Marxist Feminism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sat Nov 5 21:47:43 MST 1994

On Sat, 5 Nov 1994, wesley david cecil wrote:

> On Fri, 4 Nov 1994, Justin Schwartz wrote:
> >
> > Wes, someone might almost think she was talking with a normal person in a
> > shared language and then you produce a sentence like the following:
> >
> > > 	For my part, I am interested in question of how materiality is
> > > figured in the two discourses since both often rely heavily on issues of
> > > materiality to ground various arguments.
> >
> > Materiality? Discourses? Materiality being figured in discourses? You got
> > me beat. How IS the materiality figured in the two discourses, and can you
> > whistle me a few bars so I can learn the tune? Less flippantly, what are
> > you talking about?
> Well, not wishing to make any particular claim to normalcy, what I meant
> in this rather compressed passage is that much feminism appeals to the
> actual body and bodily experiences to ground arguments and thus contains
> an implicit or explicit theory of materialism(of what material reality is
> constituted and how we apprehend this reality).  Similarly, Marxism in
> its many forms has spent a great deal of time on the material basis of
> reality --means and modes of production determining social interraction
> that kindoff thing-- and thus also presents multitude generally but not
> always explicit theories of what constitutes materiality.  Now, my
> problem is that in the few articles I have read -- 5 or 6 -- that claim
> to be Marxist/Feminist it is assumed that marxist materialism is in
> perfect accord with Feminist notions of materialism although such is not
> necessarily the case(I will send you an example when I am in my office).
> So the question of how the material is figured-- that is presented in an
> essay -- is very interesting to me.
> Wes

"Material" is a term of art in Marxist theory. The best account we have of
Marx's own use of it is in G.A. Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of History,
where Cohen argues that Marx always contrasts it with "social." The
latter is supposed to pick up human relations in their class aspect and
the former to apply to them abstracted from class context, particularly in
productive relations. Cohen gives the example of some agricultural workers
reaping corn in a field. By looking at it that way, as a "material"
process, you cannot tell whether they are slaves or serfs or wage laborers
or sharecroppers or associated socialist producers. The latter
characterization is "social."

Marxists, however, have tended to use the word as a synonym for
"economic," including class. So looking for the "material basis" might
mean, what's the economic explanation for this phenomenon? The contrast
here is with merely ideological or cultural explanations.

I think the usage in feminist theory is even more varied, less
well-defined, and unstable than Marxist usage. There is no one usage which
qualifies as THE canonical feminist reading.

 --Justin Schwartz


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