Haslanger, Marx, and Marxist-Feminist Unitary Theory


In the wake of Lise Vogel’s Marxism and the Oppression of Women, a number of Marxist-Feminist theorists have attempted to work out a ‘unitary theory’ of capitalism, racial, and gender oppression. These theorists ask: Are race and gender as we know them constituted by capitalism or do they have meaningful existence outside of it? Are patriarchy and white supremacy separate systems that interact with capitalism, or is capitalism a system that necessarily produces relations of racial and gendered domination? I take social ontology to bear on these questions, and suggest that building a bridge between contemporary Marxist-Feminism and contemporary analytic social ontology on the basis of shared concerns with the mode of existence of social kinds and social structures can benefit both fields.

Due to her focus on social practice, ideology, and the materiality of social structure, Sally Haslanger’s work is appositely positioned to enter into dialogue with Marxian theory. Discussing her recent work on these topics, I argue that Marxian theory can benefit from adopting Haslanger’s position on the practice-dependence of social kinds as well as her defense of social structural explanations and her related (Epstein inspired) critique of methodological individualism. Conversely, I suggest that social ontologists concerned with the mode of existence of such kinds as race and gender can benefit from adopting Marx’s focus on the historical specificity of social kinds and the unique form of asocial sociality historically actualized under capitalism.

In order to demonstrate the efficacy of working between these two discourses, I propose partial answers to the above questions derived from a synthesis of social ontological and Marxian insights. I conclude that the historical generalization of capitalist production fundamentally alters the systematic reproduction of the network of social practices constitutive of gender and ‘race’, yielding distinctly capitalist practices of distinction.


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