Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Patriarchy is a structural notion that sees the organisation of the social world arranged for the benefit of, and controlled by, men.

explanatory context

Patriarchy refers in essence to a view of the world dominated by men and oppressing women.

Patriarchy is an elusive concept to define precisely as different feminist (and anti-feminist) perspectives view it in different lights.

For some commentators patriarchy simply refers to male power over women. For others it encapsulates an ideological element and patriachy is equated with male ideology. Patriarchal ideology is thus the operation of ideology that legitimates and constructs relations of domination of women by men.

For Marxist and socialist feminists, patriarchy is manifested in the economic relations of production. This has lead to considerable debate about the relation of patriarchy to class.


Radical feminists see patriarchy as the male hierarchical ordering of society. They define patriarchy as a sexual system of power in which the male posses superior power and economic privilege. The sexual division of society produces structural limits on the activities, work, and aspirations of women. Patriarchal systems, which were enshrined in law, are preserved through marriage, the family, and the sexual division of labour and society. Radical feminism argues that patriarchy at root is biological, rather than economic or historic. Other such commentators define patriarchyas a sexual hierarchy manifested in women's role as mother, domestic labourer and consumer within the family.

Patriarchy has been a difficult structure to pin down particularly when it is detached from historically specific relations and treated as a generalised ahistoric power structure (as, for example, in biological feminism).

See BEST84

analytical review

The McGraw-Hill (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines 'patriarchy' as:

A system in which gender differences are essential to the subjugation of women. It is pervasive in its social organization, and durable over time and space.


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines patriarchy as:

Social organization that structures the dominance of men over women.

associated issues

Some classic references:

Adamson, O. et al., 1976, ‘Women's Oppression under Capitalism’, Revolutionary Communist No. 5

Alexander, S. & Taylor, B., 1980, ‘In Defence of Patriarchy’, New Statesman 1st February 1980

Barrett, M & McIntosh, M., 1979, ‘Christine Delphy: Towards a Materialist Feminism?’ Feminist Review No.1

Barrett, M., 1980, Women's Oppression Today, Verso Editions & NLB

Barrett, M. and Cockburn, C., 1981, ‘A Quick guided Tour round Marxist-Feminist Theory’, Head and Hand, 8

Beechey, V., 1979, ‘On Patriarchy’, Feminist Review No.3

Bland, L et al., 1978, Women Inside and Outside the Relations of Production, in Women's Studies Group, Women Take Issue, London: Hutchinson

CSE Sex and Class Group, 1982,’Sex and Class’, Capital and Class, No. 16 Spring

Delphy, C. 1977, ‘The Main Enemy: A materialist analysis of Women's Oppression’, Explorations in Feminism No. 3 London: WRRC Publications.

Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, page not available 20 December 2016.

Firestone, 1971, The Dialectic of Sex: the case for Feminist Revolution, London, Jonathan Cape.

Foreman, A., 1977, Femininty as Alienation, London, Pluto Press.

Hartman, H., 1979, The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism

Kuhn, A. and Wolpe, A., 1978, Feminism and Materialism. Routledge and Kegan Paul

Lieven, E., 1981, ‘Subjectivity, Materialism and Patriarchy’, in The Cambridge Women's Study Group, 1981, Women in Society: Interdisciplinary Essays, London, Virago Press.

Millett, K., 1969, Sexual Politics. Rupert Hart-David Ltd

Mitchell, J., 1971, Woman's Estate, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Mitchell, J., 1974, Psychoanalysis & Feminism, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Mitchell, J and Oakley, A (eds.), 1976, The Rights and Wrongs of Women, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Robotham, S., 1973, Hidden From History, London, Pluto Press.

Robotham, S., 1973, Woman's Consciousness, Man's World, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Robotham, S., 1974, Women, Resistance and Revolution, Harmondsworth, Pelican.

Robotham, S., 1979, ‘The Trouble with Patriarchy’, New Statesman 21/28th December 1979.

Smart, C., 1983, ‘Patriarchal Relations and law: sexual equality in the 1950s’ in Evans, M. and Ungerson C. (eds.) Sexual Divisions: Patterns and Processes, Tavistock Publications.

related areas

See also


Critical Social Research Section 3.2


McGraw-Hill, 2004, Sociological Theory: Glossary , available at, accessed 14 May 2013, page not available 24 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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