Patriarchy and Commodity Society: Gender without the Body (2009)

Roswitha Scholz

In the 1980s, after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, culturalism and theories of difference became especially prominent in women’s studies courses, a discipline which has since largely developed into gender studies. Marxist feminism, which until the end of the 1980s had determined the debates in this field, retreated into the background. Recently, however, the increasing delegitimization of neoliberalism connected to the current economic crisis has produced a resurgence and increasing popularity of a diverse set of Marxisms. To date, however, these developments have barely had an impact on the fields of feminist theory or gender studies — aside from some critical globalization debates and area studies interrogating the themes of labor and money. Deconstruction is still the lead vocalist in the choir of universal feminism, especially in gender theory. Meanwhile, assertions of the necessity of a new feminism (in particular a feminism that once again includes a materialist plane of analysis) have become commonplace. The popular argument of the 1980s and 1990s that claims that we are confronted with a “confusion of the sexes” is being rapidly deflated. Instead, it is becoming clear that neither the much-professed equalization of genders nor the deconstructivist play with signifiers has yielded convincing results.

The “rediscovery” of Marxist theory on one hand and the insight that feminism is in no way anachronistic or superfluous on the other, even if it can no longer be continued in those forms that have become characteristic of the past few decades, lead me to consider a new Marxist-feminist theoretical framework, one which is able to account for recent developments since the end of actually existing socialism and the onset of the current global economic crisis. It should, of course, be clear that one cannot seamlessly connect traditional Marxist concepts and analysis with twenty-first-century problematics. Without critical innovation, a direct application is similarly impossible for those theoretical frameworks from which I will draw in what follows, such as Adorno’s critical theory, even if his examinations provided us with an important basis for a patriarchy-critical theory of the present. Those feminist debates of the last twenty years that have been based on Adorno and critical theory can provide inspiration, but they must also be modified. I cannot elaborate on this here.1 Instead, I would like to advance a few facets of my theory of gender relations, or value-dissociation theory, which I have developed via the engagement with some of the theories alluded to above. As I will show, asymmetrical gender relations today can no longer be understood in the same sense as “classical” modern gender relations; however, it is essential to base their origins in the history of modernization. Similarly, one has to account for postmodern processes of differentiation and the relevance of cultural-symbolic levels which have emerged since the 1980s. The cultural-symbolic order should here be understood as an autonomous dimension of theory. Yet, this autonomous dimension is to be thought simultaneously with value dissociation as a basic social principle without understanding Marxian theory as purely materialist. Such a theory is much better equipped to grasp the totality, insofar as the cultural-symbolic as well as the socio-psychological levels are included in the context of a social whole. Economy and culture are, therefore, neither identical (as “identity logic” that violently aims to subjugate differences to the same common denominator would suggest), nor can they be separated from each other in a dualistic sense. Rather, their identity and non-identity must be conceived as the conflictual incompatibility that shapes the commodity-producing patriarchy as such: the self-contradictory basic principle of the social form of value dissociation.

Value as Basic Social Principle

Besides the above-mentioned critical theory of Adorno, the primary theoretical benchmarks are a new, fundamental critical theory of “value” and of “abstract labor” as enhancements of the Marxist critique of political economy, whose most prominent theorists in the last decade are Robert Kurz and Moishe Postone.2 I intend to give their texts a feminist twist.

According to this new value-critical approach, it is not surplus value itself — that is, it is not the solely externally determined exploitation of labor by capital qua legal property relations — which stands at the center of critique. Instead, critique begins at an earlier point, namely with the social character of the commodity-producing system and thus with the form of activity particular to abstract labor. Labor as abstraction develops for the first time under capitalism alongside the generalization of commodity production and must, therefore, not be ontologized. Generalized commodity production is characterized by a key contradiction: under the obligation of the valorization of value, the individuals of capitalist enterprise are highly integrated into a network while nevertheless paradoxically engaging in non-social production, as socialization proper is only established via the market and exchange. As commodities, products represent past abstract labor and, therefore, value. In other words, commodities represent a specific quantity of expenditure of human energy, recognized by the market as socially valid. This representation is, in turn, expressed by money, the universal mediator and simultaneous end in itself of the form of capital. In this way, people appear asocial and society appears to be constituted through things, which are mediated by the abstract quantity of value. The result is the alienation of members of society, as their own sociability is only bestowed upon them by commodities, dead things, thus entirely emptying sociability in its social form of representation of its concrete, sensual content. This relation can, for the time being, be expressed via the concept of fetishism, keeping in mind that this concept itself is as yet incomplete.

Opposed to this stand premodern societies, in which goods were produced under different relations of domination (personal as opposed to reified by the commodity form). Goods were produced in the agrarian field and in trades primarily for their use, determined by specific laws of guilds that precluded the pursuit of abstract profit. The very limited premodern exchange of goods was not carried out in markets and relations of competition in the modern sense. It was, therefore, not possible at this point in history to speak of a social totality in which money and value have become abstract ends in themselves. Modernity is consequently characterized by the pursuit of surplus value, by the attempt to generate more money out of money, yet not as a matter of subjective enrichment but instead as a tautological system determined by the relation of value to itself. It is in this context that Marx speaks of the “automatic subject.”3 Human needs become negligible and labor power itself is transformed into a commodity. This means that the human capacity for production has become externally determined — yet not in the sense of personal domination but in the sense of anonymous, blind mechanisms. And it is only for that reason that productive activities in modernity have become forced into the form of abstract labor. Ultimately, the development of capitalism marks life globally by means of money’s self-motion and of abstract labor, which emerged only under capitalism and appears unhistorically as an ontological principle. Traditional Marxism only problematizes a part of this system of correlations, namely the legal appropriation of surplus value by the bourgeoisie, thus focusing on unequal distribution rather than commodity fetishism. Its critique of capitalism and imaginations of postcapitalist societies are consequently limited to the goal of equal distribution within the commodity-producing system in its non-suspended forms. Such critiques fail to see that the suffering resulting from capitalism emerges from its very formal relations, of which private property is merely one of many results. Accordingly, the Marxisms of the workers’ movements were limited to an ideology of legitimization of system-immanent developments and social improvements. Today, this form of thought is inappropriate for a renewed critique of capitalism, as it has absorbed (and made its own) all the basic principles of capitalist socialization, in particular the categories of value and abstract labor, misunderstanding these categories as transhistorical conditions of humanity. In this context, a radical value-critical position regards past examples of actually existing socialism as the value-producing system of state-bureaucratically determined processes of recuperative (or “catch-up”) modernization (nachholende Modernisierung) in the global East and South, which, mediated by global economic processes and the race for the development of productive forces against the West, had to collapse in the post-Fordist stage of capitalist development at the end of the 1980s. Since then the West has been engaged in the process of withdrawing social reforms in the context of crises and globalization.

Value Dissociation as Basic Social Principle

The concepts of value and abstract labor, I argue, cannot sufficiently account for capitalism’s basic form as a fundamentally fetishistic relation. We have also to account for the fact that under capitalism reproductive activities emerge that are primarily carried out by women. Accordingly, value dissociation means that capitalism contains a core of female-determined reproductive activities and the affects, characteristics, and attitudes (emotionality, sensuality, and female or motherly caring) that are dissociated from value and abstract labor. Female relations of existence — that is, female reproductive activities under capitalism — are therefore of a different character from abstract labor, which is why they cannot straightforwardly be subsumed under the concept of labor. Such relations constitute a facet of capitalist societies that cannot be captured by Marx’s conceptual apparatus. This facet is a necessary aspect of value, yet it also exists outside of it and is (for this very reason) its precondition. In this context I borrow from Frigga Haug the notion of a “logic of time-saving” that determines one side of modernity that is generally associated with the sphere of production, what Kurz calls the “logic of using-up (Vernutzung) of business administration,” and a “logic of time-expenditure” that corresponds to the field of reproduction. Value and dissociation therefore stand in a dialectical relation to each other. One cannot simply be derived from the other. Rather, both simultaneously emerge out of each other. In this sense, value dissociation can be understood as the macro-theoretical framework within which the categories of the value form function micro-theoretically, allowing us to examine fetishistic socialization in its entirety instead of value alone. One must stress here, however, that the sensitivity that is usually falsely perceived as an immediate a priori in the fields of reproduction, consumption, and its related activities, as well as needs that are to be satisfied in this context, emerged historically before the backdrop of value dissociation as total process. These categories must not be misunderstood as immediate or natural, despite the fact that eating, drinking, and loving are not solely connected to symbolization (as vulgar constructivisms might claim). The traditional categories available to us for the critique of political economy, however, are also lacking in another regard. Value dissociation implies a particular socio-psychological relation. Certain undervalued qualities (sensitivity, emotionality, deficiencies in thought and character, and so forth) are associated with femininity and are dissociated from the masculine-modern subject. These gender-specific attributes are a fundamental characteristic of the symbolic order of the commodity-producing patriarchy. Such asymmetrical gender relations should, I believe, as far as theory is concerned, be examined by focusing only on modernity and postmodernity. This is not to say that these relations do not have a premodern history, but rather to insist that their universalization endowed them with an entirely new quality. The universalization of such gender relations at the beginning of modernity meant that women were now primarily responsible for the lesser-valorized (as opposed to the masculine, capital-producing) areas of reproduction, which cannot be represented in monetary terms. We must reject the understanding of gender relations under capitalism as a precapitalist residue. The small, nuclear family as we know it, for example, only emerged in the eighteenth century, just as the public and private spheres as we understand them today only emerged in modernity. What I claim here, therefore, is that the beginning of modernity not only marked the rise of capitalist commodity production, but that it also saw the emergence of a social dynamism that rests on the basis of the relations of value dissociation.

Commodity-Producing Patriarchy as Civilizational Model

Following Frigga Haug, I assume that the notion of a commodity-producing patriarchy is to be regarded as a civilizational model, yet I would like to modify her propositions by taking into account the theory of value dissociation.4 As is well known, the symbolic order of the commodity-producing patriarchy is characterized by the following assumptions: politics and economics are associated with masculinity; male sexuality, for example, is generally described as individualized, aggressive, or violent, while women often function as pure bodies. The man is therefore regarded as human, man of intellect, and body-transcendent, while women are reduced to non-human status, to the body. War carries a masculine connotation, while women are seen as peaceful, passive, devoid of will and spirit. Men must strive for honor, bravery, and immortalizing actions. Men are thought of as heroes and capable of great deeds, which requires them to productively subjugate nature. Men stand at all times in competition with others. Women are responsible for the care for the individual as well as for humanity itself. Yet their actions remain socially undervalued and forgotten in the process of the development of theory, while their sexualization is the source of women’s subordination to men and underwrites their social marginalization.

This notion also determines the idea of order underlying modern societies as a whole. Moreover, the ability and willingness to produce and the rational, economical, and effective expenditure of time also determine the civilizational model in its objective structures as a totality of relations — its mechanisms and history as much as the maxims of individual agency. A provocative formulation might suggest that the male gender should be understood as the gender of capitalism, keeping in mind that such a dualist understanding of gender is of course the dominant understanding of gender in modernity. The commodity-producing civilizational model this requires has its foundation in the oppression and marginalization of women and the simultaneous neglect of nature and the social. Subject and object, domination and subjugation, man and woman are thus typical dichotomies, antagonistic counterparts within the commodity-producing patriarchy.5

Yet it is important to prevent misunderstandings in this respect. Value dissociation is in this sense also to be understood as a metaconcept, since we are concerned with theoretical exegesis on a high level of abstraction. This means for the single empirical units or subjects that they are neither able to escape the socio-cultural patterns, nor able to become part of these patterns. Additionally, as we shall see, gender models are subject to historical change. It is therefore important to avoid simplified interpretations of value dissociation theory resembling, for instance, the idea of a “new femininity” associated with the difference-feminism of the 1980s or even the “Eve principle” currently being propagated by German conservatives.6 What we must foreground in all of this is that abstract labor and domestic labor along with the known cultural patterns of masculinity and femininity determine each other simultaneously. The old “chicken or egg” question is nonsensical in this regard. Yet, such a non-dialectical approach is characteristic of deconstructivist critics who insist that masculinity and femininity initially must be produced culturally before a gendered distribution of actions can take place.7 Frigga Haug too proceeds from the ontologizing assumption that cultural meaning attaches itself over the course of history to a previously gendered division of labor.8

Within the commodity-producing modern patriarchy develops, again, a public sphere, which itself comprises a number of spheres (economy, politics, science, and so on), and a private sphere. Women are primarily assigned to the private sphere. These different spheres are on one hand relatively autonomous, and on the other hand mutually determined — that is, they stand in dialectical relation to each other. It is important, then, that the private sphere not be misunderstood as an emanation of value but rather as a dissociated sphere. What is required is a sphere into which actions such as caring and loving can be deported and that stands opposed to the logic of value and time saving and its morality (competition, profit, performance). This relation between private sphere and the public sector also explains the existence of male alliances and institutions that found themselves, by means of an affective divide, against all that is female. As a consequence, the very basis of the modern state and politics, along with the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, rests since the eighteenth century upon the foundation of male alliances. This is not to say, however, that patriarchy resides in the spheres created by this process of dissociation. For example, women have always to an extent been active in the sphere of accumulation. Nevertheless, dissociation becomes apparent here as well, since, despite the success of Angela Merkel and others, women’s existence in the public sphere is generally undervalued and women largely remain barred from upward mobility. All this indicates that value dissociation is a pervasive social formal principle that is located on a correspondingly high level of abstraction and that cannot be mechanistically separated into different spheres. This means that the effects of value dissociation pervade all spheres, including all levels of the public sphere.

Value Dissociation as Basic Social Principle and the Critique of Identity Logic

Value dissociation as critical practice disallows identity-critical approaches. That is, it does not allow for approaches that reduce analyses to the level of structures and concepts that subsume all contradictions and non-identities with regard both to the attribution of mechanisms, structures, and characteristics of the commodity-producing patriarchy to societies that do not produce commodities, and to the homogenization of different spheres and sectors within the commodity-producing patriarchy itself, disregarding qualitative differences. The necessary point of departure is not merely value, but the relation of value dissociation as a fundamental social structure that corresponds to androcentric universalist thought. After all, what is important here is not simply that it is average labor time or abstract labor that determines money as equivalent form. More important is the observation that value itself must define as less valuable and dissociate domestic labor, the non-conceptual, and everything related to non-identity, the sensuous, affective, and emotional.

Dissociation, however, is not congruent with the non-identical in Adorno. More accurately, the dissociated represents the dark underbelly of value itself. Here, dissociation must be understood as a precondition which ensures that the contingent, the irregular, the non-analytical, that which cannot be grasped by science, remains hidden and unilluminated, perpetuating classificatory thought that is unable to register and maintain particular qualities, inherent differences, ruptures, ambivalences, and asynchronies.

Inversely, this means for the “socialized society” of capitalism, to appropriate Adorno’s phrase, that these levels and sectors cannot be understood in relation to each other as irreducible elements of the real, but that they also have to be examined in their objective, internal relations corresponding to the notion of value dissociation as formal principle of the social totality that constitutes a given society on the level of ontology and appearance in the first place. Yet, at every moment, value dissociation is also aware of its own limitations as theory. The self-interrogation of value dissociation theory here must go far enough to prevent positioning it as an absolute, social-form principle. That which corresponds to its concept can, after all, not be elevated to the status of main contradiction, and the theory of value dissociation can, like the theory of value, not be understood as a theory of the logic of the one. In its critique of identity logic, therefore, value dissociation theory remains true to itself and can only persist insofar as it relativizes and at times even disclaims itself. This also means that value dissociation theory must leave equal space for other forms of social disparity (including economic disparity, racism, and antisemitism).9

Value Dissociation as Historical Process

According to the epistemological premises of the formation of value dissociation theory, we cannot resort to linear analytical models when examining developments in a variety of global regions. Developments generally determined by the commodity form and the associated form of patriarchy did not take place in the same fashion and under the same circumstances in all societies (especially in societies that were formerly characterized by symmetrical gender relations and which have to this day not entirely adopted modernity’s gender relations). Additionally, we must foreground alternative paternalistic structures and relations, which, while largely overwritten by modern, Western patriarchy in the context of global economic developments, have not entirely lost their idiosyncrasies. Further, we have to account for the fact that throughout the history of Western modernity itself ideas of masculinity and femininity have varied. Both the modern conception of labor and dualist understandings of gender are products of, and thus go hand in hand with, the specific developments that led to the dominance of capitalism. It was not until the eighteenth century that what Carol Hagemann-White calls the modern “system of dual genderedness” emerged, that led to what Karin Hausen calls a “polarization of gendered characteristics.” Prior to this, women were largely regarded as just another variant of being-man, which is one of the reasons that the social and historical sciences have throughout the last fifteen years stressed the pervasiveness of the single-gender model upon which pre-bourgeois societies were based. Even the vagina was in the context of this model frequently understood as a penis, inverted and pushed into the lower body.10 Despite the fact that women were largely regarded as inferior, prior to the development of a large-scale modern public, there still existed for them a variety of possibilities for gaining social influence. In premodern and early modern societies, man occupied a largely symbolic position of hegemony. Women were not yet exclusively confined to domestic life and motherhood, as has been the case since the eighteenth century. Women’s contributions to material reproduction were in agrarian societies regarded as equally important as the contributions of men.11 While modern gender relations and their characteristic polarization of gender roles were initially restricted to the bourgeoisie, they rapidly spread to all social spheres with the universalization of the nuclear family in the context of Fordism’s rise to dominance in the 1950s.

Value dissociation is, therefore, not a static structure, as a series of sociological structuralist models claim, but should instead be understood as a process. In postmodernity, for example, value dissociation acquires a new valence. Women are now widely regarded as what Regina Becker-Schmidt calls “doubly socialized,” which means that they are similarly responsible for both family and profession. What is new about this, however, is not this fact itself. After all, women have always been active in a variety of professions and trades. The characteristic particular to postmodernity in this regard is that the double socialization of women throughout the last few years has highlighted the structural contradictions that accompany this development. As indicated above, an analysis of this development must begin with a dialectical understanding of the relationship between individual and society. This means that the individual is at no point entirely subsumed within the objective structural and cultural patterns, nor can we assume that these structures stand in a purely external relation to the individual. This way, we are able to see clearly the contradictions of double socialization that are connected to the increasing differentiation of the role of women in postmodernity, which emerges alongside postmodernity’s characteristic tendencies toward individualization. Current analyses of film, advertising, and literature, too, indicate that women are no longer primarily seen as mothers and housewives.

Consequently, it is not only unnecessary but in fact highly suspect to suggest that we must deconstruct the modern dualism of gender, as queer theory and its main voice, Judith Butler, claim. This strand of theory sees the internal subversion of bourgeois gender dualism via repeated parodying practice that can be found in gay and lesbian subcultures as an attempt to reveal the “radical incredulity” of modern gendered identity.12 The problem with such an approach, however, is that those elements that are supposed to be parodied and subverted have in the capitalist sense already become obsolete. For a while now, we have been witnessing actually existing deconstruction, which becomes legible in the double socialization of women, but also when examining fashion and the changed habitus of women and men. Yet, this has happened without fundamentally eradicating the hierarchy of genders. Instead of critiquing both classically modern and the modified, flexible postmodern gendered imaginary, Butler ultimately merely affirms postmodern (gender) reality. Butler’s purely culturalist approach cannot yield answers to current questions, and indeed presents to us the very problem of hierarchic gender relations in postmodernity in progressive disguise as a solution.

The Dialectic of Essence and Appearance, and the Feralization
of Commodity-Producing Patriarchy in the Era of Globalization

In the attempt to analyze postmodern gender relations, it is important to insist upon the dialectic of essence and appearance. This means that changes in gender relations must be understood in relation to the mechanisms and structures of value dissociation, which determine the formal principle of all social planes. Here, it becomes apparent that in particular the development of productive forces and the market dynamic, which each rely upon value dissociation, undermine their own precondition insofar as they encourage women’s development away from their traditional role. Since the 1950s, an increasing number of women were integrated into abstract labor and the process of accumulation, accompanied by a range of processes rationalizing domestic life, increased options for birth control, and the gradual equalization of access to education.13 Consequently, the double socialization of women also underwent a change, and now resides on a higher level in the social hierarchy and similarly generates higher levels of self-valorization for women. Even though a large percentage of women have now been integrated into official society, they remain responsible for domestic life and children, they must struggle harder than men to rise up in the professional hierarchy, and their salaries are on average significantly lower than those of men. The structure of value dissociation has therefore changed, but in principle still very much exists. In this context, it may not be surprising to suggest that we appear to experience a return to a single-gender model, however with the same, familiar content: women are men, only different. Yet, since this model also moved through the classic modern process of value dissociation, it manifests itself differently than in premodern times.14

Traditional bourgeois gender relations are no longer appropriate for today’s “turbo-capitalism” and its rigorous demands for flexibility. A range of compulsory flexible identities emerges, but these are, however, still represented as differentiated by gender.15 The old image of woman has become obsolete and the doubly socialized woman has become the dominant role. Further, recent analyses of globalization and gender relations suggest that after a period in which it seemed as though women were finally able to enjoy greater, system-immanent freedoms, we also witnessed an increasing feralization of patriarchy. Of course, in this case, too, we have to consider a variety of social and cultural differences corresponding to a variety of global regions. Similarly, we have to note the differently situated position of women in a context in which a logic of victors and vanquished still dominates, even as the victors threaten to disappear into the abyss opened up by the current destruction of the middle class.16 Since well situated women are able to afford the services of underpaid female immigrant laborers, we are witnessing a redistribution of, for example, personal care and nursing within the female plane of existence.

For a large part of the population, the feralization of patriarchy means that we can expect conditions similar to black ghettoes in the United States or the slums of Third World countries: women will be similarly responsible for money and survival. Women will be increasingly integrated into the world market without being given an opportunity to secure their own existence. They raise children with the help of female relatives and neighbors (another example of the redistribution of personal care and related fields of labor), while men come and go, move from job to job and from woman to woman, who may periodically have to support them. The man no longer occupies the position of provider due to the increasing precarity of employment relations and the erosion of traditional family structures.17 Increasing individualization and atomization of social relations proceed before the backdrop of unsecured forms of existence, and continue even in times of great economic crisis without principally eradicating the traditional gender hierarchy along with the widespread eradication of the social welfare state and compulsory measures of crisis management.

Value dissociation as social formal principle consequently merely removes itself from the static, institutional confines of modernity (in particular, the family and labor). The commodity-producing patriarchy, therefore, experiences increasing feralization without leaving behind the existing relations between value (or rather, abstract labor) and the dissociated elements of reproduction. We must note here, too, that we are currently experiencing a related escalation of masculine violence, ranging from domestic violence to suicide bombers. In regards to the latter, we must further note that it is not only fundamentalist Islam that attempts to reconstruct “authentic” religious patriarchal gender relations. Indeed, it is the Western patriarchal model of civilization that should constitute the focus of our critique. Simultaneously, we are also confronted with a transition on the psychological level. In postmodernity, a “gendered code of affect” emerges that corresponds to the traditional male code of affect.18 Nevertheless, old affective structures necessarily continue to play an important role as well, since they ensure that, even in times of postmodern single-gender relations, women continue to assume dissociated responsibilities, making possible the pervasiveness of the mother with several children who still manages to be a doctor, scientist, politician, and much more. This may occur in the form of a return to traditional female roles and ideals, particularly in times of great crisis and instability.

While turbo-capitalism demands gender-specific flexible identities, we cannot assume that corresponding postmodern gender models, such as the model of the doubly socialized woman, are permanently able to stabilize reproduction in the context of today’s crisis capitalism. After all, the current stage of capitalism is characterized by the “collapse of modernization” and an associated inversion of rationalism into irrationalism.19 The double socialization of the individualized woman should in this regard (seemingly paradoxically) be understood as serving an important, functional role for the commodity-producing patriarchy, even as the latter is slowly disintegrating. Organizations dedicated to crisis management in third world countries, for example, are frequently led by women (while one also has to recognize that reproductive activities in general are increasingly playing a subordinate role). Exemplary of the development within the West in this regard is Frank Schirrmacher (conservative journalist and coeditor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). In his 2006 book Minimum, he describes the “fall and re-birth of our society,” in the context of which Schirrmacher wants to assign women the role of crisis managers, believing that they fulfill an important function as Trümmerfrauen and as cleaning and decontamination personnel.20 In order to justify such claims, Schirrmacher mobilizes crude biological and anthropological lines of argumentation in order to account for the widespread collapse of social and gender relations and to offer so-called solutions carried out on the backs of women. In order to avoid such pseudo-solutions, it is necessary to analyze current social crises in relation to their social and historical contexts, as value dissociation theory emphasizes. From this basis, it is then also possible to ask which important theoretical and practical conclusions need to be drawn from the dilemmas of the socialization of a value dissociation that today increasingly reduces man and nature to the most basic levels of existence and that can no longer be addressed with Old Left or Keynesian reform programs. Likewise, deconstructivist and postcolonial approaches, which for example interpret racism purely culturally, are unable to address the current crisis, as are post-workerist approaches that altogether refuse to address the general problem of the socialization of value dissociation and instead seek refuge in movement-religious notions of the multitude and act as though the latter concept includes answers to racism and sexism.21 What is required here, therefore, is a new turn toward a critique of political economy. Such a critique, however, can no longer be carried out in its traditional form that focuses on labor-ontological and androcentric-universalist methodology, but must instead include a turn toward a radical value dissociation theory and its epistemological consequences.

Conclusion

What I have attempted to show schematically in this essay is the need to think economy and culture in their contradictory identity and non-identity from the (itself contradictory) perspective of value dissociation as a basic social principle. Value dissociation, then, must also be understood not as a static structure but instead as a historically dynamic process. This approach refuses the identity-critical temptation to forcefully subsume the particular within the general. Instead, it addresses the tension between concept and differentiation (without dissolving the concept into the non-distinct, the infinite) and is thus able to speak to current processes of homogenization and differentiation in ways that can also address connected conflicts, including male violence. It is important to note that the theory of value dissociation, as far as the latter constitutes a basic social principle (and therefore is not solely concerned with gender relations in a narrow sense), must at times deny itself, insofar as it must allot next to sexism equal space to analyses of racism, antisemitism, and economic disparities, avoiding any claim toward universality. Only by relativizing its own position and function in this manner is value dissociation theory able to exist in the first place.

  1. See, for instance, Scholz, Das Geschlecht des Kapitalismus. Feministische Theorie und die postmoderne Metamorphose des Patriarchats (Unkel: Horlemann, 2000) 61 and following, 107 and following, 184 and following, and Scholz, “Die Theorie der geschlechtlichen Abspaltung und die Kritische Theorie Adornos,” Der Alptraum der Freiheit. Perspektiven radikaler Gesellschaftskritik, edited by Robert Kurz, Roswitha Scholz, and Jörg Ulrich (Blaubeuren: Verlag Ulmer Manuskripte, 2005).
  2. Robert Kurz, Der Kollaps der Modernisierung (Leipzig: Reclam, 1994); Kurz, Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus: ein Abgesang auf die Marktwirtschaft (Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn Verlag, 1999); Moishe Postone, “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism,” Germans and Jews Since the Holocaust, edited by Anson Rabinbach and John David Zipes (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1986); Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
  3. See Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin, 1976), Chapter 4: “The General Formula for Capital,” especially 255 [Eds.].
  4. Frigga Haug, Frauen-Politiken (Berlin: Argument, 1996) 229 and following.
  5. ibid.
  6. Eva Herman, Das Eva-Prinzip (München: Pendo, 2006).
  7. Regine Gildmeister and Angelika Wetterer, “Wie Geschlechter gemacht werden. Die soziale Konstruktion der Zwei-Geschlechtlichkeit und ihre Reifizierung in der Frauenforschung,” Traditionen Brüche. Entwicklungen feministischer Theorie (Freiburg: Kore, 1992) 214 and following.
  8. Haug, Frauen-Politiken 127 and following.
  9. Since the focus of the examination at hand is on modern gender relations, I am unable to discuss these other forms of social disparity in detail. For a more substantial analysis, see Scholz, Differenzen der Krise — Krise der Differenzen. Die neue Gesellschaftskritik im globalen Zeitalter und der Zusammenhang von “Rasse”, Klasse, Geschlecht und postmoderner Individualisierung (Unkel: Horlemann 2005).
  10. Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990) 25 and following.
  11. Bettina Heintz and Claudia Honegger, “Zum Strukturwander weiblicher Widerstandsformen,” Listen der Ohnmacht. Zur Sozialgeschichte weiblicher Widerstandsformen, edited by Bettina Heintz and Claudia Honegger (Frankfurt am Main: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1981) 15.
  12. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (London: Routeledge, 1991) 208.
  13. Ulrich Beck, Risikogesellschaft: Auf dem Wages einem andere Moderne (Frankfurt: Suhrkampf, 1986) 174 and following.
  14. Kornelia Hauser, “Die Kulturisierung der Politik. ‘Anti-Political-Correctness’ als Deutungskämpfe gegen den Feminismus,” Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (Bomm: Beilage zur Wochenzeitung Das Parlament, 1996) 21.
  15. Compare Irmgard Schultz, Der erregende Mythos vom Geld. Die neue Verbindung von Zeit, Geld und Geschlecht im Ökologiezeitalter (Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, 1994) 198 and following, and Christa Wichterich, Die globalisierte Frau. Berichte aus der Zukunft der Ungleichheit (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1998).
  16. Compare Kurz, “Der letzte Stadium der Mittelklasse. Vom klassischen Kleinburgertum zum universellen Humankapital,” Der Alptraum der Freiheit, Perspectiven radikaler Gesellschaftskritik, see 133n1.
  17. Compare Schultz, Mythos 198 and following.
  18. Compare Hauser, “Kulturisierung” 21.
  19. For a more detailed account of the current stage of capitalism and its departure from the classic forms of modernity, as well as for the origins of the term “collapse of modernization,” see Kurz, Kollaps.
  20. Women who helped clear debris after World War II — literally: “rubble-women” [Eds.]. See also Christina Thürmer-Rohr, “Feminisierung der Gesellschaft. Weiblichkeit als Putz- und Entseuchungsmittel,” Vagabundinnen. Feministische Essays, edited by Christina Thürmer-Rohr (Berlin: Orlanda Frauenverlag, 1987).
  21. See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), and Scholz, Differenzen 247 and following.