Yesterday I was taking notes in class, listening to a lecture on the subject of Middle Eastern nations’ attempts to “modernize” (model themselves after Western Europe) around the turn of the century and mid 1900s, when suddenly,
“Capitalism depends on the nuclear family.”
Nearly exact quote of what the professor said.
April 3rd, 2015 at 11:56 am
Huh? …..how? o_O
April 3rd, 2015 at 12:21 pm
Well, I’m not going to explain this as eloquently as she did, but this was in the context of discussing a push for a cultural shift — and one of the things that modernization efforts tried to change was the conception of the “family unit.” (In contrast with mommy+daddy+kids, she described the Arab family as something like “you’ve got aunts, you’ve got grandparents, the husband has a male lover and the wife doesn’t know where he is half the time,” which sounds like an exaggeration to me, but you get the picture — not the normative unit). And, like. To give you the oversimplified version: capitalism doesn’t care about human relationships, and it does care about a steady labor pool, right? All those relationships besides parenthood, they’re not what “counts.”
I’m not sure why she phrased it exactly like that, but hey, this is the perfect excuse for me to email her for clarification.
April 3rd, 2015 at 12:02 pm
There was a brief discussion of this awhile back on Tumblr, inspired by John d’Emilio’s 1983 paper, “Capitalism and Gay Identity”.
Definitely something I’d like to see explored more but I don’t feel I have the necessary academic background to write anything on it myself.
April 3rd, 2015 at 12:22 pm
Thanks for the links!
April 3rd, 2015 at 3:07 pm
*types long comment, clicks on the wrong thing, whole comment gone* gmrl.
I’m not a big fan of sweeping statements like that. And especially not if it involves -isms. I don’t do well with grand narratives and -ism explanations. *bitter medievalist grumblrs*
But yeah, that capitalism depends on the nuclear family is a classic idea in historical materialism / marxist theory. And from there it’s adopted into feminist and queer studies. Some scholars historicize the oppression of women and queer people by pointing to capitalism, so it’s rather prominent in both fields. For those who are interested, you can find loads of stuff on this with some google fu.
April 3rd, 2015 at 3:09 pm
Fair enough. And yeah, I’ll keep looking into it.
April 4th, 2015 at 12:51 am
If “capitalism depends on the nuclear family,” what is the explaination for societies such as Taiwan and South Korea, which are generally regarded as capitalist societies, yet extended families are still very common and considered the ideal (it’s not uncommon for three generations to live together, nor is it uncommon for people extended families who don’t all sleep under the same roof to still see each other every day, or at least a few times a week). Is it because these societies industrialized relatively recently, and not enough time has passed for the extended family structures to break into nuclear families to the same degree as has happened in societies which have been industrialized for more generations? If so, how does capitalism persist/establish itself before nuclearization is advanced? For that matter, when did Taiwan and South Korea become ‘capitalist’ anyway – did they become capitalist under Japanese colonial rule, or did they only become capitalist after World War II?
Like Tristefere, I’m wary of these types of generalizations as well. It often seems that you have to define things so broadly that the statement is accurate, yet vague and useless, or define things narrowly enough for the statement to mean something, yet the statement is inaccurate.
April 4th, 2015 at 10:32 am
Also good questions.