusal to value the kind of fixed program of material production typical of the disciplinary regime, its mass factories, and its nuclear family structure. The movements valued instead a more flexible dynamic of creativity and what might be considered more immaterial forms of production [such as the production of services] (274).

Capital, from this view, is not the source of innovations in production marked by the dominance of "immaterial labor"; rather, capital had to develop production practices that revolve around immaterial labor in order to "capture" the creative force of the new subjectivity and its new values, the subjectivity of what Hardt and Negri call "the multitude".

Thus, from Hardt and Negri's view, the "differences" that the new capitalism organizes, represented by the new social movements, have been produced by this new subjectivity. In addition to being quite mystical as the "new subjectivity" becomes a God-like figure that creates a new world, the logic here is contradictory. On the one hand, "difference" has been produced by the "new subjectivity" represented by the new social movements. On the other, the space of "difference", of plural subjectivities, is opened by the shift to imperial rule. The new subjectivities are both cause and effect. While Hardt and Negri, as postmodernists, might see this argument as a matter of "dialectics", to my reading it is simply a subjectivist tautology which opens the space for an idealist understanding of the "new family" as a matter of a self-invention by the masses. From this view, we cannot provide a historical explanation for why the "new" families have emerged and in the forms that they have. Why, for instance, has the "resistance" to the nuclear family on the part of some taken the form of establishing "gay" families? Why have step-families, or divorce-extended families emerged? Why now? Hardt and Negri's theory of a (spontaneous) shift in subjectivity and values cannot provide answers to these questions. Perhaps more importantly, Hardt and Negri's theory cannot explain why the (privatized) family remains in any form. Moreover, Hardt and Negri's "explanation" of why families have changed, in its focus on the post-fordist family as a space of subjective freedom, does not even address the deteriorating conditions of families in post-fordism, much less provide an explanation for why these material conditions are deteriorating or why and how this deterioration relates the changing family structures.

The inability of the dominant theories of post-fordism to provide a historical explanation for the "new" families is, I argue, an effect of the way in which they render the social relations of production invisible or ineffective for determining the social and thus naturalize these social relations. Take, for instance, the following passage from Hardt and Negri's Empire

Immaterial labor immediately involves social interaction and cooperation. [. . .] This fact calls into question the old notion (common to classical and Marxian political economics) by which labor power is conceived as "variable capital", that is, a force that is activated and made coherent only by capital, because the cooperative powers of labor power (particularly immaterial labor power) afford labor the possibility of valorizing itself. Brains and bodies still need others to produce value, but the others they need are not necessarily provided by capital and its capacities to orchestrate production. Today productivity, wealth, and the creation of social surpluses take the form of cooperative interactivity through linguistic, communicational, and affective networks (294).

Here, Hardt and Negri are arguing, in essence, that networks or relations between and among workers are the means of production, not machines, and thus workers do not depend on capitalists to put them to work. This claim in itself does not seem to grasp the reality of "service" work. A nurse in a hospital, for instance, might be a "service" worker, but she does not own the hospital, its beds and its equipment. However, even if we accept Hardt and Negri's assumption that it is the relations between workers themselves that constitute the means of production rather than only one element of the forces of production, this does not, however, mean that workers no longer require capitalists. This is because the workers do not own the means of subsistence and thus must sell their labor power in exchange for wages (variable capital) to obtain them. This is why, within capitalism, labor can never be "auto-valorizing". By indicating that this is possible, Hardt and Negri do not of course actually change capitalism, but rather work to render invisible the social relations of production/exploitation between capital and labor. It is this erasure that enables Hardt and Negri to see such superstructural changes as a shift from manufacturing to services or the emergence of new subjectivities and read these as fundamental changes in the capitalist mode of production, that is, as an end of exploitation. However, it is the social relations of production, that is, the division of labor, and the way in which this division of labor has shifted that explains, as I discuss below, the changes in family structures. Moreover, it is only by understanding the social relations of production and the way they come into conflict with the relations of production, that we can understand the deteriorating material conditions of the family in post-fordism.

Aglietta makes fundamentally the same move of erasing the social relations of production when he argues that a mode of accumulation is the articulation of a labor process with a mode of consumption. This leaves out the social relations of production. His erasure of the social relations of production, and thus the displacement of the concept of the "mode of production" as a totality, is also evident when he refers to capitalism only in terms of its "enormous productive capacity" which is then harnessed by the "mode of regulation". This is, in effect, to say that capitalism is only its forces of production, not its relations of production. This reduction of capitalism allows Aglietta to theorize changes in the mode of regulation, or what he calls mechanism of mediation between labor and capital, to stand for fundamental changes in capitalism and the social form it gives rise to from a progressive (fordist) to regressive (neo-fordist) form. At the same time Aglietta's theory renders the social relations of production invisible, as its argument for need for "mediation mechanisms" in order to redistribute wealth marks, this theory presupposes these relations of production (which produce the uneven distribution of wealth that must then be re-distributed) and the profit motive embedded within them.

Put another way, the reason that Aglietta's theory does not explain why the family has changed, and in the ways that it has, or what is the relation between these changes and the deteriorating material conditions (of especially certain forms) of the contemporary family, is that by arguing that the "individualism" produced by capitalism produces these changes, he takes capitalism—or, more precisely, capitalist social relations of production, that is, the division of labor—and its development as a given. He takes as an assumption the developments of the division of labor under capitalism over the last thirty to forty years when it is these developments—themselves compelled by the way in which the capitalist social relations of production come into conflict with the developing forces of production—that explain why the family has changed in the ways it has changed and why these changes are associated with deteriorating material conditions.

However, the meaning of fordism/post-fordism is a site of contestation. In contrast to Aglietta, Hardt and Negri and other "superstructuralist" theorists, I am, from the materialist view, re-understanding "fordism" and "post-fordism" as markers of changes in production, in the division of labor, which bring about cultural changes. Capital has needed to reorganize the division of labor in order to enable the continuation of capital accumulation and thus capitalism. Thus fordism—which has different effects between and among workers within and across nation-states—is a phase of capitalism, as is post-fordism. However, the shift from one phase of capitalism to another has not abolished the exploitative relation between capitalist and worker nor has it abolished the family as an economic unit. As I have argued in part one of this essay, the "new" family, like the "old" family, is an economic unit that works to define the boundaries of inheritance of private property and social responsibility for "care" and as such works to reproduce private property relations. In other words, I argue that we need to see the changes in contemporary society, such as the changes in the family, as effects of changes in the way—or the division of labor under which—surplus value is being extracted from workers by capital, and a deepening of this extraction, rather than a change in the mode of production, or an end of surplus value extraction.

As I have suggested, the shift from fordist to post-fordist society is at its center a matter of changes in the division of labor under capitalism. The changes in the division of labor that are most important to the emergence of the new family are the changes in the international and gender divisions of labor. These changes are necessary for the ongoing accumulation of capital. Fordism is marked by an international division of labor in which the semi-periphery and, especially, the periphery nations are positioned in the world economic system as suppliers of raw materials and thus there is a division of labor between "core" nations such as the United States, England and France and "periphery" nations such as Mexico, the Ivory Coast and Iraq, between extractive industries and extractive labor and manufacturing industries and labor which processes these raw materials into commodities for purchase such as means of production (machinery), textiles and cars (Mies 112; Mitter 6). In contrast, in post-fordism, the semiperiphery and periphery tend to replace core nations in terms of manufacturing, especially labor-intensive manufacturing, while core nations take up the services that support manufacturing, including financial services and advertising (Mies 113; Mitter 8). This shift has been enabled by the development of new production technologies and innovations in communications technologies which enable geographically separating the administration and support services of industry from the point of production. These shifts, within the context of capital's efforts to buoy a falling rate of profit (an issue I discuss below) have produced declining male wages in the "core" nations among men, and especially among men with limited education who once worked in relatively high-paying manufacturing jobs but have been laid off and forced into lower-paying jobs.

This shift in the international division of labor is intertwined with shifts in the gender division of labor. Fordism is marked by a gender division of labor in the "core", or advanced capitalist nations—which are my focus here—in which women are largely excluded from wage-labor, and marginalized in part-time and non-manufacturing labor when they are included. In these nations in post-fordism, with the shift away from manufacturing in terms of the proportion of the population employed in these industries as opposed to services, women become more central to social production (Tabak; Waite and Nielson; German A Question of Class). This centering of women in production is due in part to the favoring of women for many service jobs—that is, it is owing in part to an already existing gender division of labor wherein it is mainly women who are employed in services.

As I have suggested, these changes in the division of labor were compelled by capital's drive for profits. To explain, these changes in the division of labor were put in place in response to economic crisis. Fordism, which came into its maturity in the post-war boom of the 1950s and 1960s, can be said to hit a crisis point with the economic crisis of 1974. While the timing of this economic crisis was due to a number of factors, including the break-up of the Bretton Woods system (itself a symptom of decline in the hegemonic economic power of the United States), increasing international financial uncertainty, and inflation, as well as the oil crisis of the previous year, underlying this crisis was a fall in the rate of profit (Armstrong, Glyn and Harrison 225). The circumstances that Aglietta identifies as the cause of the crisis, a dip in productivity increases and worker resistance, are also factors that contributed to the timing of the crisis, while the decline in profit rates was the root cause. According to Armstrong, Glyn and Harrison, by 1974 "[p]rofits had been falling for some years" and in fact profitability had fallen by one-third (225-226). The crash brought another sharp decline in profit rate.

The tendency for the profit rate to fall in capitalism is, as Marx explains, an effect of the contradiction between the capitalist forces and relations of production. To explain, productivity increases are compelled by competition between capitalists. In order to compete, capitalists introduce labor-saving machinery so that they can produce a greater amount of product in the same amount of time. They can then undersell their competitors while still selling their products for over their production costs. Thus, this capitalist not only gains market share, but also reaps surplus-profits. However, in response other capitalists introduce the same labor-saving machinery. Through competition the price of the products is brought down to its (new) cost of production. The effect is to limit the input of labor (or variable capital) in relation to capital (constant capital) in the production process, or in other words to increase the organic composition of capital. However, since it is the labor portion of the input that is the source of profit, limiting labor has the effect of suppressing the rate of profit and putting the breaks on production. In this way, capitalism as a mode of production is internally contradictory—the profit motive embedded within the capitalist social relations of production comes into conflict with the development of the forces of production. In order to combat this falling rate of profit, and thus manage this contradiction, capitalists work to increase the rate of exploitation, so they gain more surplus value from each unit of labor put to use. However, since this results in an increase in the proportion of surplus labor to necessary labor, this means a deepening of the contradiction between the forces of production and what they make possible in the way of meeting people's needs and what is under the existing relations of production in terms of the production of unmet needs.

One of the ways to increase the rate of exploitation is to limit the cost of wages. The shifts in the international division of labor and the gender division of labor I discuss above are effects of capital's attempts to lower their labor costs by taking advantage of already existing divisions within the working class. For instance, because of their much lower standard of living, wage costs in the semi-periphery and periphery nations are much less than that of the core, or advanced capitalist nations. Thus, moving manufacturing from these core nations to the periphery enables capitalists to greatly lower their labor costs while maintaining the same levels of productivity, which enables these capitalists to buoy their rate of profit, or their costs as compared to their profits. In the same way, drawing women into the labor force works to minimize the costs of labor. This is because of sexist practices, such as unequal pay for equal work and the historical exclusion of women from labor sectors that have taken up fordist labor practices such as the payment of benefits, which constitute women as a cheap source of labor. Tabak writes, for instance, that capital's "search for labour reserves that enabled [it] to bypass the Fordist accord [of increases in wages tied to increases in productivity] served to swell the group of non-unionized wage workers, made up mostly of women and 'minorities' of all shades" (92). In other words, in order to decrease the cost of wages, capital worked to employ workers who had not benefited from the fordist division of labor, thus producing new divisions of labor, but ones which inevitably replicated the hierarchies of the fordist division of labor.

It is essential to understand the dynamic I have been discussing here in order to understand why the recent changes in family are associated with deteriorating material conditions for families. This is because these shifts in the divisions of labor which, as I discuss further below, have the effect of producing changes in family structures, are compelled by capital's drive for profits. To put it a bit more concretely, the issue here is not, for instance, simply bringing women into the wage labor force, but bringing them in in such a way to buoy a falling rate of profit. That is, women have been drawn into the wage labor force as part of a structural strategy of increasing the rate of exploitation of workers and working families to compensate for a falling rate of profit. Take, for instance, a two-earner family in the United States today. On average, these families take in about the same real wages as one-earner families before the end of the postwar boom. That is, while women have entered the wage work force, their wages have only enabled most two-earner families to keep up with inflation. At the same time, these families are working many more hours per year.[9] Thus, these families are more highly exploited families, which means even if they earn the same real wages, not only are such issues as skyrocketing health care premiums rapidly becoming a problem for them, but their material conditions in terms of the time and energy they have available for meeting family needs have declined. These families are also increasingly subject to relative poverty as profits keep climbing while their wages remain stable. Moreover, for single-earner families (both "intact" and "broken"), financial circumstances are increasingly difficult because without that second wage-earner to "make up for" declining male wages, they are subject to declining real wages.

To put this another way, the "family"—whether "fordist" or "post-fordist"—develops in dialectical relation to class contradictions in the mode of production. The changes in family forms and the gender and sexual relations within the family have to do not with "choice" or free floating "desire" but with the unfolding of class contradictions in production and corresponding shifts in the gender division of labor in response to these class contradictions. The fordist family, or so called "nuclear family" with a relatively strict division of labor between male wage-workers and female reproductive workers (largely a phenomenon of the advanced capitalist countries enabled by their dominant place in the international division of labor) was a result of contradictions in production for profit. As I have discussed above, capital objectively relies upon surplus-labor for profit and therefore it needs continual access to a surplus labor producing population in order to stave off declines in profit. So, for instance, on the one hand, in the decades immediately following WWII, capital (especially in advanced capitalist nations) needed to draw workers into the workforce for surplus-labor and invested in the working population with rising wages, full-time jobs, and greater social security for some (particularly white, male) workers, because it was profitable to do so. These rising wages, to be clear, were paid for out of an increased rate of exploitation due to increases in productivity and, as well, by the availability of cheap sources of raw materials leveraged by the dominant position of the core nations in the international division of labor. On the other hand, capital needed access to a replenished supply of labor-power after WWII and many women (who were wage-workers during WWII) were laid off and pushed back into reproductive labor in the home to reproduce this labor-supply.

The division of labor under fordist production, at least in the core nations, in which men were primarily located as wage-workers, is necessarily reflected in the domestic sphere. As the family's sole or primary wage-worker, the man is positioned more powerfully relative to all the other family members, since they are economically dependent on him—that is, on his wage—for survival. Corresponding to this division of labor, the working class woman—who not only ensures that the working class man will be able to return to work the next day to produce more surplus-value for the capitalist, but also ensures that there will be more workers in the future to exploit—is positioned subordinately to the male wage-worker, to serve the immediate and future reproductive needs of capital. The working class woman, that is, either works entirely at home in reproductive labor, or the work she does outside the home is paid less by capital (exploited at a cheaper price!) and therefore seen as "supplementary" within the family to that of the male wage-worker. In short, women's subordination in the family is a result of the current division of labor outside the family, which is, in turn, determined by capitalism's fundamental reliance on surplus-labor. Materially positioned outside of productive labor, women are also represented peripherally by capital when it needs women to replenish the labor supply, which in turn works to justify their exclusion from or marginalization within production. This is not to say that all families in fordism, even within the core nations, were alike. However, this arrangement of production and reproduction did give rise to the nuclear family as the dominant social form and cultural norm.

On these terms, the post-fordist family as it manifests in the core nations needs to be re-understood not as an effect of a cultural shift towards individualism, but as an effect of a shift in the gender division of labor that results from class contradictions in wage-labor/capital relations. As capital moved beyond national boundaries to secure cheap labor and stave off declines in profit, it decreased real wages for men in advanced capitalist nations and pulled in more women as new sources of cheap wage-labor. As women have been drawn into the wage-labor force this has worked—to some degree—to break down the fordist gender division of labor. Women have become more "centered" in the post-fordist labor force, taking on the role of wage-worker, head of household and earning higher wages.[10] Yet these changes in the family are still an articulation of class contradictions in production and do not mean material equality for women. By re-understanding the post-fordist family in this way, we can not only account for why the nuclear family is in decline, but also why the new families take the forms that they do.

For instance, a key component of the shifts in the family and the emergence of such family forms as the single-parent family and the divorce-extended family is the increase in the rate of divorce. A historical development such as a rapid rate of increase in divorce is of course a complex phenomenon which involves shifts in laws (the emergence of no-fault divorce) and norms. However, from the materialist perspective some of the key dynamics underlying these superstructural changes, particularly in the United States and other "core" countries, include an increase in women's labor force participation and a decline of men's real wages. The increase in women's labor force participation, marks a shift in the gender division of labor, and specifically a loosening of the fordist gender division of labor. Significantly, as I have mentioned, it is women who initiate the majority of divorces (Coontz The Way We Really 84). As a number of feminist theorists have explained, the material conditions of women's lives under the nuclear family, in particular the way women are isolated in the home and forced to suppress their own needs and wants in order to focus on the needs and wants of their husbands and children, has devastating effects on these women psychologically. For instance, in her The Way We Never Were, Stephanie Coontz writes, in the context of the United States, about the gap between the image of the "happy housewife" of the 1950s and the reality of these women's lives. The difficulty of the life of women restricted to reproductive labor is marked, for instance, by the explosion of the use of tranquilizers among such women in the 1950s. Stephanie Coontz writes: "Tranquilizers were developed in the 1950s in response to a need that physicians explicitly saw as female: Virtually nonexistent in 1955, tranquilizer consumption reached 462,000 pounds in 1958 and soared to 1.15 million pounds merely a year later" (The Way We Never 36). It is not surprising, then, that as women have entered wage-labor in increasing numbers, and begin to gain financial independence relative to men, they often leave marriages which tie them into the nuclear family as a structure of gender oppression. For instance, women in dual-earner families who perceive that they do more than their share of housework and thus are trapped in an internal division of labor within the family that would have seemed "appropriate" within the traditional nuclear family structure are more likely to divorce than women who do not perceive such an inequality (Frisco and Williams).

However, this changing "perception" is not "spontaneous" rather, it is the effect of historical and material developments in the class contradictions of capitalist production. Moreover, because these changes still occur under wage-labor/capital relations, they do not mean freedom and equality for women rather, they entail economic inequalities in new forms. Capitalism still uses "gender" as a means to cheapen labor power, which explains why single-mother families are more likely to be poor than either single-father families or dual-earner families. As I have begun to mark, owing in part to shifts in the international division of labor wherein manufacturing is moved abroad and in part to the shift to a more service-oriented economy (enabled by labor-saving machinery in manufacturing), men in the advanced capitalist nations have faced greater competition for jobs—for instance, as a result of "down-sizing"—and thus have experienced a decline in real wages and employment opportunities. This has led to a decline of the "family wage". Thus, women's opportunities and earnings in relation to men's have risen, and this has undermined the possibility as well as necessity of economically depending on men and, to some degree, allowed them to leave unhappy marriages.[11] Of course the other implication of such findings is that the shrinking gap between men's and women's wages and employment opportunities is as much about a decline for men as gains for women. Thus, it is important to recognize that increases in divorce are likely to be caused in part by deepening exploitation of working class families and the stress this causes . In fact, studies have found that divorce is more common in families from lower socio-economic status, which supports the idea that divorce is linked to financial and other forms of stress produced by exploitative working conditions (White and Rogers).

In contrast to the "superstructuralist" view put forward by Aglietta and others, materialism and materialist cultural studies of the family can provide a historical explanation of the emergence of the new family forms that can explain the complexities of the terrain of the new family and the various forms it takes. For instance, in addition to being able to explain the emergence of single-parent families, the materialist perspective can explain the emergence of such family forms as lesbigay families and neo-extended families. From this view the lesbigay family becomes possible when—due to the extension of capitalist social relations—the gender division of labor loosens, loosening gender norms. At the same time, the underlying force that produces these shifts in the gender division of labor (capital's drive for profits and thus its compulsion to intensify exploitation) explains why "neo-extended" families of various kinds are emerging. These families are basically a defensive formation on the part of workers that is aimed at coping with the effects of deepening exploitation. To take another example, the "transnational family" emerges—or we should say develops in post-fordism since transnational families have existed since at least the nineteenth century—as the international division of labor shifts and as the economic divide between the core and the periphery nations deepens. The deepening of this divide has, for instance, greatly increased the number of women who have migrated from the periphery and semi-periphery as domestic servants and nannies in order to provide material support for their families at home (Ehrenreich and Hochschild, Global Woman; Anderson; Constable, Maid to Order). This migration of women has also been compelled by the loosening of the fordist gender division of labor which has drawn upper-middle class women in the advanced capitalist nations into the workforce and produced a demand for domestic servants and nannies to take over "their" work in the home (Ehrenreich and Hochschild, "Introduction"). The notion that the new transnational families with migrant women is a matter of individualism or a new freedom of creativity and subjectivity is a class understanding of migration that abstracts the conditions of life of upper-middle class workers who gain opportunities for travel through their work in the professions from the material conditions of the transnational family for the majority. For the majority of the world's workers, migration and the transnational family are not about freedom and creativity, but survival and economic compulsion at a time of great downward pressure on their standard of living. As in the loosening of the fordist gender division of labor, the deepening of the divide between the core and periphery nations that compels migration and produces the transnational families is due to the extension and intensification of the capitalist social division of labor. Thus we see that the logic of exploitation—capital's ceaseless drive for profit—is the logic that underlies the complexities that appear and are experienced in our everyday "family" lives.

From this view, we can explain the relation between changes in family structures and the deteriorating material conditions of post-fordist families. That is, from this view we can see that the changes in family structures are not (as conservative theories of growing "individualism" argue) the cause of the deteriorating conditions of post-fordist families. Rather, both these shifts—changes in family structures and deteriorating material conditions are surface "effects" of changes in the way surplus value is extracted, or the division of labor under which surplus value is extracted and a deepening of this extraction. What has not changed, however, is the continuation of social relations of production based on exploitation or the family's determination by these class relations. It is class relations that are the source of inequality in the family. Providing such an explanation is important, for one, because it blocks conservative efforts to produce scapegoats in the form of individuals who have taken up "new" family forms.

At the opening of this section of the essay, I argued that the "elective" theories of the family, that is, the theories of the family put forward by such theorists as Kath Weston, Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim and Judith Stacey are underpinned by the dominant theories of fordism/post-fordism put forward by such theorists as Aglietta and Hardt and Negri. Here, I would like to come back to this point in the context of further developing the argument that "elective" family theories are, in the end, ideological theories of the family. As I have argued, Judith Stacey's theory of the family is one of the most influential as well as sophisticated of these theories.

At the core of the dominant theories of fordism/post-fordism, as I have argued, is: 1) an idealist understanding of history, and specifically the history of the shift from fordism to post-fordism (what Stacey calls industrialism and postindustrialism), as at root an issue of changing cultural values, which determine economics; and 2) an ahistorical understanding of the shift from fordism to post-fordism as a fundamental transformation of capitalist relations of production. Stacey argues that "the shift from the modern to the postmodern family regime", or what I have been calling the shift from the fordist to the post-fordist family, represents an "American family revolution". In other words, from Stacey's point of view, the family has undergone a transformative change alongside the shift from an "industrial" to a "postindustrial" economy, an economy which, according to Stacey, underlies the changes in the family. In effect, then, Stacey takes as a starting point the underlying logic of the dominant theories of post-fordism, which is that the cultural changes in the United States and beyond since World War II—in cultural values and social institutions such as the family—represent fundamental material transformation of the economic relations of the family and the relationship of the family as an economic unit to wage-labor/capital relations (exploitation). As I have also pointed out, Stacey and other "elective" family theorists see the "new" family as a site of subjective freedom, or a site of "choice". Stacey writes, for instance, that "postmodern changes in work, family and sexual opportunities for women and men do open the prospect of introducing greater democracy, equality and choice than ever before into our most intimate relationships, especially for women and members of sexual minorities" (9). At the same time, like Aglietta (but not Hardt and Negri), Stacey acknowledges the deteriorating material conditions of "postmodern" families, particularly in In the Name of the Family, which is a response to her critics for being too "optimistic". In explaining these deteriorating material conditions, like Aglietta, Stacey posits "cultural values" as determining the family. Stacey writes, 

A comparative perspective on global family change could be quite useful here. The most cursory cross-national glance reveals that the postmodern family condition is endemic to all postindustrial nations in the era of global capitalism, but that national responses to its challenges, and therefore its human consequences, vary considerably. In the Scandinavian nations, for example, social democratic policies continue to enjoy much greater popularity than family-values rhetoric. Consequently, even though Scandinavian marriage rates are far lower than in the United States, and unwed motherhood is much less stigmatized, nonetheless teen pregnancy and child poverty are practically unknown. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, suicide rates for youth in Sweden are much lower than they are in the United States, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Germany, or even Japan—all countries with much more conservative family rhetoric and policies. This suggests that the collective challenge that citizens of postindustrial societies must confront is to accept, if we cannot embrace, the reality of family diversity and flux with as much grace, wisdom, tolerance and compassion as we can muster (11-12). 

Stacey's argument here is that it is not ultimately capitalism and capitalist social relations that are the root cause of the deteriorating material conditions for individuals and families that she marks with her reference to child poverty in the United States. Rather, according to Stacey, the root cause of such conditions is conservative "family-values" rhetoric, a rhetoric of "intolerance", because this rhetoric, and the values of intolerance, lack of compassion, or what she elsewhere terms "mean-spiritedness", and so forth, block efforts at social-democratic redistribution. This is an articulation of the same logic as Aglietta's argument that cultural values are the determinate aspect of the social. For instance, Stacey argues that national "mediation mechanisms" like a social-democratic state, determine whether the forces of production in capitalism are used to meet individuals' and families' needs and that the effectivity of these mediation mechanism depends on the values (such as tolerance/intolerance) that either enable building these mediation mechanisms, or lead to their dismantling. Stacey's alignment with Aglietta's basic logic is even more evident when she writes that the "moralistic rhetoric deployed in the name of The Family has been fueling politics that harm rather than help actual families and that impair the social fabric upon which all families depend" (3). In other words, the problems of the contemporary family are, according to Stacey, caused by negative cultural values that destroy what she calls the "social fabric" and what Aglietta calls "social cohesion".

Stacey's theory of the family and the material basis of social inequality (which she sees as purely cultural), is quite limited. For instance, her theory does not and cannot explain where conservative family "values" come from. In fact, she suggests that these values reflect a personal moral failure when she accuses Newt Gingrich of "hypocrisy" because although he promotes "family values" publicly, he divorced his own wife while she was sick and in the hospital. Thus, Stacey's argument not only does not provide historical explanation of the material relations that produce these ideas, it is also quite contradictory because she critiques conservative rhetoric as "moralistic" when her own criticism of this rhetoric is that it is lacking in appropriate morals. Thus Stacey's theory of social change is itself moralizing. She posits that the basis of change in the family is for workers to change their moral attitudes and values so that a fraction of the wealth that is exploited from workers by capital can be "redistributed" back to them. But this is without ever addressing the material relations of production in which this wealth is exploited from workers in the first place or the fact that in private property relations it is capital and production for profit, not workers, that decide the ends and interests toward which social wealth is distributed.

In order to further explain the limits of Stacey's theory, it is necessary to once again look at the way she draws on the dominant theories of fordism/post-fordism. Specifically, Stacey's theory replicates these theories by erasing the concept of the social relations of production as a determinate force from her theory, arguing that "class" is no longer relevant to social theory, and in doing so accepting class relations as "given" when she makes her argument for "redistribution" of wealth. On the issue of (the end of) "class" Stacey writes, "The life circumstances and social mobility patterns of the members of Pamela's kin set and of the Lewisons, for example, were so diverse and fluid that no single social-class category could adequately describe any of the family units among them" (30-31). Here, Stacey's argument is that in postindustrial circumstances, or circumstances where people's "occupational and personal circumstances shift" quite frequently, the category of "class" is no longer a valid or useful analytical category, particularly in terms of categorizing families in class terms (as in "working class families"). Her assumption here is that class equals occupation and thus if one's occupation and thus status changes (from, say, a low-skill, manual job to a high-tech or managerial job), as it did for the many of the individuals in the two families she studied, then to label this family a certain class (that is, working class) makes no sense. In other words, without explicitly saying so, Stacey rejects class in the sense that I have defined it from a Marxist perspective, as the social relations of production, or division of labor, with the fundamental division of labor being the division between owners, or those who own the means of production and thus have control over labor and workers, or those who own no means of production and thus must sell their labor in order to earn wages. At the same time, Stacey presupposes these relations, or the relations of exploitation, when she acknowledges that within post-industrialism, "the middle classes have been shrinking and the economic circumstances of Americans polarizing" as "high-wage, blue-collar jobs [have] declined" (32) because it is the capitalist relation of production/exploitation and the profit motive embedded within these relations that is at the root of this polarization of wealth. To put this another way, like Aglietta, when Stacey argues for the need for social democratic policies to redistribute wealth, she is, in effect, presupposing as "unchangeable" the social relations of production (the division of labor) that has (re)produced the uneven distribution of wealth in the first place. In presupposing these relations, Stacey, like Aglietta, naturalizes the capitalist division of labor as well as the shifts it undergoes in the name of maintaining and expanding profits. This is why she is unable to provide an explanatory theory of the family and "family values". In contrast, from the Marxist perspective, one can provide a historical (versus moralist) explanation of the (re-)emergence of conservative "family values" rhetoric even at the same time that, in many ways, gender and sexual norms have greatly loosened. That is, at the same time the profit drive embedded in capitalist relations of production has produced shifts in the division of labor which have compelled the loosening of gender norms, it has also, because these shifts in the division of labor have been aimed at deepening exploitation, produced increasing class and wealth divisions. Thus, since these are two effects that arise at the same time because they are based on the same underlying cause, and capital is under pressure to naturalize and justify the increasing class and wealth divisions and block inquiry into their root cause, it has produced an ideology within which the effects of the increasing class and wealth divisions is blamed on the changing family structures and the changing norms ("values") that enable them.

To explain more specifically why Stacey's theory of the family and its relationship to historical change is moralizing not materialist, it is necessary to look at how she constructs the family and thus its role in both contemporary society and history. For Stacey (and this goes for Aglietta and Hardt and Negri as well), given that cultural "values" are understood to be both the cause and the solution to the material contradictions of the family, the family is posited as fundamentally a site of socialization. In other words, from this view, insofar as the family is implicated in history, it is implicated as a site of socialization. This is because, following Stacey's logic, the crucial role of the family in determining social life is in socializing family members, and especially its young people—that is, constructing their cultural "values" because it is individuals' cultural values that determine not only people's ideas and the policies they support, but, ultimately, economics and specifically the use of social resources. However, if we take the family as a site of socialization as our starting point, we cannot explain the other roles of the family, specifically, we can not explain why the family functions as an economic unit, providing the means of subsistence. In fact, from this view we cannot even explain why changes in the way families socialize their children occur.

Take, for instance, the question of gender socialization. In the shift from fordism to post-fordism the socialization of young people has changed significantly. Children are now socialized into more flexible gender identities, which enable them to take up different roles in the social relations of production. Such a flexible gender role, particularly for women, is articulated in the children's book The Paper Bag Princess, which was published in 1980 and is in its forty-fifth printing. This story, by Robert Munsch, turns upside-down the classic tale of the princess being rescued by the prince. In this story, a dragon smashes the castle of Elizabeth, the princess, and carries off the prince, Ronald, to whom the princess is engaged. Princess Elizabeth decides "to chase the dragon and get Ronald back", but because the fire-breathing dragon has burned up all her clothes, she wears a paper bag. The princess outwits the dragon, and rescues Ronald, but he says to her: "Elizabeth, you are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess". To this, the princess replies, "Ronald, your clothes are really pretty and your hair is neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum" and the story ends: "They didn't get married after all". Thus, this story works to socialize girls out of the role of dependent who must focus on her looks in order to "get a man" who will then support her. Of course this also marks the class position of the book because it is writing against a view of women that has never, even in the advanced capitalist countries, been relevant to working class women, particularly those in the lower strata of the class. Instead of socializing girls into depending on men, it socializes them into the role of smart and independent woman, directly confronting the stereotype of women as helpless victims who are dependent on men. This helps to produce subjectivities that enable girls to become independent, which today means, in part, that they can earn their own wage.

If we start our analysis with the question of socialization, however, we cannot explain why anyone participates in wage-labor in the first place. We have, rather, to assume wage-labor as a permanent feature of life and the "end of history". If we are dehistoricizing wage-labor, then we take the social relations of production/exploitation as a given and we cannot explain the reason for the way in which families produce their means of subsistence through wage-labor. In short, if we take up a theory such as Stacey's, which takes as its conceptual starting point for explaining the family and its relation to social change the ideas (re)produced by the family, then we cannot explain the role of the family in providing the means of subsistence. For instance, if we start with the idea of women as capable providers, what does that tell us about the way in which that provisioning takes place? The idea of women as capable providers does not, in other words, tell us why they provide in the ways that they do and under what circumstances and so forth. Neither can we explain, by beginning with the family as a site of socialization, why children are socialized in the ways that they are at any given time. Thus, we can from this perspective say that girls are socialized differently now which enables them to participate in wage-labor, but we cannot explain why girls are socialized differently. We cannot explain why the family has changed. We have only described changing gender role socialization within the family, we have not explained it.

In contrast, from the materialist position, which argues that it is the social relations of production that are the determinate aspect of the social, it is necessary to start with understanding the family as an economic unit, which first and foremost provides the means of subsistence to its members, in order to explain the family's role in socializing its members, and particularly its children. This is because it is this role, the acquisition of the means of subsistence that is the condition of possibility of all the other functions of the family to be fulfilled. Thus it is this material condition of necessity (the need for means of subsistence), which economically compels workers to engage in exploitative wage-labor/capital relations (as, under capitalism, this is the only way to acquire the means of subsistence), that is the most basic link between the family and the social relations that produce it. It is by understanding these material contradictions that we can understand the other roles of the family.

Like Aglietta and Hardt, Stacey is not able to explain the changes in the family because she takes the existing (capitalist) social relations of production as a permanent feature of human life. She does this by taking the family to be a "cultural unit" not an "economic unit" and, in doing so, leaves the relations of production (from which the material inequalities of the family derive) hidden from view and represents them as irrelevant to bringing about material equality in the family. As I have explained, the family is an economic unit within capitalism because it is an articulation of the social relations of production. That is, having been separated from the means of production, workers are forced to form families as small economic units that work to meet each others basic and historical economic needs including those for clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. If we start with these social relations of production, the relations of wage-labor and capital, this helps us to understand that within the prevailing social relations of production, families must send out one or more of its members to wage-labor in order to earn the means of subsistence, with this labor as the basis for the family's existence. In other words, if we start our analysis from the perspective of the family as an economic unit which must first and foremost obtain the means for continuing human existence and must do so within the prevailing social relations of production, then we can understand why families must send out one or more of its members to wage-labor—because within the prevailing social relations of production the vast majority of families do not own the means of production and thus must sell their labor power on the market to obtain the means of subsistence. This approach, which begins with production, then, can lead us to understand why the family socializes children in the ways it does. That is, as families participate in social reproduction, they are at the same time reproducing labor-power. In order to produce labor-power that is saleable on the labor market, families must socialize the future labor-power (their children) in such a way so that it is in fact saleable on the labor market. It must, in other words, answer to the current needs of capital. Thus, at a time when women are being drawn into the wage-labor force in order to meet the labor needs of capital (for labor at a certain rate of exploitation), it becomes necessary for children, the future labor-power, to be socialized into flexible gender roles.

The issue at stake in "explanation", and why I place so much emphasis on it, is that explanation of the material conditions that continue to produce the family as a site of material inequality is necessary for understanding the difference between what kind of change will enable persons freedom from inequality and exploitation and what change merely updates workers for what capital needs to produce profit. My argument here is that the "elective" theories of the family are ultimately ideological theories. This is because they deny the family is an economic unit by arguing that the "new" family is a family "of choice", and in doing so they mystify the economic relations of production that must be transformed in order to bring about material equality in the family. This is evident in Stacey's theory when she argues for redistribution of wealth without ever discussing the way in which the family, as a class institution, reproduces the division of labor in capitalist society that produces the (uneven) distribution of wealth to begin with. In fact, for Stacey, the new family, as an institution, is posited as potentially a space of democracy and equality for all. This is an ideological approach to the question of the family because it portrays the contemporary institution of the family, the family as an economic unit, as not only inevitable but the way things ought to be. To refer back to a passage I marked earlier, Stacey writes: 

The challenge of postmodernity, as of democracy, is to learn to live with the instability and flux as responsibility, ethically and humanely as possible. To do so we must cultivate individual resilience, flexibility, courage, and tolerance while we work collectively to provide the best forms of social and cultural supports we can devise to cushion the inevitable disruptions and disappointments, the hardships and heartaches, that all families and humans must inevitably confront (12). 

Here, Stacey treats the effects (disruptions and disappointments) of what I have argued is the deepening exploitation of individuals and families brought on by production for profit as "inevitable". This works to quietly naturalize the existing, exploitative social division of labor. In fact, Stacey argues, in effect, that these exploitative relations are relations we should value because they are a marker of "democracy" and that for the sake of this democracy, we must accept "disruption" and "disappointments". But who is it that is being "disrupted" and "disappointed"? Certainly not the ruling class and its families, who have access to all the luxuries of life. It is the workers whose (family) lives are being disrupted, not simply by divorce, but by financial crises, lack of adequate healthcare, overwork, and on and on and on. Stacey's argument, as a representative of "elective" theories, is ideological, for one, because by presenting the "new" family as a site of "democracy" and "choice" it encourages workers to accept an updated version of the family as a class institution. It is also ideological because it argues that individuals and individual families can solve their own problems by being more "tolerant" and "flexible" and "responsible" and "resilient". These are, in the end—as the left seems to recognize (only) when conservatives use these words—simply code words for the acceptance of greater and greater levels of exploitation. The problems of the contemporary family can only be resolved, as Engels argued, by transforming the social relations of production and the "privatized" family unit which these relations have produced. Individuals and individual families can not effect this change. Such change requires collective transformation of the social relations of production by workers who understand the root cause of the inequality they face. 

[1] See, for instance, Victor Malarek, The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade and Gillian Caldwell et al., "Capitalizing on Transition Economies: The Role of the Russian Mafiya in Trafficking Women for Forced Prostitution". 

[2] For a discussion of women's employment in "male" occupations during and after World War II, see, for instance, Fleeting Opportunities: Women Shipyard Workers in Portland and Vancouver During World War II and Reconversion by Amy Kessleman. 

[3] According to Warren and Tyagi, there has been a "255 percent increase in the foreclosure rate, a 430 percent increase in the bankruptcy roles, and a 570 percent increase in credit card debt" (20).

[4] For a discussion of some of these debates, see John Allen, "Post-Industrialism/Post-Fordism".

[5] For theorizations of the Marxist concept of ideology, see Mas'ud Zavarzadeh, "Ideology, Postmodernism, Class Politics"; Teresa L. Ebert, Ludic Feminism and After: Postmodernism, Desire, and Labor in Late Capitalism (7-13); and Julie Torrant, The Contemporary Family and Its Cultural Representations

[6] For a discussion of changes in production processes, see John Allen, "Post-Industrialism/Post-Fordism". Regarding the changing statistical norm, see The Council of Economic Advisers, "The Council of Economic Advisers on the Changing American Family". Regarding changing ideological norms, see for instance Economic and Social Research Council, "Research Results: ESRC Population and Household Change Research Programme; Family Change: Demographic and Attitudinal Trends Across Nations and Time" and Andrew Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage. For discussion of widening inequality, see Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein, and Heather Boushey, The State of Working America 2002/2003.

[7] For a critique of Aglietta's theory of crisis, see Chris Harman, Explaining The Crisis: A Marxist Re-Appraisal

[8] See, for instance, Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Really Are, page 84 on the proportion of women to men filing for divorce.

[9] For instance, according to Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein, and Heather Boushey, "Overall, middle-income families added 660 annual hours [of work] between 1979 and 2000, an increase of over 16 weeks of full-time work" (99).

[10] Between 1973 and 2001, wages for all but the lowest 10th percentile of women wage earners rose, though it rose more for the higher wage brackets than for the lower. Women in the 20th percentile gained 8.5 percent, while women in the 50th percent gained 21.6 percent and women in the 95th percentile gained 52.1 percent (Mishel, Bernstein and Boushey 132).

[11] For discussions women's labor force participation as a necessary condition for the increase in divorce and separation see for instance Andrew Cherlin's Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, Carl Degler's At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present, and Sara McLanahan's "The Two Faces of Divorce: Women's and Children's Interests". For discussions of the link between declining men's economic opportunities, and especially declining opportunities for African-American men, and issues of family formation and dissolution, see for instance William Julius Wilson, When Work Disappears and Valerie Oppenheimer's "Women's Rising Employment and the Future of the Family in Industrial Societies". 

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