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Social Structure

This essay will begin by describing the three spheres that tie society

together. The main institution of society is the family or household which

is broken up into thousands of units. Secondly, it will discuss the economic

institution and its ties to the family. The use of labour power and how

that effects the power struggle with the capitalist marketplace will also

be discussed. Lastly, the political institution of government will be shown

along with its relationships to the family and the families ability to

create reform and change regulation.

One of the main institutions in society in the household or family.

It is here that almost all the consumption in society takes place. It is

also here that almost all the labour power in society originates. The make-up

of the family is not as “cut and dry” as it once was. The nuclear family

is dead and what has replaced it has put all old theories about the family

to the test.

One major change has been the rise of the dual-earner family. In 70%

of households today there is no single breadwinner. (Burggraf, 1997:54)

Women’s position in the family has been changed radically from that of

one-hundred years ago. Three important issues have been raised about women’s

position in the family. One is that the development of gender inequality

within the family is a result of the changing economy. This being the extra

accumulation of property in private households. The second issue is that

capitalism being the only form of economy we are familiar with pushes for

the working of every family member to create a strong economy. Lastly,

the evolution of the family dispersed from economic development and instead

become a more social issue. (Wilson, 1982:37)

Because the position of women in the family has been so altered from

past history, projections made, even forty years ago, are increasingly

wrong. Though, even with the changing structure of the family the economic

labour power has not significantly increased. The role of housewife in

the post-industrial age was just as important to women as today’s dual

earning household. The housewife was the counter-part to the husbands role

of breadwinner. It was the wife who cleaned the husbands clothes, prepared

his food and provided emotional support, without which he could not fulfill

his role as breadwinner. (Burggraf, 1997:174)

With the evolution of the labour market and capitalist economy with

the ever increasing consumption of the family unit the homemaker was called

to enter the workforce. In 1901 only 12% of Canadian women were economically

active, however, in 1961 there were 29.5% economically active. (Wilson,

1982:71). This percentage has gotten exponentially bigger with time. In

1981, 54% of women with dependent children were economically active.(Purdy,


Another facet of the economic family unit is reproduction. The goal

of the family unit is to produce children, which in turn expands the labour

force, which creates a larger economic base. In Canadian families the emphasis

is on quality not quantity and because of this there are gaps in the unskilled

labour force. It is only through immigration that the capitalist economy

has been able to keep up with the demand for cheap unskilled labour. (Purdy,


So the value of labour power is determined outside capitalism, in non-capitalist

units that maintain and reproduce labour power…families. Corporations

produce wealth in the form of goods and services and a can last well beyond

an individuals life span. Capitalism is a powerful institution with holds

on the economy, political state and family as well. The payment of wages

allows the corporations to grow and continue to produce goods and exploit

workers. (Bailey, 1974:127)

Families consume. In the modern era, most families are not units of

production and consumption, mainly just consumption. They do not accumulate

wealth, but simply take the wage and spend it on commodities that satisfy

their needs. As Karl Marx put it, “if I exchange a commodity [labour power]

for money, buy a commodity for it and satisfy my need, then the act is

at an end.” (Smith, 1982:29) Families have a limited life span, related

to the cycle of growth and decline of individual family members. The family,

unless it has property, will inevitably decline to be replaced or reborn

in new formations down the generations. Wages earned allow families to

survive and reproduce labour power, in the form of children. It is the

children that will outlive the family and become the new labour power.

Working for wages allows those with economic activity to support the

non-wage-earning members of the household, young and old, caring and dependent.

In the spirit of support the family acts with altruism to aid reproduction

and in turn this aids the reproduction of the capitalist enterprise. (Smith,

1982: 105) Marx put it like this :

The maintenance and reproduction of the working-class is, as must ever


a necessary condition to the reproduction of capital. But the capitalist

may safely leave its fulfillment to the labourer’s instincts of self-preservation

and of propagation. (Smith, 1982:106)

If Marx is correct in his ideology then the family will be forever in

the service of the controllers of the economic and political states. Already

the family is related to these two institutions in a number of ways.

The economy and household/family are seperated easily in the modern

era. As already stated above, the family of today is primarily a consumption

unit, while the economic state is filled with units of production and consumption

as well, it produces wages and employment.

Other creations of economy are; capitalist welfare programs (company

housing, welfare, pension programs), corporate taxes and employer contributions.

(Dickinson/Russell, 1986:13)

The families main tie to the economic state is through labour power.

Jack Wayne, in his essay “The function of Social Welfare in a Capitalist

Economy” writes:

The reproduction of labour power is, however, private; it generally

takes place outside the jurisdiction of capital, in families and households,

and is separated from the circuit of capital. The use value of labour power

is, of course, of interest to the capitalist, but it is determined by processes

and undertakings that occur behind ‘closed doors’. The only point of intervention

available to the capitalist is the wage. (Dickinson/Russell, 1986:79)

It is the wage that ties the economic state and family together, and

allows the corporations or as Marx calls them capitalists to harness the

labour power for their own needs. There is only one form of labour that

is not totally governed by the capitalist market and that is domestic labour.

Domestic labour is characterized by a very low level of division of

labour. The same person (usually the housewife) does a range of activities

which, in the social spheres are carried out by specialists. Some examples

of this are catering, education and health businesses. Secondly the products

of domestic labour do not have to be sold on the market for the labour

to be recognized at useful. This makes domestic labour a non-market production.

Lastly the labour-power is not offered on a market and therefor makes up

non-waged labour

(housework is non-paid). (Gouverneur, 1983:7)

Closely tied in with the economic state is the political state. The

taxes from the economic market feed the collective consumption of the government

and legislation and boards from the government provide occupational health

and safety standards. The government also provides a stabling influence

on the changing economy.

As far as the family is concerned the State provides redistribution

of transfer payments and substitute wage programs. The government also

strengthens the social welfare net and provides charity and philanthropy

to those in need. Labour market regulation allows the regulation of child

labour laws and gives more bargaining power to families and wage earners.

One major form of this is the ability to strike and discuss minimum wage

legislation. (Dickinson/Russell, 1986: 17) Saskatchewan, under the first

socialist government in North America the CCF, was the first to give wage-earners

the right to go on strike in 1944. It took Ontario twenty years to give

its provincial residents the same right.

Households and families units of ,individual consumption, use this increase

in labour power to provide more taxes, if not out of the good of their

hearts then for government stability, to the political state. Thus, the

family unit helps balance the power struggle the government has with the

ever increasing economic sphere in a symbiotic relationship.

In “The State and the Maintenance of Patriarchy: A case study of family,

labour and welfare legislation in Canada”, Jane Ursel writes:

An important role of the state in class societies is to ensure a balanced

allocation of labour and non-labour resources between the two spheres of

production and reproduction so that the system is maintained both in the

long and short term….the state is the guarantor of the rules of class

and the rules of patriarchy and must insure that one system does not disrupt

the other. (Dickinson/Russell, 1986:154)

The government uses its control to regulate and perpetuate the status

quo and the family is a part of that. However, she does not believe that

the patriarchal system is all bad. She continues to write:

Patriarchy is important because the state cannot (inspite of some ill-fated

attempts) legislate procreation. It must instead set up a system via family,

property and marriage laws which will serve to translage social and economic

requirements into compelling household imperatives. The characteristic

feature of familial patriarchy is its pronatalist dynamic. This results

from the nature of the interaction between class and patriarchy which creates

a dterminant relation between productivity and procreation at the household

level.(Dickinson/Russel, 1986:157)

The family can change these regulations as well.

According to what has been discussed so far the definition of a family

would be a non-capitalist unit in which the maintenance and reproduction

of labour power takes place. (Bailey, 1974: 34) The Websters Dictionary

describes a family as “a group of related things or people”. (1990) However,

the Canadian government defines the family as “now-married couple (with

or without never-married sons and/or daughters of either or both spouses),

a couple living common law (again with or without never-married sons and/or

daughters of either or both partners) or a lone parent of any marital status,

with at least one never-married son or daughter living in the same dwelling.

(Statistics Canada, 1994:10)

Because the governments definition of family lets several groups that

may still be considered families “slip through the cracks”, this gives

bargaining power to the family unit yet again to change government regulation.

The Canadian government still does not recognize same sex couples, three

generations living in the same household and individuals living apart from

spouses and children. In 1991, 424,950 individuals aged 18-25 lived with

non-relatives, in institutions, or by themselves. This represents over

20% of the age group. (Statistics Canada, 1994:19)

One aspect of the political sphere that the family continually challenges

is gender equality. Starting with the latter part of the nineteenth century

where waves of feminist protest

began throughout the western world. Women organized in groups starting

at the family level and gaining support from other women’s groups. One

of the first cases early feminists argued before the government was their

collective right to vote. As early as 1916 in Alberta, Saskatchewan and

Manitoba women were given the right to vote, this increased the families

power with swaying the political sphere…it essentially doubled it. (Wilson.


The women’s movement appeared to lose its momentum after women gained

the right to vote. But although women’s groups were no longer held together

by a single goal. They continued to fight for women’s rights on several

fronts. The YWCA and Canadian Business and Professional Women remained

active in support of women’s issues. However, it wasn’t until the 1960’s

that the movement regained its previous strength. (Wilson, 1982:125)

Women in families are not the only ones who have argued with the political

sphere and won some political rights. Some Gay families or same-sex couples

have won the right to adopt children and in some American states get married.

The Modern family depends heavily on the all the institutions of society

for support. Where in the past the family was independent, now it needs

the bonds created through long access to each sphere either political or

economic. The labour power generated by the family unit gives it he bargaining

power to compete head to head with the ever growing and dominant labour

market and government bureaucracy.

But because the family is the smallest group and is based on individual

consumption it can seem over-taxed when dealing with mighty corporations

and large political states. However, in the global market-place the power

lies in the hands of those that control the labour and the consumption.

Currently, the family institution relies on the economy and political state,

but as the bargaining for labour power continues the family is emerging

as the dominant force. As new evolutions of families are being allowed

to participate in our culture, more power will create more labour and more

reproduction. It is a basic fact that history repeats itself, maybe the

family will gain the dominant role it had before the industrial revolution

and mercantilism.


Bailey, Reed J. The New State: Capital Family. Oxford. Oxford Press

Ltd. 1974

Burggraf, Shirley P, Ph.D. The Feminine Economy and Economic Man: Reviving

the Role of Family in the Post-Industrial Age. Addison-Wesley Publishing,

New York. 1997

Dickinson, James and Russell, Bob. Family, Economy and State: The social

Reproduction Process Under Capitalism. St. Martin’s Press, New York. 1986

Gouverneur, Jacques. Contemporary Capitalism and Marxist Economics.

Martin Robertson, Oxford. 1983

Purdy, David. Social Power and the Labour Market: A Radical Approach

to Labour Economics. Macmillan Education, England. 1988

Rueschemeyer, Dietrich. Power and the Division of Labour. Polity Press,

Worcester. 1986

Smith, Ciaphus. Marx, Capitalism and the Family:Production and the reproduction

of labour power. Masters Press, London. 1982

Statistics Canada. Canadian 1991 Census Results Statistics Canada, Toronto,


Wilson, S.J. Women The Family and the Economy. McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd.

Toronto. 1982

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