In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marxism and Childhood

  • Introduction
  • Introduction to Marx and Marxism
  • History of Childhood and the Family

Childhood Studies Marxism and Childhood
Heather Brown
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0196


Within Marxism, there are a number of diverse traditions and viewpoints rather than a single framework. The concept of childhood is one that has often been on the periphery of Marxist studies. Often classes, institutions, and forces of production have been the dominant categories of Marxist analysis, and individual actors as well as social groups outside of class have been ignored, particularly within orthodox Marxism, which can tend toward economic reductivism. This does not mean, however, that children and childhood have been ignored, only that these categories have often played a secondary role in Marxist theorizing. Thus, within a Marxist vein, childhood can best be viewed through categories such as labor, state institutions, education, globalization, and culture. Marxism in relation to childhood studies includes the structural Marxism in Willis 1981 and Bowles and Gintis 1976 (both cited under Agency/Structure Debate), the Frankfurt School and critical cultural studies, Marxist feminism, and some critical education studies. (For more on the debates and schools of thought within Marxism, see Introduction to Marx and Marxism.) Brown 2013 argues that this diverse tradition, which from much of its beginning focused mostly on economic aspects at the expense of the social, was tied to an Engelsian understanding of dialectics and the organization of society. Later, as more of Marx’s unpublished writings became available and as these economistic studies were criticized by Marxist and non-Marxists alike for ignoring many important factors like gender and race, more Marxists began to dialectically integrate social aspects into their studies. Of primary importance here was, in some instances, separating out Marx from Engels but also, the pathbreaking neo-Marxism of the Frankfurt School and Marxist feminism.

Introduction to Marx and Marxism

While it is nearly impossible to summarize over 150 years of Marxist scholarship on a wide variety of topics, the texts in this section point to some of the most significant points and debates within Marxist literature as a means of introduction for those not familiar with Marxism (for more information on Marxism, see the entry in the Oxford Bibliographies in Sociology “Marxist Sociology”). Draper 1977–1990 provides a detailed and orthodox Marxist account of Marx and Marxism. Althusser 1969 provides a structuralist Marxist reading of Marx and Marxism that has become very influential in a number of areas. Ollman 1976 provides perhaps the most comprehensive account of Marx’s concept of alienation. Dunayevskaya 2000 provides a compelling history of Marx’s work and Marxism after Marx. Carver 1991 seeks, among other things, to separate out the work of Marx and Engels in order to clarify various debates. Brown 2013 takes a close look at Marx’s writings on gender and the family to see if there is anything of use for early-21st-century feminism.

  • Althusser, Louis. For Marx. London: Penguin, 1969.

    A structuralist account of Marxism. Althusser is perhaps the best known of structural Marxists. This book, originally published in French, contains important discussions of the position of the young Marx within Marxism and the concept of overdetermination that has been increasingly used by Marxists.

  • Brown, Heather A. Marx on Gender and the Family: A Critical Study. Chicago: Haymarket, 2013.

    Takes a thorough look at all of Marx’s writings as they relate to gender and the family. Looks closely at how Marx theorizes the family and its changing role throughout history. Argues that Marx, while not always overcoming the gender norms of his time, offers useful elements for early-21st-century feminism.

  • Carver, Terrell, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Marx. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    An anthology of texts interpreting many of the most significant concepts in Marxism. Attempts to separate out the thinking of Marx and Engels.

  • Draper, Hal. Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution. 4 vols. New York: Monthly Review, 1977–1990.

    This four-volume collection charts, with meticulous detail, a number of themes within Marxism, including the state and bureaucracy, the politics of social class, war and revolution, and a critique of other socialisms.

  • Dunayevskaya, Raya. Marxism and Freedom: From 1776 until Today. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000.

    A historical look at the development of Marxism from Marx until the 1950s when it was published. Particular emphasis is placed on the unity of theory and practice within workers movements, especially in the Paris Commune of 1871 and in the Fordist United States. Also discusses issues of party development relative to a critique of vanguardism.

  • Jay, Martin. The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923–1950. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    Chronicles the history and ideas from its origin in Germany to the early period of exile in the United States. Points to the influence of Marx, Freud, and others on their work and the increasingly cultural turn that was taken by this group.

  • Ollman, Bertell. Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in a Capitalist Society. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

    Discusses in detail Marx’s concept of alienation within capitalist society and its relationship to Marx’s notion of human nature. Ollman emphasizes Marx’s notion that unalienated labor is the key to the individual’s and society’s development.

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