Feminist Critical Theory in the Tradition of the Early Frankfurt School: The Significance of Regina Becker-Schmidt

By Barbara Umrath

The 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of women’s movements around the world that brought with them the development of feminist scholarship. While coming up with new theories and methodologies, feminists also sought to appropriate existing theoretical traditions for their concerns. This paper will focus on one of these traditions, the so-called Frankfurt School, and how it was taken up by feminist theorists.

In the first section, I briefly describe what distinguishes feminist appropriations of Critical Theory in the German- and the English-speaking world and introduce Regina Becker-Schmidt, probably the most influential German feminist working within this theoretical paradigm. The following parts are dedicated to pointing out Becker-Schmidt’s contributions to feminist Critical Theory. In the second section, I describe Becker-Schmidt’s empirical research on female factory workers, and the next section is dedicated to her social theory, the thesis of the ‘double socialization’ of women through wage labor and domestic work. I argue that Becker-Schmidt followed Max Horkheimer’s conceptualization of the relation between empirical research and social philosophy in that her empirical analysis informed her social theory. Here I pay close attention to how Becker-Schmidt’s empirical work and her social theory allows us to understand the relation between subjectivity, agency, and social contradictions. In the fourth section, I discuss whether Becker-Schmidt reflects that feminist demands have been increasingly institutionalized and how this affects social arrangements of work. Finally, I outline how I think Becker-Schmidt’s work can be critically appropriated for the project of a contemporary feminist Critical Theory. I argue that this requires taking into account processes on the sociological meso-level discussed in section four as well as macro-processes referring to the reorganization of society as a whole.

Feminist Critical Theory in the English- and the German-Speaking World

In the English-speaking world, feminists tend to understand Critical Theory as the “communicative framework outlined by Jürgen Habermas” (Marasco 2006:1). In contrast, in Germany feminists have been more inclined to take up the work of the early Frankfurt School, especially that of Theodor W. Adorno. Following the common distinction between a first and a second generation of Critical Theorists, one could be inclined to say that, whereas English-speaking feminist Critical Theorists tend to work within a second generation framework, German-speaking feminist Critical Theorists’ work is more inspired by the first generation of the Frankfurt School.

This distinction no doubt has the advantage of accounting for Habermas’ break with his teachers at decisive points. On the other hand, talking about a first and a second generation of Critical Theorists tends to obscure the fact that within the second generation there exist theorists that have much more in common with the first generation than with Habermas. For example, Oskar Negt, Detlev Claussen, and Regina Becker-Schmidt, like Habermas, were students of Adorno and later became professors at the University of Hannover. In this sense, they can be considered representatives of a second generation of Critical Theorists. However, focusing on labor, antisemitism, and gender, their interests differ notably from those of Habermas. Moreover, where Habermas’ Critical Theory performs a linguistic turn, these Critical Theorists remain within the historical-materialist framework of the early Frankfurt School (Bolte a. Türcke 1994:95f. a. Knapp 2004:179). Therefore whenever I refer to ‘first generation’ or ‘second generation Critical Theory’ in this paper, I am not so much talking about different cohorts but theoretical approaches.

Concerning the different reception of Critical Theory by English- and German-speaking feminists, Gudrun-Axeli Knapp, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Hannover and herself a feminist Critical Theorist, suggests that this difference to a certain extent may be explained by the different political and historical situatedness of feminists (Knapp 1999:119). According to Knapp, German feminist theorists in the 1980s turned towards Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s work as means to grasp both the past and the present political situation: In the Dialectic of Enlightenment, feminists found clues for an examination of German fascism as well as a critique of instrumental reason and the domination of nature, i.e. of issues that within the context of the so-called New Social Movements were broadly discussed in West Germany (Knapp 1999:120f.).

While being situated in different historical and political contexts led feminists to different theoretical orientations, the challenges feminists faced were nevertheless similar for those who were trying to work within a Habermasian perspective and those embracing an early Frankfurt School framework. Since Adorno and Horkheimer, as well as their student Habermas, had paid little attention to gender relations, the central concern for feminists was how gender relations could be made an integral part of these theories and what modifications this would require. In the following, I will describe how one particularly influential German feminist, Regina Becker-Schmidt, approached these questions.

Becker-Schmidt’s Empirical Research on Female Factory Workers

The first major empirical research project Becker-Schmidt directed as a professor of social psychology at the University of Hannover addressed concerns raised by the women’s movement, while bearing clear traces of the influence of her former teacher Adorno. Titled ‘Problems of Mothers who are Wage-Laborers’ (Probleme lohnabhängig arbeitender Mütter), Becker-Schmidt focused on the situation and experience of working-class women in the early 1980s. Through an analysis of interviews with sixty women (half of them still working in the factory, half of them having withdrawn from factory work, all caring for small children), the research team offered an understanding of “the objective demands of work, both paid and unpaid, and the subjective reality of the worker, whose desires cannot be reduced to a simple preference of either paid work or housework” (Marx Ferree 1985:530).

In this respect, the research shed light on new dimensions of the ‘double burden’ women experience when responsible for domestic work and contributing to the income of the family. Inquiring into the qualitative meaning of the ‘double burden’, Becker-Schmidt and her research team pointed out what it means for women to be confronted with demands stemming from two different realms of work, the family and the factory (Becker-Schmidt, Knapp, Schmidt 1985:53). The matter of time thus presents itself in a new light: It cannot be reduced to the feeling of never having enough time. What becomes evident is that the two realms between which working women move also entail two different demands how time has to be handled. Whereas in the factory the women ‘must not lose time’, taking care of children requires precisely the ability to forget about time – even though one knows what still must be done before one gets to work the next day (Becker-Schmidt, Knapp, Schmidt 1985:56ff.).

In addition to illuminating the issue of time, the research also framed another commonly held assumption about working women in a more precise way. It had been held that, unlike professional women, female piece-workers would find their work hardly rewarding, due to the stress and monotony of their jobs. Consequently, it was expected that, if only presented with the opportunity, they would prefer a domestic life. However, the interviews pointed in a different direction: Female factory workers saw both realms as sources of rewards as well as disappointments. In comparison to piece-work, domestic work offers quite a range for self-determination. At the same time, such work is rarely  appreciated by those for whom it is done, while in their role as factory workers women earned the recognition of their colleagues and bosses (Becker-Schmidt, Knapp, Schmidt 1985:67ff.). Thus, for the majority of the interviewed women, the prospect of a life entirely at home seemed no more satisfying than their ‘double burden’. Rather, these women seem to conclude that ‘having both is too much, but only having one part not enough’.

From this, the research team inferred that these women’s experience can be characterized as thoroughly conflicting or ambivalent – an ambivalence that is interpreted as

a fundamentally appropriate … response to the actual structural conditions within and between the two qualitatively different types of work. Becker-Schmidt and her co-workers argue that an unqualified preference for either paid work or housework requires the individual to deny the real problems or ignore the real rewards that exist in both forms of work, as well as in the combination of the two. They see ambivalence … as the best possible response to a situation fraught with structural contradictions (Marx Ferree 1985:531).

The research design thus allowed for capturing the ‘objective’ constellations of conflict as well as the ‘subjective’ experience, interests and desires. These objective and subjective aspects were understood as mediated: The women’s acts and wishes were ‘conditioned’ by the situations and opportunities they fond themselves in, they are responses to these conditions; but that does not mean that their acts and wishes would merely affirm and reproduce the given. While the interviewed women in large parts conformed to the requirements of both work places, they also reported moments of self-assertion and resistance against these demands (Becker-Schmidt, Knapp, Schmidt 1985:88 a. 121ff.). So one can say that these women were not merely reproducing structures they found themselves already confronted with and immersed in, but at the same time sought to resist these structures in accordance with what they experienced as their needs and rights. Moreover, they interpreted the ‘double burden’ less as an individual failure than a structural problem and articulated the need for structural transformation, be it in the form of a reduction of working hours or less stressful working conditions (Becker-Schmidt, Knapp, Schmidt 1985:150f.).

This early research on female factory workers already indicates where Becker-Schmidt deviates from Adorno and in what respects she follows him. Like the empirical work of the early Frankfurt School, the research design attempts to account for both the ‘objective’ and the ‘subjective’ dimensions of social life, understanding the two in their mediations. Women appear as subjects, i.e. as acting, deliberating, and wishing human beings, but subjects that in one way or another respond to ‘objective’ conditions they find themselves confronted with. Their conflicting attitudes are neither rendered invisible nor reified as (female) inability to make up one’s mind, but made transparent as ‘reasonable’ individual responses to contradictory social conditions.

However, the research project also shows that Becker-Schmidt disagrees at a decisive point with early Critical Theory. With Dialectic of Enlightenment, Critical Theory had acknowledged that it had lost its addressee. Though the proletariat is still mentioned occasionally in later writings, it is no longer referred to as a potential agent for social transformation. Things in Becker-Schmidt seem to be modified. The interviewed women not only do not fully affirm the dominating societal arrangements, but – in distinction to Adorno – the social scientists also interpret their behavior and attitudes as potentially transcending the status quo. In working (class) women, Regina Becker-Schmidt’s Critical Theory seems to have found an addressee.

Becker-Schmidt’s Contribution to a Feminist Social Theory: The Thesis of the ‘Double Socialization’ of Women

One thing that distinguishes Becker-Schmidt from feminist Critical Theorists working in the Habermasian tradition and links her to the early Frankfurt School is her empirical orientation.  According to Max Horkheimer, empirical research and social theory have to inform each other. The “larger philosophical questions” (Horkheimer 1931:9f.) guide empirical research and research, which in turn must lead back to philosophical theorizing. Becker-Schmidt’s research on female factory workers and her thesis of the ‘double socialization’ of women stand in this relation. Guided by a social theory that views society as contradictory, the research is designed in a way that captures conflicting experience and thus broadens our understanding of the meaning of such contradictions. At the same time, empirical results lead to the thesis of the ‘double socialization’ of women, i.e. they inform social theory.

In Becker-Schmidt’s social theory, the term ‘socialization’ (Vergesellschaftung) refers to two different but related aspects: to that women’s processes of individuation are marked by being socialized for two different social realms and to that differentiated social spheres are brought together by this ‘double socialization’ of women. In order to grasp what exactly Becker-Schmidt means by ‘double socialization’, I will first explain the first aspect and then link it two the second dimension.

As the empirical research shows, the interviewed women wanted both a family and a job, and many of them actually realized this desire. In this respect, they differ little from men. However, Becker-Schmidt points out that this shared ‘double orientation’ affects men and women in quite different ways. To be sure, gender roles have become less rigid over the last decades and modern partners often support non-conventional forms of the division of domestic work. However, despite such commitments the equal distribution of these tasks rarely happens in reality. Because of differently structured biographies, Becker-Schmidt argues, women are still the ones who (have to) assume primary responsibility for household and childrearing – no matter whether they are engaging in wage labor full-time, part-time or not at all (Becker-Schmidt 1998:104f.).

The empirical research had indicated that domestic work and wage labor do not merely take place at two different locations, but respond to qualitatively different demands. They are activities that refer to two different social realms or spheres that follow different logics. These spheres are at the same time separated and connected: they are recombined in (heterosexual) relationships and especially in the efforts of women to have both.

Taking these considerations as a starting point, Becker-Schmidt develops her theory of how society as a whole reproduces itself. For this purpose, she draws on Marx and Adorno. What is important for Becker-Schmidt in Marx is that he understood capitalist societies as constituted by two different elements: capital and labor. Moreover, Marx pointed out that while the separation of these elements is clearly visible on the market, in the process of production the differentiated elements are recombined. The crucial point now is that in this recombination, the role of living human labor appears to be insignificant: the workers merely seem to run the machinery while the product itself originates from the machines. Since their contribution appears to be more important, the owners of the machinery, the capitalists, seem to have every right to demand the surplus value and their socially privileged position seems justified (Becker-Schmidt 1998:103).

Here Becker-Schmidt sees a decisive parallel to women’s work. Similar to the activities of workers, the whole meaning of women’s contributions to society remains hidden: Whereas it is visible that women work at two different locations, it is less obvious that by doing so they allow a functionally differentiated society to reproduce itself. Moreover, precisely because important aspects of women’s work remain invisible, their subordinated social position, like that of workers, appears legitimate. As wage laborers, on the average, they earn less than men, domestic work performed for their own families is not remunerated at all, and efforts to combine family and work place tend to be treated as individual, not social problems (Becker-Schmidt 2004a:87). In short, Becker-Schmidt claims that feminists can learn from Marx that a ‘splitting’ of reality in things that are apparent or visible and others that are not, builds the ground upon which ideologies can develop. Feminists can use this insight  to understand ideology broadly as legitimizing class as well as gender dominance. (Becker-Schmidt 2004a:86).

However, Becker-Schmidt argues, the fruitfulness of Marx’s insights for feminists is not limited to his concept of ideology. Rather, his analysis of the relations between capital and labor can allow an understanding of gender relations in an even more general sense. Following Becker-Schmidt, what Marx identified were nothing less but general principles that structure modern societies: The principles of separation and recombination. Furthermore, he pointed out that special emphasis has to be put on the modes in which the recombination of the separated takes shape (Becker-Schmidt 1998:103f.). In other words, are the separated elements brought into a hierarchical relation – as is the case with capital and labor – or is their recombination one in which every part is accorded the same value? As the empirical results indicated, the price for the social separation of domestic and wage labor is predominantly paid by women. Therefore, we may reformulate Marx’s insight as followed: In modern societies, the way in which the recombination of separated spheres takes place is an unjust one that continuously reproduces hierarchies not only between classes, but also between gender groups.

Drawing on Adorno and simultaneously moving beyond him, Becker-Schmidt argues, we can then develop an understanding of how modern societies reproduce themselves. What Becker-Schmidt emphasizes in Adorno is that he understood contemporary industrial society as a contradictory whole that consists of and reproduces itself through differentiated social spheres. These spheres, in turn, relate in a way that is simultaneously characterized by reciprocity and hierarchization (Becker-Schmidt 2004a:87f.). While all social sectors are necessary for the reproduction of society, the public sectors (economy, administration, science, etc.) are nonetheless valued more highly than private ones (Becker-Schmidt 1998:111). Going beyond Adorno, Becker-Schmidt now insists that a comprehensive understanding of modern societies requires seeing that sectoral differentiation and gender order are thoroughly intertwined. Their concurrence can be seen in the fact that men as the privileged gender group outnumber women in the more prestigious sectors. In short, the hierarchization of the genders follows the hierarchy of social spheres. At the same time, men’s status as the more valued gender supports their position in more prestigious social spheres (Becker-Schmidt 2004a:89). The hierarchical gender order and the hierarchical relation of different social sectors consolidate each other and in their concurrence reproduce society. In a sense, they build the subtext that underlies social institutions and relations between social groups as well as individual practices and biographies.

None of this, however, is meant to suggest that this society is immune to change. Rather, following Adorno, Becker-Schmidt stresses that modern societies do not simply reproduce themselves as unities, but as contradictory unities (Becker-Schmidt 1999:115). In this unity, what is different is brought together, but the various social elements preserve to a certain extent their own logics. As a result, developments in one element are not necessarily accompanied by transformations in other elements or in the relations between differentiated elements. It is in the asynchronous development of elements belonging to the same social order that Becker-Schmidt locates the potential for the transformation of society as a whole. For example, she argues, at the moment of observation, gendered self-concepts, family models, and modes of living sexuality undergo a transformation. For the political and economical organization of society, these developments seem not immediately relevant. However, Becker-Schmidt stresses, it is possible that transformations in this one social element acquire a dynamic that calls into question the whole arrangement of social structures (Becker-Schmidt 2004a:90).

Thus we may say that Becker-Schmidt’s social theory emphasizes the ‘objective’ dimension, i.e. contradictions and frictions existing within contemporary societies, over the ‘subjective’ one. She insists that in order for transformation to be possible at all, there have to exist some kind of ‘objective’ tensions and contradictions. At the same time, as her interpretation of the interviews with female factory workers indicates, her concepts of agency and transformation are far from dismissing the importance of subjectivity. These ‘objective’ tensions and contradictions have to be taken up by subjects in order to realize the potentials for transformation given with social contradictions. Becker-Schmidt’s emphasis on the ‘objective’ thus can be understood as a means to avoid falling back to idealist concepts of transformation, in which these changes would be attributed in an immediate way to the wishes and desires of creative subjects. By doing so, she stays close to the first generation of Frankfurt School theorists who insisted that their critique of society does not derive from ideas of a utopia, but is based on what is already potentially present within the given (Horkheimer 1937:250).

To be sure, in identifying a rational potential that is given with language, Habermas, too, conceives his Critical Theory as a non-idealistic one. However, Becker-Schmidt’s materialism remains closer to that of the early Frankfurt School in that she discusses potentials for transformation with regard to economic processes. Thus, her approach can remind feminist Critical Theorists of the necessity of paying attention to relations of production and suggests a framework for doing so.

From Women’s Movements to ‘Gender Mainstreaming’ and the Necessity for  Feminist Critical Theory to Reflect these Changes

One important aspect that distinguishes Critical Theory is its insistence that analytical concepts must not be formulated in an abstract way as if they were unaffected by historical change. This means Critical Theory’s categories have to grasp its particular time, while simultaneously transcending this particularity for a better society yet to come. In the last two sections of this paper, I will discuss to what extent Becker-Schmidt’s social theory meets these requirements.

One strength of Becker-Schmidt’s social theory is that it captures a political and social climate that differs from that in which Adorno developed his reflections. As already mentioned, Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s Critical Theory had lost its addressee: Far from fundamentally altering the relations of production, the proletariat had allowed itself to be thoroughly integrated into fascist regimes and post-war ‘administered society’. Becker-Schmidt, in contrast, seems to have identified a new critical social agent. As the thesis of the ‘double socialization’ points out, women’s ‘rewards’ for being socialized for two realms are rather negative ones. Consequently, one might assume that as a social group, women have an interest in the transformation of both the hierarchical gender order and the hierarchical relation between social sectors. Indeed, from the 1970s on, West Germany saw the emergence of a lively women’s movement that voiced demands for profound social change. In this respect, Becker-Schmidt’s Critical Theory is a critical theory of her time. It does not adhere dogmatically to Adorno’s conceptualization of subjectivity, agency, and social transformation, but is able to reflect social change that requires a modified understanding of (the relation of) these concepts.

At the same time, however, it seems to me that Becker-Schmidt fails to develop a Critical Theory of today’s society. Her theory does not take into account what happened to this social agent since its emergence about four decades ago. The women’s movement emerged in a situation in which political and economic institutions ignored the problems women were facing. Disregarded by official institutions, it was a small step for women to assume that ‘the system’ is not only unwilling, but also unable to meet their demands. Consequently, women’s movements were able to develop into social agents that demanded not merely minor adjustments, but seemed to question the whole social arrangement. With some delay, however, many issues the women’s movement had drawn attention to were taken up by political and economic institutions. At about the same time, the movement began to disappear.

Becker-Schmidt herself does not directly address this institutionalization of feminist demands nor does she elaborate on the disappearance of the women’s movement as an extra-institutional agent. What she does explain, however, is that she thinks up until now women have not yet succeeded in changing societal structures in the thorough-going way that she seems to have expected them to do. In recent talks and papers, Becker-Schmidt stresses that women still find themselves confronted with unacceptable demands resulting from moving between a world cut into halves. However, while the domestic and professional division of labor between the genders seems quite inert, other elements that reproduce the gender order undergo rather tremendous changes. Becker-Schmidt claims that these transformations – transformations that refer to sexuality, gendered definitions of the self, and forms of relationships – might acquire a dimension that threatens the political and economical organization of society. Although she warns that one should not expect this ‘shell’ to collapse with one blow, it nevertheless has become frail (Becker-Schmidt 2004a:90).

In my view, there are several problems with Becker-Schmidt’s political diagnosis/prognosis. For one, it is not true that the domestic as well as the professional division of labor remains static in comparison to other dimensions of the gender order that experience rapid changes. To make this claim, Becker-Schmidt has to neglect institutional measures that for more than ten years have addressed the gendered division of labor. In Germany, anti-discrimination and equal opportunities legislation as well as strategies and programs like ‘Gender Mainstreaming’ and ‘Work-Life-Balance’  are intended to ‘ungender’ the labor market and encourage a redistribution of domestic responsibilities.

To be sure, as the daily struggles of individuals of either gender who try to combine wage labor and family indicate, the success of these efforts is limited. Whereas advocates of these strategies like to see this as ‘teething troubles’ that sooner or later will disappear, Becker-Schmidt’s theory enables us to view these processes more critically. Her reflections allow us to understand that these measures are hardly able to overcome the conflict potential built into gender order and sectoral differentiation. Doing so would require at least three things the current measures are not apt to tackle: addressing (1) the sectoral differentiation as well as (2) the split between public and private spheres, and (3) processes of socialization that result in gendered biographies that in turn reproduce the prevailing division of labor.

While I agree with Becker-Schmidt that the structural contradictions she has identified are far from being overcome today, at the same time her cautious optimism regarding the possibility of this happening seems inappropriate. As she could have learned from her teacher Adorno, who acknowledged the thorough integration of the proletariat in late-capitalist society, it is quite possible for social contradictions and antagonisms to continue to exist without posing an actual threat to the system that produces these frictions. My point is that institutional measures like anti-discrimination legislation and ‘Gender Mainstreaming’ have been ‘successful’ in the sense that whereas once demands for further reaching social change were voiced, today piecemeal reform appears to be everything one can aspire to.

What we can learn from contrasting Becker-Schmidt’s social theory with social developments in the last decade is that a feminist Critical Theory has to account for the role institutions play with regard to social change. Contemporary feminist Critical Theory can not rest with indicating the potential for transformation given with structural contradictions, but must take into account that the effects of these contradictions are thoroughly conditioned or ‘mediated’ by whether this conflict potential is taken up by the official institutions of a society. As the case of the women’s movement in West Germany suggests, extra-institutional movements emerge when official institutions neglect structural problems and disappear when these are addressed – independent of whether these institutional measures are really able to overcome the underlying problems or merely ameliorate and thus perpetuate them.

Towards a Contemporary Feminist Critical Theory

I have argued that feminist social theory has to take into account the conditions that favor and hinder the emergence of extra-institutional social agents. However, so far I have remained at the sociological meso-level.. I would now like to stress that, in addition to this, a truly Critical Theory also has to inquire into what deeper-lying social developments might have encouraged changes in strategy on part of official institutions.

The English-speaking feminist Critical Theorist, Nancy Fraser recently pointed to “a historical shift in the character of capitalism” (Fraser 2009:107) that began to take shape around the late 1960s. Her thesis of ‘elective affinities’ between feminist demands and neoliberalism can inform a critical rethinking of Becker-Schmidt’s thesis of ‘double socialization’. In other words, women’s movements must not only be understood as agents demanding that sexist and capitalist structures, entwined as they are, have to be overcome. Rather, feminist theory must acknowledge that women’s movements in fact contributed to a modernization of capitalism. Given this, it appears necessary for feminist Critical Theory to reformulate the relation between subjectivity, agency, and transformation in a way that grasps how historically modified conditions affect the meaning of (once) emancipatory demands.

References

Adorno, Theodor W. a. Max Horkheimer (2007). Dialectic of Enlightenment. Philosophical Fragments. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Becker-Schmidt, Regina (1998). Trennung, Verknüpfung, Vermittlung: Zum feministischen Umgang mit Dichotomien. In: Knapp, Gudrun-Axeli (Ed.) (1998). Kurskorrekturen. Feminismus zwischen Kritischer Theorie und Postmoderne. Frankfurt am Main/New York: Campus, pp. 84-125.

—— (1999). Critical Theory as a Critique of Society: Theodor W. Adorno’s Significance for a Feminist Sociology. In: O’Neill, Maggie (Ed.) (1999). Adorno, Culture and Feminism. London: SAGE, pp. 104-118.

—— (2004a). Adorno kritisieren – und dabei von ihm lernen. Von der Bedeutung seiner Theorie für die Geschlechterforschung. In: Gruschka, Andreas a. Ulrich Oevermann (Ed.) (2004). Die Lebendigkeit der kritischen Gesellschaftstheorie. Wetzlar: Büchse der Pandora, pp. 65-95.

—— (2004b). Zum Zusammenhang von Erkenntniskritik und Sozialkritik in der Geschlechterforschung. In: Frey Steffen, Therese, Caroline Rosenthal a. Anke Väth (Ed.) (2004). Gender Studies. Wissenschaftstheorien und Gesellschaftskritik. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, pp. 201-221.

Bolte, Gerhard a. Christoph Türcke (1994). Einführung in die kritische Theorie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, pp. 45-97.

Cooke, Maeve (2006). Re-Presenting the Good Society. Cambridge/London: The MIT Press.

Fraser, Nancy (2009). Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History. New Left Review, 56.

Horkheimer, Max (1931). The Present Situation of Social Philosophy and the Tasks of an Institute for Social Research. In Horkheimer, Max (1995). Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings. Baskerville: Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group, pp. 1-14.

—— (1937). Traditional and Critical Theory. In Horkheimer, Max (1991). Critical Theory: Selected Essays. New York: Seabury Press, pp. 188-143.

Knapp, Gudrun-Axeli (1999). Fragile Foundations, Strong Traditions, Situated Questioning: Critical Theory in German-Speaking Feminism. In: O’Neill, Maggie (Ed.) (1999). Adorno, Culture and Feminism. London: SAGE, pp. 119-140.

—— (2004). Kritische Theorie: Ein selbstreflexives Denken in Vermittlungen. In: Becker, Ruth a. Beate Kortendieck (Ed.) (2004). Handbuch Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung. Theorie, Methoden, Empirie. Leverkusen: Leske und Budrich, pp. 177-187.

Marasco, Robyn. (2006). “Already the Effect of the Whip”: Critical Theory and the Feminine Ideal. Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 17 (1).

Marx Ferree, Myra (1985). Between Two Worlds: German Feminist Approaches to Working-Class Women and Work. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 10 (3), pp. 517-536.

Scholz, Roswitha (2000). Das Geschlecht des Kapitalismus. Feministische Theorien und die postmoderne Metamorphose des Patriarchats. Bonn: Horlemann.

Truman, Andrea (2002). Feministische Theorie. Frauenbewegung und weibliche Subjektbildung im Spätkapitalismus. Stuttgart: Schmetterling Verlag.

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In this paper, I will use ‘Critical Theory’ with upper-case letters as a synonym for the so-called Frankfurt School. Unlike Maeve Cooke, I think there are good reasons for distinguishing this approach, especially in the form given to it by Adorno, Horkheimer, and later theorists remaining within their framework, from other theories with a critical impetus, e.g. the work of Pierre Bourdieu or Michel Foucault.

Unfortunately, almost nothing of Becker-Schmidt’s work has been translated into English. As far as I know, only one essay of her appeared in an English-speaking volume and the only secondary literature referring to Becker-Schmidt is a report by Myra Marx Ferree for Signs magazine. Not surprisingly, her work is therefore hardly known beyond German-speaking academia. One of the purposes of this paper thus is to introduce Becker-Schmidt to a broader scholarly public.

As Gudrun-Axeli Knapp already noticed, the “(t)ranslation of certain key terms of the dialectical theoretical tradition tends to create enormous difficulties” (Knapp 1999:136). The German ‘doppelte Vergesellschaftung’ (double socialization) is one of these concepts. It refers to how society as a whole reproduces itself as well as to what in German is called ‘Sozialisation’ (equally translated as ‘socialization’), i.e. the processes through which an individual becomes part of a society. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that whenever I talk about ‘double socialization’ this concept belongs to social psychology as well as to social theory. In contrast, when I refer to ‘socialization’ simple, the focus is on the individual’s becoming a member of society.

For example, we have seen that Becker-Schmidt’s study clarified that in the lives of working class women, the problem of time has more dimensions than simply time pressure.

In her discussion of the thesis of the ‘double socialization’ of women, Roswitha Scholz, a German feminist Marxist, notices that Becker-Schmidt repeatedly talks about the ‘equal contribution’ (of men and women, capital and labor) to society’s reproduction and the ‘unequal rewards’ both women and worker earn. This constant contrasting of equality and injustice, Scholz criticizes, suggests that justice would prevail in society if only the ideal of an ‘just exchange’ was realized in practice. Thus, Scholz continues, Becker-Schmidt’s reading of Marx reduces capitalism to exchange and the problematic of capitalist societies to one of distribution. Refraining from understanding value as key concept for an analysis of capitalist societies, Becker-Schmidt consequently is not able to conceive a society in which labor is not only equally distributed and rewarded, but ‘abstract labor’ as such sublated (Scholz 2000:26f.). In a similar way, one could criticize Becker-Schmidt’s theory from a feminist post-structuralist perspective, arguing that Becker-Schmidt does not pay attention to the constraints already given with a different socialization of men and women, but only focuses on the different value gendered socializations assume in exchange processes.

Just like she has been critical of Becker-Schmidt’s reading of Marx, Roswitha Scholz criticizes that Becker-Schmidt draws on Adorno in a way that reduces his insights to formulas that can be applied for the analysis of any society. Since Becker-Schmidt does not grasp what really characterizes capitalist society, i.e. value, she must miss what exactly makes society the contradictory unity Adorno called it. Consequently, her references to Adorno cannot be but schematic and without substance (Scholz 2000:67).

‘Geschlechterverhältnis’ is another of these dialectical concepts that are difficult to translate. As Knapp explains, it “is generally translated by the term ‘gender relations’ which in German corresponds to Geschlechterbeziehungen. The term Geschlechterverhältnis signifies more than just relations between ‘men’ and ‘women’: from a meta-perspective it is geared towards the entire institutionalized arrangement by which gender groups are positioned towards each other” (Knapp 1999:136). Therefore, in this paper I decided to translate ‘Geschlechterverhältnis’ as ‘gender order’ even though this translation risks sounding too static.