Notes for March 4, 1999
Folbre’s Composite Feminist Approach
Following the introduction and discussion of REM, IRSEP, Mr. Prol and M. Neo-prol, Folbre develops her own approach. This is the section "Identities, Interests, and Institutions," pages 38 - 50, and continuing in Chapter 2. In developing this approach, Folbre is trying to do two things – analyze social reproduction and develop a feminist theoretical approach.
A. Who Pays for the Kids? – Social Reproduction. First, Folbre is concerned with the costs of social reproduction and the distribution of these costs. She argues that women have disproportionately borne these costs in the past, and continue to do so. She argues that the actual costs of social reproduction should be met by society (rather than having poverty among children or the elderly) and that these costs should be equitably shared.
The various factors in the theoretical framework that Folbre develops lead to a reinterpretation of historical evidence, and provide new insights into how issues related to children and the family are interpreted. In Canada, current discussions concerning child tax benefits, child poverty, the social union, medical and health care, and pensions show the relevance of discussions and analysis of social reproduction. For Folbre, analysis of both the public and private spheres, and how they interact with each other, is necessary in order to develop an understanding and explanation of these issues.
B. General Theoretical Approach. In addition to social reproduction itself, in society there are many issues surrounding the interaction of and social relationships among males, females, children, and family. In Who Pays for the Kids? Folbre develops a general approach to the study of social issues – summarized as the "stylized feminist approach" (p. 49). This is the common framework that she outlines on p. 40, noting that it should be possible to develop a "systematic framework that accommodates the interaction between interests and identities, choices and constraints." In developing this approach, Folbre examines individual and collective action, and the framework can be viewed as emerging from the action of groups and collectivities and from the common actions of individuals as they undertake activities.
II. Stylized Feminist Approach
See Folbre, p. 49, figure 1.3.
A. Structural factors: assets, rules, norms, preferences
B. Agents: individuals, chosen groups, given groups
C. Processes: coercion, production, exchange, coordination
D. Sites: firms, states, markets, families
A. Structural Factors
The first part of the model is the assets, rules, norms, and preferences that form the structural part of her model (pp. 40-43). Folbre notes that these "locate certain boundaries of choice" (p. 51) although any individual may not be defined by these, since there are "multiple, often contradictory, positions" (p. 51). That is, Folbre's structures seem more flexible than many sociological descriptions of structures.
1. Assets. The neoclassical model, with its focus on how decisions are made, tends to regard the assets with which the individual enters the decision-making process in the market as being fixed or exogenous. The micro-choice models do not include an explicit examination of differences in assets and how they emerged, rather these models focus on the choices the individual faces, given the assets. As a result, there is an underlying implicit assumption that there is not great injustice in the distribution of assets. In contrast, the Marxian model recognizes assets as one of the major factors governing the position of the individual or group when entering into social relationships. Marxists focus on the inherent injustice associated with the inequality in the distribution of assets, especially those that inequalities that emerge from the unequal distribution of ownership of private propoerty.
There are many aspects to the initial endowments that people bring to the decision-making process. Some of these are as follows.
One example of how a neo-prol analysis can be conducted is that of Erik Olin Wright, with four types of assets forming a typology of modes of production and classes: labour power, means of production, organizational assets, and skills. Each may be unequally distributed and each forms the basis for a form of exploitation and class location (Wright, pp. 73-92. Note the summary charts on pp. 83 and 88). For example, in feudal societies, exploitation is primarily based on the unequal distribution and exercise of labour power, in capitalism the unequal distribution of the means of production make exploitation of labour power possible (p. 83).
Each individual comes into the world with certain biological (and perhaps psychological) assets, and certain are ascribed to the individual on the basis of social class, sex, region, culture, etc. As individuals become older, many of these remain the same, but some change on the basis of education and training, skill and ability, effort, chance, choice, coercion, cooperative and competitive efforts, and other historical factors. In the highly mobile society of contemporary capitalism, many of these change considerably over the course of an individual lifetime. They can change as the result of either individual or collective action. In a traditional society, or in feudal society, these change slowly for the individual, for groups in society, and for the society as a whole.
2. Rules "formally define the parameters of acceptable behavior" (p. 40). These are laws, regulations, contracts, and codes of acceptable behaviour. In contemporary society, these are often written (Weberian rationality) although in traditional societies these may be part of oral tradition and practice. In addition to laying out the limits of acceptable behaviour, these generally lay down certain punishments for unacceptable behaviour and rewards for acceptable behaviour. Family law, rules concerning inheritance (females were often excluded in Western Europe and North America), laws governing sexual and reproductive behaviour, laws governing sale and purchase of labour power all are important for the issues raised by Folbre. Laws are always subject to change, and are often the result of the formalization of norms. Rules change as the result of both conscious and unplanned behaviour of individuals and collectivities. Those who have highly valued assets in the society may set the laws (the wealthy, the military, or the politically powerful) but those who feel oppressed or exploited by these laws may collectively be able to organize and obtain the assets that allow them to change the rules of society. Trade unions, the civil rights movement, and feminist movements are examples.
3. Norms are implicit rules, not enforceable in law, but part of "social authority, based on common agreements and understandings" (p. 41). Some of these may be generally agreed on (individual citizenship rights and equality, freedom of movement, not exercising physical harm on others, trust) and may be set down in law. These tend to be decentralized and are less commonly enforced. Enforcement may be more in the form or social approval and disapproval (Parsons) than through explicit sanctions and punishments or rewards. In Canada, some of the norms developed over long periods have become more formalized as part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or as laws. Other norms may differ from group to group, for example, norms concerning sexual preference may be subject to dramatic disagreement among groups in contemporary society. There may be a wide range of acceptable behaviour, with the norms governing generally agreed upon features such as individual rights to enter contracts, rights to freedom of movement, etc. Other norms are more restrictive, for example, acceptable forms of religious expression and lifestyles among members of a particular religion.
Some forms of common behaviour might not seem to be governed by law, when in fact legal codes and structures stand behind these. Durkheim in The Division of Labour in Society outlines the different forms of law characteristic of different types of societies. For Durkheim, the type of legal system provides an index of the type of society. Further, Durkheim notes that contracts and market exchange are governed by regulation and rules that are socially created. Today the ability to buy and sell and enter into market exchange is so widespread and common that it appears to be natural. Durkheim points out how such exchange is rooted in social convention and subject to the general will (Division, pp. 210-215). Further, Durkheim argues that the division of labour, and the exchange that is part of the division of labour, is a result of collective life, a result of the cohesion of society due to a "community of beliefs and sentiments" (Division, p. 277). For example, in our society we generally agree that each individual should have the right to buy and sell, and to possess personal property. These norms are not necessarily agreed upon in all societies, and even in Canada today may be disputed or subject to limitations by traditional First Nations or by groups such as the Hutterites. Folbre notes that economic transactions depend on "a set of mutual understandings enforced by informal sanctions such as approval and disapproval" (p. 41).
Just as with assets and rules, norms can result in great injustice and exploitation. Norms that limit what types of work females can do or are required to do, that shape views of what individuals of certain ethnic groups are capable of, that define difference and identity (insiders and outsiders) may result in great inequities. Norms can also change very rapidly as a result of organized social movements (civil rights movement in the United States) or as a result of the common actions of many individuals (gay and lesbian activities and lifestyles). For example, same-sex marriages were generally not recognized ten years ago, now they have become parts of some religious groups and may be enshrined in law and institutional practice.
4. Preferences are "the dimensions of desire" (p. 42) and are often play a major role in guiding the decision-making of individuals. Similar preferences among people may be a result of common positions in social structures or similar circumstances. Some preferences may be generally considered to be ascribed or inherited, although they are more likely to be part of slowly changing structures. In modern and contemporary societies, preferences can change rapidly and there is great flexibility for preferences.
Preferences may be contradictory with each other, they may change over time, and individuals may be unaware of their preferences (preferences and patterns of behaviour may only be revealed from the choices people actually make). Folbre treats preferences as endogenous, in contrast to the neoclassical approach, but in agreement with the Marxist view. But she regards them as more flexible than the Marxian model.
Similar preferences may be associated with collective activity of people. Those with similar preferences may find it in their interests to form common groupings with other people (environmental groups, gays and lesbians). Alternatively, similar preferences may lead to common patterns of activity, so that collectively certain patterns of action take place, even though these are not so consciously developed (musical preferences and youth life styles).
Summary. Together the assets, rules, norms, and preferences form the structural factors in the Folbre model. Folbre shows how these structures are formed and change as a result of collective activity, and how collective activity is itself shaped by these structural factors.
In Folbre's analysis and in contemporary sociology, agents or actors are those who can act in a social sense, who are not merely products of social structure or tradition. That is, agents must be capable of making some decisions, consider the meaning of various options or choices open to them, and act with some end in mind. Agents could be either individuals or groups. Groups could be formed on the basis of choice or they could be ascribed. The manner in which agents act may differ rather considerably in different theoretical approaches. The neoclassical approach considers agents to be rational, self-seeking individuals, with primarily economic goals. Agents might also be interacting individuals in family setting, with goals of family solidarity and sharing, along with a sense of achieving the good for the family or collective.
1. Background – Agency and Structure. In contemporary sociology, agency and structure are often examined together in an attempt to resolve what appears to be a dual approach.
a. Structure. Many sociologists have emphasized the dominance of structures in human action, with Marx, Durkheim, Parsons, and much of critical theory concentrating on large, comprehensive aspects of society such as class, division of labour, mode of production, economic structures, systems and culture. These appear to provide strict limits to the range of possible human choice and action. Collective action is more possible than individual action in the Marxian approach, but even the forms of collective action are severely constrained in terms of timing, place, and consciousness by forms of group membership such as social class.
b. Agency. At the same time, individuals can think in a rational manner, exercise choice, achieve certain ends, and are involved in social action and interaction. Constraints such as time and money obviously exist and limit the range of such individual and group action, but there is still considerable scope for action or agency. In addition, explicit coercion is relatively limited in contemporary North American and European society, although some may regard force as an ultimate basis for the state. The active agent is recognized in theoretical approaches such as neoclassical economics, liberalism, symbolic interaction, ethnomethodology, and Weber’s theory of social action. These approaches tend to deal with individual action and interaction, considering these to be constrained but also subject to considerable individual variation and choice
c. Integration. Some contemporary sociologists such as Giddens, Bourdieu, and Habermas attempt to deal with this apparent contradiction or duality. One way to integrate these is to note that all of the structures, agencies, actions, and interactions are human actions or activities, or products of these. That is, social structures do not emerge separately from the actions and interactions of individual people and groups. It is these actions that create the structures, the repeated actions and interactions of humans perpetuate the structures, and in some senses are the structures. In doing this the structures and systems can also change over time.
The so-called agency-structure problem in sociology may be primarily a theoretical problem within sociology. That is, in practice, people in their individual and group settings act as agents within social settings or structures. They are concerned with creating a good life for themselves and their family and associates, and with achieving certain individual or collective ends. This may be difficult because their position within the social structure limits their agency. But as individuals, they do not necessarily distinguish between agency and structure, but instead make choices and pursue ends (Folbre's purposeful choice) within the structures of constraint they face. Thus agency and structure are integrated in practice. In theory, it is a different matter, and the issue is how to deal with this integration theoretically. Sociological models have tended to be either structural or concerned only with agency. It is sometimes difficult to see how to reconcile these two models and integrate them into an overall sociological model.
2. Folbre's Agents. While Folbre does not provide a complete explanation of agency and structure, her approach to action provides one means of dealing with this apparent problem. Her historical examples also illustrate how what appear to be theoretical conflicts are worked out in practice.
The common actions of large numbers of people create the norms, preferences, and structures that characterize contemporary society. These structural aspects can be considered to be outside influences imposed on people (dominant ideologies, class structures, advertising and cultural control by media conglomerates), but it is the daily activities of people that reproduce and recreate these. The structures of (collective) constraint (pp. 57-58) are common positions that create common actions – recreating these structures, although in modified form.
In Folbre’s aproach, there are both individual and collective agents or groups. The latter may be chosen groups, selected by individuals on the basis of their choices (youth peer groups, political parties, social groupings), or given groups, ascribed on the basis of birth, socialization, or structural position (gender, religion, class). Note that some groups may fall in between, not exactly the product of conscious choice but neither ascribed at birth. Individuals may find themselves in certain social situations or social positions where they have much in common with others. As a result these people develop an identity and begin to act in common. For example, members of an urban neighbourhood or a rural area may initially be thrown together but develop a common identity and a similar set of interests, so that they form an interest group to achieve certain common purposes.
For Folbre, one of the main issues is why these factors become important bases for collective identity, and why, in certain circumstances, collective action can emerge from groups organized on the basis of these factors. There may also be other chosen groups such as environmental groups, militia and survivalist groups, or religious institutions (p. 49), although Folbre does not examine these.
Agents might be the self-centred, utility maximizing, rational choice individuals of the REM model of neo-classical economics. In the neoclassical economic approach, these are individuals and firms or enterprises, each facing constraints but also able to exercise a very considerable range of choices. Or they might be politically or economically powerful individuals who can make decisions that affect many in a society, because of the position they occupy or the assets or resources they command. In the Marxist approach, agents are primarily social classes, collectivities in which the individual has little choice concerning membership (especially in the case of the working class and petty bourgeoisie), and whose conflictual forms of action are primary determinants of the course of history.
Most agents are not in a position to make such clear decisions, and Folbre’s purposeful choice (p. 28 – how people define and pursue desires, but avoiding the distinction between rational and irrational) and strategies might more appropriately describe the manner in which agents pursue activities and actions. These could be either individuals or collective agents (such as Folbre’s given or chosen groups on pp. 49-50). That is, agents must have some ability to take some action, and this action must lead to some outcome, but the outcome may not be all that remarkable. In fact, the outcome may be one that achieves the purpose of the agent, but also contributes to the maintenance of the structural patterns of which this agent is part. Or the outcome could be an unintended one.
Note that these agents and forms of action are connected to the sites (p. 47) of her approach, in that the institutions where agents act are the sites. Note though that the collective actions and forms of strategic behaviour are not limited to specific sites, but operate in many sites. Institutions are collective ways that people have of dealing with social issues and problems. These institutions often represent strategies for maintaining and improving social life.
3. Collective Action and the Structures of Constraint
Folbre generally organizes her discussion around six different factors or dimensions of identity and interest:
Folbre notes that this list is not exhaustive (p. 49) but these are the main groupings that enter her analysis. She develops an analysis of the "collective identity, interests, and actions" (p. 49) of these groupings. It is this analysis that constitutes one of Folbre’s main contributions, looking at the bases for collective identity and action of a variety of groupings, and developing a unified framework for analyzing these.
Folbre defines the construction of the six social categories as "structures of (collective) constraint." These are
a set of assets, rules, norms, and preferences that fosters group identity and creates common group interests. It generates patterns of allegiance and encourages forms of strategic behavior based on social constructions of difference. (p. 57, bottom).
Since these involve groups, they must be collective. The groups can be given or assigned at birth (social class) or they can be developed and chosen groups. There would seem to be three main features to these groups.
a. Constraints. First is the set of constraints. See pp. 55-58. Each social category is defined by a set of assets, rules, norms, and preferences which define the boundaries or realm of choice.
i. Example. On p. 55, Folbre shows how women could constitute a group, defined on the basis of gender. Another example could be an ethnic or racial group that suffers from discrimination or deprivation. Other than having labour power, many of their assets may be nonexistent or negative. There may be formal equality in that the written laws and rules may apply to this group in the same way as the rest of the population. At the same time, norms concerning how others treat this group may reflect bias and discrimination, or there may be views about what this group can best do (e.g. run restaurants or do domestic work). In addition, the preferences of the group, concerning culture and religion may differ considerably from the mainstream, although in other aspects the preferences of members of the ethnic group may be no different than that of the general population (housing, consumer goods, etc). No single one of assets, rules, norms, or preferences defines the group or the collective identity of the group, but the group definition is multidimensional.
ii. Power or Constraint? Another factor that is associated with group definition is how others view the group. Outsiders may define the group (as in the above example of an ethnic minority). This definition is often based on power relationships, and it is those who have superior assets or power who define those without such power as a minority. Folbre discusses power as one factor that can define the group, but considers the constraints as better at explaining the agency-structure relationship and collective identity (p. 54). But power may just be the other side of constraint, with what is a constraint for one being a source of power for others. For example, male power and authority in a patriarchal setting mean constraints for women and children. Discrimination means power for the discriminator and constraint for those who are discriminated against.
iii. Identity? Individuals who in objective circumstances appear to be part of the group may not identify with the group, may feel that their identity is primarily with some other group, or may consider themselves primarily as individuals. For example, individuals may identify themselves as working class, or as women or men. There may be multiple positions in which the individual is involved, with the possibility that some of these are contradictory positions (pp. 55-59). Folbre notes how complex these relationships may be, and how individuals in seemingly similar structural positions can develop quite different identities. Structures of constraint are important for the kind of collective identity and group interests that are fostered (p. 59). That is, it is not so much that people are workers, or women, or an ethnic minority, but the manner in which the structures of constraint lead to a common interests or identities as workers, women, or ethnic minority. This seems very similar to the Weberian approach of group.
b. Allegiances. A second aspect in defining groups is the importance of allegiances in fostering group identity and difference (p. 58). Individual self-interest and the resulting actions based on assets and rules would create quite unstable groups, especially with individuals occupying multiple positions, and with the possibility of the free rider problem. A way in which a collective identity is developed is through common actions and activities, and similar norms and preferences. These allegiances may be subjective feelings of identity, or they could become more structured through the development of common norms and preferences. When these norms are strong, individuals generally adhere to them, and may view them as desirable and important. When this happens, allegiances and commitments help define these groups, and allegiance is important for group stability. Folbre notes how men may still enjoy certain economic advantages as a result of patriarchy (p. 59), and white people of European background may also enjoy similar advantages over people of colour in much of North America. Those with such advantages may maintain allegiances with other similar individuals as a means of maintaining this privilege and power. This may not be consciously developed, but could occur as people with such power and privilege often associate together, are in similar structural positions within society, and develop a common identity. In the first part of the semester, Kymlicka’s analysis showed the importance of allegiances and culture.
c. Strategic Behaviour. The third feature that Folbre points to is forms and patterns of strategic behaviour of the social category or group. These may be a means of furthering allegiances and consolidating the identity and cohesiveness of the group. Examples could include:
It should also be noted that the structures of constraint are simultaneously structures of opportunity (middle of p. 64). That is, structures are not just limiting or constraining factors, but the same structures that potentially limit people also create opportunities for people. Examples include institutions such as education, socialization of children (p. 62), and bureaucracy or workplace.
4. Forms of Collective Action. On p. 1, Folbre states that one of her major purposes is to show that both "production and reproduction are shaped by diverse forms of collective action." Neoclassical economics emphasizes individual action and Marxian and conflict approaches discuss collective action in the form of action by social classes. Sociological approaches often emphasize the limited possibilities for collective action because of the powerful constraints associated with structures such as social class, norms, laws, power, and culture. Folbre attempts to integrate these different approaches into a framework which shows how various forms of collective action can occur. There are many types of collective action and many ways these can develop and have an effect on society. In Folbre, there appear to be three forms that collective action can take.
a. Interest Groups. When we think of collective action, a common consideration is that of choice – how people decide to join or become part of ‘interest groups’ (p. 40, top line). Individuals join or become part of interest groups and as they participate in and act as parts of these groups, they act in coordination with others to pursue common interests. These may be collective actions developed through organized groups. Examples of this might be strike action by a group of workers attempting to achieve higher wages or lobbying by large corporations to get better tax breaks. These are consciously thought out, rational, and instrumental forms of collective action.
b. Social Structures, Institutions, and Networks. Collective action may emerge in a somewhat less conscious manner as part of the social structures of society – class, family, peer groups. These are sometimes chosen groups or they could be structures, institutions, or sites to which people are ascribed and in which individuals may participate in a less conscious manner. Alternatively, people with favoured positions in the social structure or with power may create and maintain networks of influence (old-boy networks). Folbre refers later to "structures of collective constraint" (p. 57, bottom) as common positions in which a number of people find themselves, where they have a group identity and common interests. Within this, as people act together, they exercise a form of collective action. Initially it may be common situations or common constraints facing people that lead to a group identity, and this in turn leads to common interests. These groups and situations are not so much chosen as ones in which people find themselves as they interact with others.
Examples of this type of collective action include attempts by some individuals to exclude those of a different skin colour or sex from participation in certain activities. Racism, discrimination, and patriarchal power can be considered to emerge as a result of the structures of collective constraint, where a set of individuals with common interests take collective action to maintain their privilege, power, and position. Note that some of these latter forms of action are not so much personally advantageous (except as a matter of maintaining honour or standing in the collectivity) as they are for the benefit of the common identity or interest. A particular individual might undertake actions which are more personally advantageous to himself or herself. That is, not all collective actions of this sort can be reduced to an expression of individual interests – some are truly collective interests and actions.
c. Common Actions. A third type of collective action, and one closely related to the last point, is the coordination of the actions of individuals who are in a similar position to others, with similar identities and interests. The common actions of people in this situation are common responses of people in their daily lives, responses that may develop into norms and rules (e.g. number of children in the family, actions related to the division of household labour and responsibilities, interactions between children and parents). As people carry out their activities, and have similar actions and responses as do other people in a similar situation, this does create a form of collective action. That is, collective action need not be explicitly organized, but can be how people together develop certain common forms of action and behaviour. This form of collective action may be less noticeable than a social movement, but may have effects that are as widespread as social movements that are more political and public.
The decline of fertility, along with the increased participation of women in the paid labour force, both of which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, is an example of this common type of action. Neither of these developments were planned or anticipated by the individuals involved, but emerged as a result of similar set of interests coincided to create common actions.
While considering common actions as part of collective action may blur the distinction between individual and collective action, the effects are much the same. One of the concerns of contemporary sociology is to explain the connection between agency and structure. In this context, this form of parallel and roughly coordinated, and often rational, action should be considered as one means by which people work to better themselves, their families, and others within the structures of constraint. Note that coordination is one of Folbre's processes, and these common actions could be considered coordinated in some senses.
In constructing the stylized feminist approach, Folbre draws from the neoclassical tradition, especially the idea of "rational, instrumental choice" (p. 40). From the Marxian approach she uses the emphasis on asset distribution, structures, and political power. To this, Folbre adds feminist insights and approaches concerning individual and collective identity and makes norms and preferences an endogenous part of the model. In combining these approaches, Folbre produces a theoretical framework that should provide insights not just into issues related to social reproduction, but to a wide variety of social issues and problems.
5. Differences from Other Analyses. The above approach to agency, structure, and collective action includes many elements common to other approaches. At the same time, some of the ways in which Folbre’s analysis differs from that of other approaches are:
a. Range of Groups. This approach covers a wide range of types of groups – chosen or given, and with any of gender, race, nation, class, age, or sexual preference as a basis.
b. Multidimensional. There are not just assigned groups or class, but a variety of different bases on which the action could take place, and coalitions developed. (p. 55 - multidimensional structures). These might even be competing or contradictory sets of interests, so that "identity politics" need not be unidimensional, although it is often treated as such.
c. Not just asset based. That is, much more than property or skin colour is necessary to consider how collective identity and action take place. Norms and preferences are important aspects of this.
d. Social implications. It is not just the site or institution over which group identity makes it effects felt. Rather, if the social category is meaningful and important in collective identity, its effects are felt widely. For example, patriarchy or racism exert their influence in both production and reproduction.
e. Social structures. Some of the common structures that sociology considers to exist may best be identified as combinations of structures of constraint, e.g. patriarchy or racism (p. 59). These are not necessarily single social structures or features, but develop as a result of different combinations, and might be changed in different ways. For example, racism once meant that white people of European origin viewed themselves as superior, and limited immigration of non-Europeans into the country. Today, the manner in which racism is expressed is different, and perhaps education and multicultural activities can be a means of solving with some aspects of this. Folbre’s point is that there are different meanings for racism and patriarchy as the structures of constraint change.
In addition, different historical circumstances lead to quite different identities and social categories. There is no simple set of historical laws of motion that can be universally applied. While this approach may be more difficult to carry out, it leads to a more historical and concrete analysis. In this approach, simple formulae concerning class struggle or views concerning the natural interests of the working class should not be applied. This also means that terms like patriarchy or racism may mean quite different things in different circumstances, and broad categorizations of these may be misleading.
These refer to the manner and mechanisms of action. Folbre could develop approaches to these more fully. But in pointing out that action is guided by a variety of processes other than rational self-interest, she makes a major contribution. It is not just individualistic economic self-interest, or a set of rational collective interests such as well developed class consciousness that guide individuals and groups.
The processes that Folbre notes are production, exchange, coordination, and coercion. This is a broader range of processes than the production and exchange of the neoclassical model, or the production and coercion of the Marxian model. In Who Pays for the Kids? there are shifting processes depending on which agents are being examined, the purpose of the interaction, and the structures of collective constraint. Coercion and coordination have much less determinate outcomes and are much harder to model than are production and exchange. For example, the likely outcome of workers going on strike at a workplace is much less certain than the day to day exchange of labour power on the labour market. In the case of a strike, there are elements of coercion, bargaining, and coordination, and none of these have a clearly defined outcome. As another example, in a household, coercion in the form of violence may destroy the interaction of household members. In her analysis of patriarchy and discrimination, Folbre shows the importance of these processes, but Who Pays for the Kids? does not develop a general theoretical approach for these.
a. Range of processes. Folbre describes a range of possible processes. Some of these are as follows.
i. Selfish, individual, utility-maximizing behaviour of neoclassical economics.
ii. Exchange and competition as in the neoclassical or Marxist model.
iii. Altruism, cooperation and coordination. These are common forms of human behaviour and exist among friends, within the family, with other individuals and social groups. Note that cooperation and coordination at some level are necessary for exchange, competition, and pursuit of self-interest to occur.
iv. Coercion, conflict, and bargaining. Marxism, neo-marxist, and IRSEP emphasize some of these features.
Each individual and collective action and social interaction involves different combinations of these, with interpretations of the situation leading to different emphases on different processes.
b. Coalitions and alliances (p. 83) during revolutions or periods of dramatic change may play an especially important role in particular historical situations. While nationalism or anti-imperialism may often be considered to be the driving force of such movements, Folbre notes that successful movements often involve "some combination of nation, race, class, and gender" (p. 83) and these reinforce each other. The implication of this argument is that single issue movements may stand less chance of success, and may lead to inequities in other social categories. For example, class struggles may hurt women or the aged; exclusively feminist struggles may ignore racial inequalities; and ethnic or national struggles may lead to class or gender inequities.
c. Divided Loyalties. Folbre discusses divided loyalties on pp. 68-69, noting how the elderly may be more interested in preserving pensions, rather than furthering class or gender interests. White males may be exploited, and white females more so, but when faced with competition from people of colour or immigrants, the former may identify with the prevailing system and structures. Folbre implies that this is not necessarily false consciousness, but represent purposeful choice and decisions based on "perception of common purpose and shared identities" (bottom of p. 69).
d. Rights and obligations. Folbre notes that social science needs a better theory of obligation (pp. 61-62). She argues that equal rights should be accompanied by equal obligations. This is especially the case in dealing with issues related to children and dependents. One of Folbre’s main conclusions is that family labour has been undervalued, leading to inequities in the distribution of the costs of children. She concludes that both parents, and perhaps all adults, need to take greater responsibilities for social reproduction (p. 91).
These are firms, organizations, states or governments, and families, institutions or places where production, coordination, exchange, and coercion take place (pp. 48-49). These sites may involve physical locations, but perhaps more important, they are institutions that have been developed by society. In a functionalist framework, they can be viewed as having certain purposes such as carrying out production (firms), ensuring social reproduction and carrying out public tasks (governments), and reproducing population (family and household). In this context, these sites can be considered to be efficient solutions to coordination of activities, solutions that otherwise would not be possible, or would use many more resources. At the same time, there are a diverse set of other activities that go on in these sites, some intended, some unintended, and many that may be more purposeful choice rather than well developed functions. Two other characteristics of sites are that they are (i) problem solving situations and (ii) they have a division of labour associated with them (p. 48).
E. Inequalities and Power Differentials
Why are some groups more powerful than others, what are bad structures, what is the meaning of equal opportunity? (pp. 61-66). Inequalities are often connected to structures or are said to be structures, e.g. the inequality of ownership of property constitutes the origin and basis of class structures and class conflict.
Equality of opportunity requires equal assets and rules, but this still leaves the problem of norms and preferences (p. 63).
Note that with the multi-systems approach, individual or group can simultaneously be oppressed and oppressor (pp. 52 - 53).
For Folbre, there are intermediate level structures, between the individual and institution and the mode of production (p. 51). These might be structures such as patriarchy, age structures (parents/children, adults/elderly), or ethnic and racial structures that may interact with class and region.
Notes from March 4, 1999. Last edited on March 7, 1999.
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