Five: Theoretical concepts: family, gender and discourse

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This chapter explores the core concept of reproduction in sociological theory and analyses gender and family relationships as functional to the reproduction of capital. The contribution of feminism is considered, especially in relation to women’s paid and unpaid work. The chapter concludes with an exploration of ‘discourse’ as reproduction.

Within sociology, reproduction refers to the mechanisms by which society creates, maintains and recreates the conditions for it to continue. So, while production concerns itself with work and how society organises itself to produce goods and wealth, reproduction is concerned with how society organises the lives of its population to ensure that they participate in ‘production’. Classical Marxist theory, therefore, explores how capitalism organises itself to ensure that capitalism continues to thrive and how the state takes on the role of organising society to this end.

Reproduction also has come to be closely related to the sociology of the family. Sociologists have developed different perspectives on this, but the primary concern here is to examine functionalist and feminist critiques of it from the 1970s onwards.

Finally, in more recent developments, aspects of sociology have focused on discourse. This is mainly associated with developments out of Marxism by Foucault, and has become one of the dominant sociological developments of the past 15 years.

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