Structures of patriarchy and capital in the family
The concern with maintenance, whether the totality to be maintained be seen as one in harmony – as in sociological functionalism – or as one in contradiction – as in materialist 'functionalism' – tends in the first case to the effacement of history altogether and a consequent tendency to universalise a historically specific social formation, or in the second to the displacement of the effectivity of history away from the family and onto other formations, such as class. This displacement is by no means to be dismissed as crude economic determinism, but its significance here is that the family is in fact emptied of all social significance in such a way that it becomes merely the vehicle of the reproduction of existing relations of production. In both cases of functionalism – the
sociological and the materialist – the family is thought as the non-contradictory site of socially necessary activities such as 'pattern maintenance' (ideological reproduction) and 'tension management' (psychological renewal of labour power). The terms 'pattern maintenance' and 'tension management' are taken from the sociologist Talcott Parsons's functionalist analysis of the nuclear family, and the bracketed terms are of the sort frequently mobilised in marxist analyses of the family. What I am suggesting by juxtaposing the language of such different traditions is that in spite of differences in terminology, both approaches share a similar orientation (Middleton, 1974) because the question they both attempt to answer – how is it possible for the family to exist? – is a functionalist one. And both see the family as the transmitter or repository of social forces the site of whose real operation lies outside itself. If this is indeed the case, then it is no wonder that the family can be referred to only as crucial (and so on) for the continuation or reproduction of a social order, for many of the existing analyses which attempt to specify its effectivity relegate it, paradoxically, to the status of what may be termed an empty signifier.