Social Reproduction

by cominsitu


Viewpoint Magazine #5


Asad Haider and Salar Mohandesi | Making a Living

Today, amidst a changed political and class landscape, strategy should take precedence over fidelity to the received canon. The activities of social reproduction remain the field of powerful class antagonisms.


Kimberly Springer | Radical Archives and the New Cycles of Contention

This is a call for better preservation of our historical legacy and guides to organizing for future generations. Like everything else we humans touch, archives are political. At the heart of calls for preserving our past – recent and even further back – is a question of trust. Who are activists going to trust with telling the history of their movements, achievements, and defeats? Who will be able to tell that story if our memories are locked behind a paywall, discarded, or misplaced as the result of a change in ownership of the services we use daily?

Louise Thompson Patterson | Toward a Brighter Dawn (1936)

Over the whole land, Negro women meet this triple exploitation – as workers, as women, and as Negroes. About 85 per cent of all Negro women workers are domestics, two-thirds of the two million domestic workers in the United States. In smaller numbers they are found in other forms of personal service. Other employment open to them is confined mainly to laundries and the tobacco factories of Virginia and the Carolinas, where working conditions are deplorable.

Esther Cooper Jackson | The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism (1940)

Negro women often have to face discrimination and prejudice in addition to the problems which domestic workers as a whole must face. Since Negro women continue to be employed in domestic work in large numbers, this study is concerned with a consideration of their problems and their attempts at unionization.

Mary Inman | The Role of the Housewife in Social Production (1940)

The labor of a woman, who cooks for her husband, who is making tires in the Firestone plant in Southgate, California, is essentially as much a part of the production of automobile tires as the cooks and waitresses in the cafes where Firestone workers eat. And all the wives of all the Firestone workers, by the necessary social labor they perform in the home, have a part in the production of Firestone Tires, and their labor is as inseparably knit into those tires as is the labor of their husbands.

Marvel Cooke | The Bronx Slave Market (1950)

I was part of the “paper bag brigade,” waiting patiently in front of Woolworth’s on 170th St., between Jerome and Walton Aves., for someone to “buy” me for an hour or two, or, if I were lucky, for a day. That is the Bronx Slave Market, where Negro women wait, in rain or shine, in bitter cold or under broiling sun, to be hired by local housewives looking for bargains in human labor.

Archivio di Lotta Femminista per il salario al lavoro domestico | Introduction to the Archive of the Feminist Struggle for Wages for Housework (Donated by Mariarosa Dalla Costa)

This text introduces the Archivio di Lotta Femminista per il salario al lavoro domestico, which contains a wealth of material collected from the 1970s to the present, all graciously donated by Mariarosa Dalla Costa after years of work as a militant in the Feminist Movement and as a scholar of the condition of women. The archive, based in Padua, Italy, collects a broad range of inventoried material from a strand of the Feminist Movement which, in Italy, first called itself Movimento di Lotta Femminile (Women’s Struggle Movement), then later Lotta Femminista (Feminist Struggle) and finally Movimento dei Gruppi e Comitati per il Salario al Lavoro Domestico (Movement of Groups and Committees for Wages for Housework).

Comitato per il Salario al Lavoro Domestico di Padova | Le operaie della casa (1977)

That the state is the boss of women and the controller-guarantor of the reproduction of labor-power can be seen directly in the fact that: a) it is the state that controls the family, the birth rate, immigration, emigration etc. through the promulgation of pertinent laws; b) it is always the state that intervenes to stand in for women every time the refusal of housework deepens. Indeed, the struggle of women against housework is the fundamental factor behind certain transformations in the state.


Pierre Macherey | The Productive Subject

What could have interested Foucault in the passages from Capital, to the degree that he presents them as sources for a positive study of power, rooted in the development of the economy and its “forces?” We would like to clarify this point by returning to Marx’s text, which Foucault’s suggestion prompts us to read in a manner that might be called “symptomatic,” since it is not at all obvious, at first glance, how one might derive the principles for an analysis of “power” which is at best implicit in Capital, hovering in the background.

Rada Katsarova | Repression and Resistance on the Terrain of Social Reproduction:  Historical Trajectories, Contemporary Openings

While the idea of social reproduction is most often associated with Marxist feminist literature from the 1970s, considerable work was done around that concept in a wide range of rather disparate bodies of work throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to Marxist feminism, social reproduction became a main focus for Italian autonomists, anti-Stalinist socialist humanists in post-Stalinist Eastern Europe, “anti-humanist” critics of orthodox Marxism such as Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault, in studies on slavery, race, and urban development, and by postcolonial and Third-World feminists.

Sue Ferguson and David McNally | Social Reproduction Beyond Intersectionality: An Interview

In conventional Marxist analyses, labor-power is simply presumed to be present – a given factor of capitalist production. At best, it is understood as the product of natural, biologically determined, regenerative processes. In socializing labor-power – in unearthing its insertion in history, society, and culture – social reproduction feminism reveals, in the first instance, that labor-power cannot simply be presumed to exist, but is made available to capital only because of its reproduction in and through a particular set of gendered and sexualized social relations that exist beyond the direct labor/capital relation, in the so-called private sphere.

Tithi Bhattacharya | How Not To Skip Class: Social Reproduction of Labor and the Global Working Class

The key to developing a sufficiently dynamic understanding of the working class, I will argue, is the framework of social reproduction. In thinking about the working class, it is essential to recognize that workers have an existence beyond the workplace. The theoretical challenge therefore lies in understanding the relationship between this existence and that of their productive lives under the direct domination of the capitalist. The relationship between these spheres will in turn help us consider strategic directions for class struggle.

Federica Giardini and Anna Simone | Reproduction as Paradigm: Elements for a Feminist Political Economy

We are convinced that feminism can offer tools for everyone, opening new perspectives, starting from ourselves but moving towards a grand scale. Feminism as only women thinking about and for women is no longer powerful. We are considering the world as it is arranged in the reality of our lives and experiences in order to launch a common itinerary, to articulate the present materiality, for repositioning our desires and needs, for a new measure of the world, a new political economy.


Patrick Cuninghame | Mapping the Terrain of Social Reproduction: Autonomous Movements in 1970s Italy

In some ways, our renewed focus on social reproduction shares interesting parallels with the “Italian Revolution” of 1968-1980, the most radical upheaval in postwar Western Europe. For while originally firmly anchored to the struggles of the factory proletariat, many movements began to wage a multitude of struggles beyond the point of production, developing class power on what was called the terrain of social reproduction.

Kiran Garcha | Bringing the Vanguard Home: Revisiting the Black Panther Party’s Sites of Class Struggle

Black Power militancy, and state responses to it, did not always occur in those spaces most visible to the public. Rather, the home and family unit were just as likely targets of government subversion as the more visible urban terrains that have become the central backdrop of Black Panther iconography. Equally important, the Panthers’ anti-colonial politics were often transmitted across generations not in Party offices or community centers, but behind closed doors, in the intimate spaces of living rooms, kitchens, and backyards.

Camille Barbagallo | Leaving Home: Slavery and the Politics of Reproduction

The inequalities and disparities in how different racialized and gendered subjects experience the labor of making and remaking people under capitalism cannot be ignored and these gaps, silences and spaces of difference have long and complex histories. Considering the overwhelming location of reproduction is in the realm of the natural, the biological and that murky, under-theorized location of home, it is necessary to not only gesture towards what is at stake politically but to do so with the aim of “weaponizing reproduction.” The task is certainly a feminist project, one that takes seriously what it means to denaturalize reproduction, with the desire to grab hold of the problem and transform it.

Premilla Nadasen | Domestic Workers’ Rights, the Politics of Social Reproduction, and New Models of Labor Organizing

In the 1970s, a powerful movement for domestic workers’ rights emerged on the national political stage. Through their organizing, African American household workers argued for the inclusion of housework and social reproduction in the larger politics of wage labor and made a case for the centrality of this occupation to capitalism.

Jon Cramer | Race, Class, and Social Reproduction in the Urban Present: The Case of the Detroit Water and Sewage System

In the last decade, especially after the 2008 financial crisis, the urban centers of the Midwest such as Chicago and Detroit, but also in the Northeast, such as Baltimore and Philadelphia, have developed a new dynamic: the use of the state (in the form of local or regional governments) to transfer infrastructural resources and their control out of or away from marginalized urban populations, which are predominantly black, brown, and immigrant.


Gowri Vijaykumar | “There Was An Uproar”: Reading The Arcane of Reproduction Through Sex Work in India

If it is wages for housework that denaturalize reproduction, then why is sex work, a paid activity, still rendered invisible within the relations of production, and largely (though certainly not exclusively) performed by women? Why is sex work criminalized in most of the world, while marriage is generally rewarded? What would wages for housework mean for sex work—would housewives and sex workers now become formally equivalent? What is the relationship between housework and paid domestic work? What really separates sex workers and housewives—or are they theoretically interchangeable?

Niina Vuolajärvi | Precarious Intimacies: The European Border Regime and Migrant Sex Work

This focus on the border regime allows for an understanding of how itproduces people residing within a nation-state with differential rights, differential access to the labor market, and variable access to the services of the state. These differential rights have a structural role in the differentiation of the commercial sex sector, as well as in determining how migrants use intimacy in their migration processes. However, through another optic, intimacy and intimate relations can be viewed as resources – as workable and effective strategies – in these women’s aspirations to create more satisfactory and independent lives from their position of structural disadvantage.

Morgane Merteuil | Sex Work Against Work

Although the Wages for Housework campaign was launched at the very beginning of the 1970s, it was not until 1978 that Carol Leigh, an American sex worker and feminist activist, coined the term “sex work.” And if the claim for “Wages for Housework” might not have the same relevance today now that a large part of domestic work has been commodified – former housewives who have entered the labor market have partly delegated this work to poorer women, especially migrant women – the claim that “sex work is work,” considering the active and often heated discussions it generates, seems more important than ever in our contemporary moment.

Alan Sears | The Social Reproduction of Sexuality: An Interview

For me, the usefulness of the social reproduction frame to understanding sexuality grows out of the current situation of queer politics. On the one hand, we have won rights that I never could have imagined when I first came out in the 1970s. Yet, we have fallen far short of the vision of sexual liberation.


Bue Rübner Hansen | Surplus Population, Social Reproduction, and the Problem of Class Formation

Today, few uphold the old belief that wage labor will gradually expand to cover the majority of the worlds’ population. Once, this was the condition of the historical belief that capitalism would create the conditions under which wage labor could be organized as a global power to match capital. Instead another teleology has appeared, claiming that capitalist development entails working class disorganization. Rather than a narrative of progress, this is a narrative of decline, of precarity, informalization, and immiseration.

Sara Farris | Social Reproduction, Surplus Populations and the Role of Migrant Women

When we consider the question of surplus populations from the point of view of the feminist literature on social reproduction, we see that migrant women do not constitute a surplus population in Europe, but rather a “regular army,” which is totally necessary to capitalist production. While the widespread debate around surplus populations rightly highlights unemployment as a cause of migration, it runs the analytical and political risk of obscuring the fact that most migrant women do not take the jobs of others, and are waged rather than “superfluous” in their countries of arrival since much of the socially reproductive activity in the Global North has become commodified.


Eileen Boris | Production, Reproduction, and the Problem of Home for Work

The ideological split between home and work in the industrialized West has obscured the ways that each realm shapes the other. It also shaped social policy toward “women in developing countries.” Contemporary political debate maintains an opposition between “mother” and “worker” as well as “work” and “care.” This division reflects a pervasive intellectual and political impasse pervading the organization of knowledge – our scholarship – as well as legal rules, government regulations, and union organizing.

Natalia Quiroga Diaz | Decolonial Feminist Economics: A Necessary View for Strengthening Social and Popular Economy

In Latin America, the perspectives of popular economy and social economy have challenged the individualist paradigm, focusing on the satisfaction of collective needs. Their conceptual developments result from the region’s particular context and history, thereby breaking with the universalist pretensions of orthodox economics and revealing the historical character of economic processes as well as the heterogeneity of its practices.

Kathi Weeks and Anna Curcio | Social Reproduction, Neoliberal Crisis, and the Problem with Work

Even some feminist discourses have fallen into this contradiction and reproduced the work ethic and family values discourse, neglecting the fact that both domestic and waged work dominate our life and that both must be fought. However, although it is more or less clear what is meant by the refusal of wage labor, what it means to refuse housework is considerably more difficult to understand. Would it mean abandoning people and our obligations to care? I believe it is rather a question of understanding how to reorganize care and to redistribute it in a way that does not completely occupy our lives.


Leopoldina Fortunati | Social Reproduction, But Not As We Know It

It has been about 35 years since the publication of The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital, and the world has radically changed since then. Society has changed faster than our capacity to re-forge the theoretical and methodological toolbox at our disposal. It is time to ask: what is happening to the reproductive sphere on a structural level?

Alisa Del Re | Collective Spaces

My intention is to talk about social reproduction in the context of a specific social environment. Social reproduction versus the reproduction of individuals, public versus private, manipulated and regulated versus free and autonomous, frustration and solitude versus joyous cooperation.

Fulvia Serra | Reproducing the Struggle: A New Feminist Perspective on the Concept of Social Reproduction

I believe that intimacy, together with other social and intellectual practices that are necessary for the reproduction of our collectivity, is being appropriated today by the capitalist machine and, in the same movement, transferred from the collective sphere to that of the nuclear unit and from the sphere of reproduction to that of the market economy.