There are several feminists whose work could be discussed here, but the most interesting is Dorothy Smith. In her early work she combined a Marxist analysis of macro-structures with an ethnomethodological take on micro-processes to create an innovative feminist sociology
(Smith, 1972, 1973). Her later work is much less influenced by any male theorists, as she points out (Smith, 2000). I have focused on Smith’s early work here, not to categorise her as a Marxist now, but to show how one feminist sociologist was developing a novel and thought – provoking sociology grounded in or on Marx but not recognisable to most ‘Marxists’ at the time.
Dorothy Smith was publishing in the early 1970s, but her work did not become widely known outwith Canada until later in the decade. Her paper ‘Women, the family and corporate capitalism’ was delivered to the Canadian Anthropological and Sociological Association in 1972, published in 1973 (Smith, 1973; Stephenson, 1973) but not picked up in the USA or Europe until 1977 (Nelson and Olesen, 1977) when it was republished (Smith, 1977). Her ‘An analysis of ideological structures and how women are excluded’ (Smith, 1975) was published in a Canadian journal and therefore many of us missed it through ethnocentric reading habits. ‘A sociology for women’ (Smith, 1979) was in an edited collection (Sherman and Beck, 1979) that went out of print before its merits were widely recognised. Only with her first book (Smith, 1987) and her paper in an American collection (Smith, 1989; Wallace, 1989) did Smith’s work become accessible outwith Canada, and by 1989 she had moved beyond the innovative uses of Marxism in the work of 17 years before into a more autonomous and free-standing feminist sociology without the deference to founding fathers. Her anger with Hekman (Smith, 2000) is partly due to Hekman’s (2000) failure to provide an accurate chronology of Smith’s work, or recognise its paradigm shift from Marxism and ethnomethodology to a distinctive feminist position.
While she has moved on theoretically, the early work illustrates the shape-shifting use of Marx in the feminist sociology of the 1970s. As Stephenson wrote at the time: ‘Smith has extended Marx’s historically constrained explanation of the nature of oppression. She incorporates the enduring facets of his analysis, brings them up to date, and expands them by dealing with… oppression as it is experienced by women’ (1977a: 16).
Smith starts her paper by arguing that whereas Marx and Engels had predicted that the ‘public’ or social sphere would expand, submerging the Victorian ‘private’ sphere, in late-twentieth-century corporate capitalism, the public/private divide was stronger than ever (although it took rather different forms). Marx and Engels had expected that as the ‘public’ sphere extended itself, the domestic arena, and with that the private arena, the personal servitude of women within it, would vanish. The individualised domestic labour and care of children would become public matters. Smith argued that this had not happened, and that the American and Canadian sociology
of the family had failed to recognise the ways in which the economic base (corporate capitalism) determined the familial superstructure. The bourgeois family was, Smith noted, grounded upon a corporate capitalist economic system.
Smith then explored how the rise of corporate capitalism had created the alienation of the bourgeoisie. In the nineteenth century the workers were alienated, while the bourgeoisie were not; in the late twentieth century, the bourgeoisie were also alienated labour. She wrote: ‘Both worker and manager are expropriated by the corporate enterprise… But in the case of the manager… his ethical being, his motives, his strategies of thought and communication – it is those that are appropriated. It is an alienation of the person, not of the product’ (1977: 25-6).
This alienation of the managerial cadre, who are overwhelmingly men, transforms the working conditions of women. Smith contrasted the ways in which family life had developed under corporate capitalism in working-class and middle-class families. Much of the paper focuses on the ways in which the middle-class wife and mother has been alienated, by changes in the economic base, which make her work a service to the system of corporate capitalism, rather than to an individual man. She summarises this: ‘In appropriating the home by legislating its merit and concrete order, the corporate enterprise establishes women as its ‘executives’, analogous to their husbands’ positions as managers. Nothing is left to women but the execution of an order whose definition is not hers’ (ibid.: 37).
There are, of course, parallels here with the popular attack on suburban bourgeois households as damaging to women and to America in Friedan (1963). At the time of its success, Friedan’s left-wing and activist credentials were not known, and her best-seller does not use the analytic tools of Marxism explicitly. Smith’s early work was a reworking of Marxist concepts to draw conclusions about women (or rather married mothers) which went far beyond any other feminist theory.
Smith herself did not pursue the creation of a feminist neoMarxism. Rather, she was simultaneously exploring ethnomethodology especially in her paper ‘K is mentally ill’ (Smith, 1978) and her work on the social construction of psychiatry (Smith and David, 1975). Melding the Marxist concepts of alienation, and ideology, with the insights from the ethnomethodology and the critical, feminist engagement with psychiatry, Smith produced the manifesto of ‘A sociology for women’ (1979), with the central tenet that such a sociology needs to treat ‘the everyday world as problematic’. This phrase became the title of her first book (1987), and opens up an agenda not relevant here.
The example chosen to illustrate the feminist use of Weber is Anne Witz (1992). Witz took the idea of patriarchy onwards from Walby (1990) and developed the neo-Weberian concept of closure to explore the history of gender in medicine, midwifery, nursing and radiography between the 1850s and 1930s. Witz does also draw on Marxist ideas, but her use of neo-Weberian concepts is particularly innovative. Crompton (1987) had previously worked with neo-Weberian ideas, in her studies of pharmacy in France and Britain (Crompton and Sanderson, 1989), and she subsequently focused on neo-Weberian and neo-Marxist ideas about professions and the class structure (Crompton, 2000).
Witz’s work is part of a large literature on the history and sociology of the professions, going back to the 1920s. There were two quite distinct traditions, one functionalist (its experiments are sometimes called trait theorists) and the other symbolic interactionist. In the early 1970s Terence Johnson (1972) changed the paradigm, followed by the work of Atkinson (Atkinson, 1983; Atkinson et al., 1977). None of the work up to 1980 had treated sex segregation, or sex stratification in the professions seriously, rather, it was a topic in which stereotypes were repeated with intellectual laziness (see Atkinson and Delamont, 1990). Witz does not discuss Atkinson, or any of the work done in the inter – actionist tradition before or after Atkinson. She focuses instead upon the growth of neo-Weberian approaches to professions after the work of Johnson.
Witz (1992) drew on the neo-Weberian, Parkin (1979) who had defined professionalism as a strategy of exclusionary closure, in which an occupation aims to limit the number of entrants, and control the entry standards, so that the existing members can earn more, increase their social status, and gain power. However, as Witz (1992) points out, neither Johnson nor Parkin paid serious attention to the way gender figured inside, or at the boundaries of professions. Crompton (1987) had argued that neo-Weberian approaches to closure were more useful when studying gender issues than neo-Marxist ones. Witz (1992: 43) builds on this, focusing on closure, rather than following Crompton’s interest in class formation.
Witz (1992: 44) follows Parkin in separating four distinct strategies of closure that an occupation or profession can use. A dominant social or occupational group engages in demarcationary and/or exclusionary strategies. Subordinate social or occupational groups engage in inclusionary and dual closure strategies. So surgeons engage in demarcationary and/or exclusionary strategies and occupational therapists in dual closure and inclusionary ones. Exclusionary strategies close occupations
to outsiders, creating a monopoly of skills and knowledge for the insiders. In Britain before 1920 many ‘traditional’ professions such as law and accountancy kept women out until a new law forced them to stop that exclusionary strategy. Demarcationary strategies involve a superior group monitoring and regulating the work and knowledge of other subordinate occupations in the division of labour. Witz (1992: 48) shows how the relations between the largely male medical profession and the mainly female occupations of nursing, midwifery, radiography, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, in the period from 1900 to 1950 demonstrate demarcationary and exclusionary strategies.
Inclusionary strategies are used by subordinate groups who seek to move upwards into the sphere of a superior group, for example, women in the nineteenth century campaigning to get into medicine, or in the late twentieth century to get ordained as ministers in the Anglican Church. Dual closure strategies are used by subordinate groups who simultaneously resist being excluded by those above and fiercely exclude those below. Witz was especially interested in gendered strategies of dual closure, which are complex and varied. In her discussion of how dual closure strategies are gendered, Witz develops a specifically feminist use of Weber, which goes beyond the Weber used by many male sociologists.
Witz and Crompton are feminist neo-Weberians. They have moved a considerable distance away from the gospel of Weberian sociology as it is usually presented in malestream sociology. That orthodox Weber is not seen as a sound basis for feminism. There are no feminists proudly (re)claiming the same Weber as their inspiration as Rex, Albrow and Collins do (though Bologh, 1990 makes a brave attempt). Some feminist revisionists have argued that Weber’s mother, Helene, and wife Marianne were sociologists of importance (Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998) but male Weber scholars have ignored them. Witz and Crompton are feminists who have developed Weber’s ideas, not slavish adherents of the original.