Inter-University Centre Dubrovnik

An independent international centre for advanced studies


Patriarchalism Scaning in Contemporary Europe
12 Sep 2011 - 17 Sep 2011
Course directors:
Silva Mežnarić, University of Split, Croatia
Valentine Moghadam, Purdue University, United States
Irina Novikova, Saint-Petersburg State University, Russia
Luisa Passerini, European University Institute, Torino, Italy
Leo Rafolt, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Svetlana Slapšak, ISH - Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Course description:

Patriarchy will be subject to a thorough examination as a bricolage-system in contemporary Europe, adaptable to a wide range of social changes. Planned as advanced studies of a variety of facets of patriarchy in contemporary life in policies, legislature, religion, community and polity building. Interdisciplinary approach, based on humanities, Ancient oikos/polis (Aristotle, Plato, Socrates) philosophy and its subversion (Aristophanes), European gender relations as a continuity from Antiquity, pre-modernity and enlightenment. Professors and experts in respective fields of inquiry will lead five workshops. Particular area studies (the Balkans, Russia, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, Turkey), cultures (Hellenistic heritage, Christianity, Islam, Jewish heritage, Hindu culture), in a time line (Ancient to New Age) will be covered in five consecutive academic cycles (2011-2015).

Patriarchy: a “descriptive pointer” * or explanatory concept

(concepts and references: overview)

Are we sure what we‘re talking about when taking “patriarchy’ and ‘patriarchal relations’ into the focus of social inquiry? We think not; the quick overview of the most cited references in the field in the last two decades (Acker 1989; Walby 1989; 2007; Pollert 1996; Verloo 2006; Waters 1989) brings forward a multitude of entries for the concept of “patriarchy” and “patriarchal”. Even on the simplest level of inspection of these resources, ‘patriarchy’ as a notion emerges as being: “superficial”, fuzzy”, “problematic”, “essentialist”, “one-fits-all common sense approach”, questionable”, “analytically useless”, “self-explanatory”, “circular”, “historical”, “slippery”, “shallow”, “slick”. At its best, as Pollert (1996) said, it could do as “descriptive pointer”. It would be hard to imagine more detrimental scope of adjectives attributed to an allegedly useful and widespread tool in social analysis. Moreover, all those adjectives point to the mortal sin of any concept in science: invalidity. Altogether, ‘patriarchy’ appears to be useless for social analysis. And yet, it survived all criticisms, not only as an analytical tool. Patriarchy is often promoted to the “explanatory” level in social inquiry. Coupled with historicity and gender relations, it obtains analytical justification and legitimacy. What would be our choice? We choose to go along with criticisms, which point out its basic flaws (Pollert 1996; Acker 1989). In the same time, we would affirm patriarchy as convenient “intersectional” package for particular analysis of oppression of women.

Additional difficulty with the notion of patriarchy is that there are at least three camps of the theory of patriarchy: mutually opposing camps of “dual system” (Walby 1989, 2007) vs. “historical materialism” (Pollert 1997) approach and, the third one that is trying to bridge the gap between the two (Waters 1989). There is a also a series of variations and followers; in spite of that, the “ most frequently invoked benchmarks” (Pollert 1996: 639) for the patriarchy as “grand narrative” fit to explain gender relations are “dual systems” (Walby 1997) and materialistic approaches (Pollert 1996). Waters (1989) represent those who are trying to amalgamate dichotomization by introducing concept of “viriarchy” as adjacent analytical tools.

The bottom line of this “patriarchy controversy” is the explanatory power of the concept. According to some (for instance Acker 1989 and Pollert 1996) it is null; for others, if properly deconstructed it could do even as semi autonomous structure, with capitalism (Walby 2007). In our analysis we would assign to patriarchy an exploratory or – at best – descriptive level of use. It means that we will consider patriarchy as the concept we need for exploring male dominance vs. female subordination in fundamental sub systems of production and reproduction in post-socialist framework. By the same token, we do not support the theory of dual systems of patriarchy and capitalism; for us, gender relations and production (market) relations are not separable. The process of “gendering” is taking place within a framework of Eastern European labour market relations together with de-industrialization and privatization of production and services (Acker 1989; Pollert 1996).

We agree with Epstein that in global context, “the ‘woman question’ is not just one among many raised by injustice, subordination, and differentiation. It is basic” (Epstein 2007:7). We would conclude that patriarchy and gender relations go hand-in-hand as mindscapes (Epstein, ibid.) when we explore women’s position in any society today. They function as cluster of concepts; they deserve, as such, further scrutiny and reality check. Before that, patriarchy needs an overview of its epistemological status.

In dealing with epistemology, we would follow the accounts of Acker (1989) and Pollert (1996). According to Acker, patriarchy as the concept is both “essential and problematic” (1989: 235). Who knows why and who knows how, with the second wave of feminism in 1970s, patriarchy achieved the central focus in the analysis of subjugation of women. It also acquired the status of theoretical and analytical tool. Which is neither. It has low theoretical potency because it is ahistorical, returns us to biology, it “plagued all attempts to describe the persistence of male dominance over women” and “it cannot fruitfully be extended beyond its specific historical manifestations“ (Waters 1989: 193-194). According to Pollert (1996), when applied as an explanation for women oppression, the concept of patriarchy reveals “its most basic weakness of collapsing explanation with description – a weakness which derives from the circular explanations of its constitution and reproduction” (Pollert 1996: 639). Therefore, in our course, we try a) to avoid the most obvious – yet easily overlooked – trap intended to substitute descriptive categories for explanatory ones, and b) not to treat patriarchy as explanatory semi autonomous structure (Pollert 1997: 641). For us, patriarchy is neither “grand narrative” with universalising quality, nor is it “grand pattern” that explains or “master narrative” which describes natural causes and attributes role divisions of the sexes to biology (Epstein 2007:7).

In this course we propose to use use patriarchy as “a shorthand for cases of male domination” which “should be labelled: dangerous! Handle with care” (Pollert 1996: 662). We argue that, within the current state of the sociological art, patriarchy describes best the “ institutional embededdness of different forms of male power” (Pollert, 1996: 659). While not being at all an effective tool for analysis, it nevertheless leads to “better answers about how the subordination of woman is continually reproduced…”(Acker 1989: 239). We use patriarchy against all odds because; as Acker would have it “there is a danger in abandoning the project of patriarchy. If we introduce solely “gender” as the theoretical and analytical reference, the “connection between urgent political issues and theoretical analysis may be weakened. Gender lacks the critical-political sharpness of patriarchy… (Acker 1989: 239-240). Despite of being “fuzzy” and not valid, patriarchy is the concept we could not afford to do without. Particularly so in de-industrialised post-socialist countries. According to evidence and our research, in CEE patriarchy shows stamina and is well supported by tradition. The classical structuralist saying “ce que domine dans toute altération, c’est la persistence de la matière ancienne” (Saussure, in Augé 1994:19) holds water here.

Adamović’s research aimed to embed patriarchy in the empirical research. In talking to women managers in culture we tried to obtain answers to the basic sociological question: why does the subordination of women persist no matter how societies change in other ways? According to Epstein (2007: 15), the answer lies in many practices. Adamović tried to explore and describe one among many. Croatian post-socialist society changed in many respects in the last two decades. Nevertheless, “controlling women’s labour and behaviour is still a mechanism for male governance and territoriality” (Epstein 2007: 15); her research is – if modest and limited – still an effort to explore the oppression of women in Eastward extending Europe: to inquire the “actual fit of equal opportunity legal and institutional mechanisms in East European confines (Weiner 2009: 306) and in pre-accession Croatia.

A lot has been said about gender relations both in New Members and in pre-accession states in Europe. A glimpse over the European “menus” and “roadmaps” for the harmonization of gender politics shows variety of articulations, from policy consideration (Weiner 2009; Lombardo 2009; Kirton and Greene 2005; Pollert 2010; Lange 2008) to the more theoretical justification of it (Walby 2005; Lombardo and Meier 2008; Verloo 2006; Connell 2009). In the EU framework, disputes about gender relations raised particular topics, which lately emerged as innovative yet disturbing. Topics that by all means need careful and diversified approach are, for instance: mainstreaming (Walby 2007) and incorporation (Lombard and Meier 2006) of gender relations into EU Eastward politics; liberalization of labour markets in post-socialist Europe and oppression of women, particularly working class segment; residual socialist collectivism and female agency; the post-socialist “backlash” and patriarchal strategies in New Europe; role of women as collective agency in changing conditions of accountability of individual actions (Connell 2010: 109); the legacy of communist gender order (Lange 2008: 327-328) and EE labour markets; the impact of line of manufacturing (de-industrialisation) in transition years for segregation of women; the consequences of the “continuing colonization, by men, of better paid positions” in both private and public sectors in CEE (Lange 2008: 331). It might be worth to inspect closer what would be the impact of joining EU for gender relation and politics in future CEE? Would EU frame for future gender politics in Croatia for instance initiate real change or merely “broadening-without-deepening” approach (Lombardo and Meier 2008: 117)? Would some of the observed, “substantial differences” in gender politics between CEE and western societies persist? These differences are: persistent influence of post-communist attitudes in the public and private sphere, and post-communist experiences of liberalization of the market as powerful predictors of workers’ job satisfaction in the region (Lange 2008: 343).

Finally, we would comply with previous consideration of “patriarchy” and deliver our working definition of the concept: for us, patriarchy is formal and informal system of production, allocation, maintenance, and transmission of social closure by sexually indicated social roles. Within the realm of “textuality”, patriarchalism could be an amalgam of alterities given through the class, power, status and gender discourses respectively.


(Recommended for this course)

Acker, J. (1989). The problem with patriarchy. Sociology, 23(2), pp. 235-240.

Adamović, M. and Mežnarić, S. (2011) Women and cultural management in a patriarchal

society, in: Belyaev, D. and Roca, Z. (eds) Contemporary Croatia – Development Challenges in a Socio-Cultural Perspective. Lisabon: Edições Universitárias Lusófonas, p. 133-170.

Augé, M. (1994). Pour une anthropologie des mondes contemporaines. Paris: Flamarion.

Connell, R. (2009). Accountable Conduct: “Doing Gender” in Transsexual and Political Retrospect, Gender & Society, 23(1), pp. 104-111.

Epstein, C. (2007). Great divides: The Cultural, Cognitive, and Social Bases of the Global Subordination of Women, American Sociological Review, 72(1), pp. 1-22.

Kirton, G. and Greene, A. (2005). Gender, Equality and Industrial Relations in the ‘New Europe’: An Introduction, European Journal of Industrial Relations, 11(2), pp. 141-149.

Lange, T. (2008). Communist Legacies, Gender and the Impact on Job Satisfaction in Central and Eastern Europe, European Journal of Industrial Relations, 14(3), pp. 327-346.

Lombardo, E. and Meier, P. (2006). Gender Mainstreaming in EU, European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13(2), pp. 151-166.

Lombardo, E. and Meier, P. (2008). Framing Gender Equality in the European Union Political Discourse, Social Policy, 15(1), pp.101-129.

Pollert, A. (1996). Gender and class revisited: or, the poverty of ‘patriarchy’, Sociology, 30(4), pp. 639-659.

Pollert, A. (2003). Women, Work and Equal Opportunities in Post-Commuist Transition, Work, Employment&Society, 17(2), pp. 331-357.

Pollert, A., Fodor, E. (2005). Working conditions and gender in an enlarged Europe. Research report. Dublin: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.

URL: (12 January 2010).

Pollert, A. (2010). Spheres of collectivism: Group action and perspectives on trade unions among the low-paid unorganized with problems at work, Capital & Class,

34(1), pp. 115-125.

Verloo, M. (2006). Multiple Inequalities, Intersectionality and the European Union, European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13(3), pp. 211-228.

Walby, S. (1989) Theorising Patriarchy, Sociology, 23(2), pp. 213-234.

Walby, S. (1997) Gender Transformations. London: Routledge.

Waters, M. (1989) Patriarchy and viriarchy: An exploration and reconstruction of concepts of masculine domination, Sociology, 23(2), pp. 193-211.

Wiener, E. (2009) Eastern Houses, Western Bricks? (Re)Constructing Gender Sensibilities in the European Union’s Eastward Enlargement, Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State&Society, 16(3), pp. 303-326.

Women and man in Croatia 2010. (2010). Zagreb: Central Bureau for Statistics.

URL: (24 November 2010).

Course lecturers:
Monika Zagar, University of Minnesota, United States
Ružica Čičak - Chand, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Silva Mežnarić, University of Split, Croatia
Attached documents
A.Pollert - text
M.Adamović-S.Mežnarić - text
J.Pešić - text