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

Sophie Taeu­ber-Arp, Com­po­si­tion in Dense, Poly­chrome, Quad­ran­gu­lar Spots (1921)

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.1 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.

In these bod­ies of work, social repro­duc­tion has acquired a wide array of mean­ings and has been put to many dif­fer­ent uses. Some take the term to mean the mate­r­i­al means of sub­sis­tence and sur­vival, both imme­di­ate and infra­struc­tur­al, from water and food to hous­ing and health care. Oth­ers use the con­cept to under­score repro­duc­tion as a par­tic­u­lar kind of labor involved in the regen­er­a­tion and well-being of oth­ers, as in domes­tic, care, emo­tion­al, affec­tive, and sex work, which have his­tor­i­cal­ly fall­en most­ly to women. More recent lit­er­a­ture has focused on the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of repro­duc­tive labor and the glob­al economies and transna­tion­al chains of domes­tic, care, and sex work.

In these and oth­er writ­ings, the body has become an impor­tant focus: the body as a site of bio­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion, the reg­u­la­tion of sex­u­al­i­ty, and the repro­duc­tion of the gen­der bina­ry. The repro­duc­tive and repro­ducible body fig­ures as a kind of resource – a resource for labor but also for pro­duc­ing more bod­ies and lives, for work­ers. It becomes mobi­lized by pop­u­la­tion con­trol projects and by med­ical and admin­is­tra­tive tech­nolo­gies of reg­u­la­tion towards the repro­duc­tion of het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty, of racial and class con­trol, and towards social nor­mal­iza­tion projects.

Yet some polit­i­cal orga­niz­ers and the­o­rists have tak­en social repro­duc­tion to mean the pub­lic and social insti­tu­tions that repro­duce social rela­tions at large: the state, the school, the fac­to­ry, and the fam­i­ly, the hos­pi­tal and health insti­tu­tions. For exam­ple, strug­gles around access to high­er edu­ca­tion have revealed uni­ver­si­ties as sites of repro­duc­ing class and social inequal­i­ty, while under­scor­ing their role in forg­ing social mobil­i­ty. Fur­ther, work com­ing from crit­i­cal urban stud­ies has explored cities, urban envi­ron­ments, and geo­gra­phies of infra­struc­ture as sites for repro­duc­ing labor pow­er and class and racial inequal­i­ties.

In oth­er words, the range of writ­ings on social repro­duc­tion, which appeared more or less coeval­ly in the late 1960s and the 1970s, were not nec­es­sar­i­ly in dia­logue with each oth­er and do not form a coher­ent the­o­ret­i­cal or polit­i­cal body of work. How­ev­er, they all came to the con­cept of social repro­duc­tion at the par­tic­u­lar junc­ture of the cri­sis of Stal­in­ist Marx­ism, to crit­i­cize ortho­dox Marx­ist analy­ses of labor and exploita­tion and expose the blind spots in ortho­dox con­cep­tions of work­ing class strug­gle. To a degree that has per­haps gone under-rec­og­nized, “repro­duc­tion” was a cen­tral con­cept of non-ortho­dox and anti-Stal­in­ist Marx­ist work in the 1960s and 70s. The con­cept played a promi­nent role in the work of anti-Stal­in­ist Marx­ist human­ists, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the social­ist coun­tries, from stud­ies on gen­der inequal­i­ty, to edu­ca­tion, leisure, the social­ist fam­i­ly, the social­ist per­son, and the “social­ist way of life.” Anti-Stal­in­ist Marx­ist human­ists in the 1960s turned to the ear­ly, human­ist works of Karl Marx, which Stal­in­ist Marx­ism had repressed, to recov­er the agency of ordi­nary peo­ple, and to move away from the Stal­in­ist “base-super­struc­ture” frame­work. But crit­ics of this human­ist turn such as Louis Althuss­er also used the con­cept of social repro­duc­tion to cri­tique the lim­i­ta­tions of the Stal­in­ist notions of state pow­er and attend to process­es of sub­ject for­ma­tion under cap­i­tal­ism. In short, social repro­duc­tion became both a stand­point of fem­i­nist cri­tique of pro­duc­tivist Marx­ism and a lens for devel­op­ing new cri­tiques and the­o­ries of state pow­er in the con­text of the lib­er­al wel­fare and social­ist states.

The polit­i­cal uses of the con­cept are not entire­ly coher­ent either: some of these works aimed, each in their own fash­ion, to make vis­i­ble the ways in which social repro­duc­tion had become a site of social con­trol, of gen­der and racial sub­ju­ga­tion, of the repro­duc­tion of het­ero­nor­ma­tive social forms, which opened new ter­rains for polit­i­cal resis­tance against cap­i­tal­ism and the state. Oth­ers saw social repro­duc­tion as a promis­ing site for state-dri­ven projects of social equal­i­ty and social mobil­i­ty, deploy­ing appa­ra­tus­es of repro­duc­tion as instru­ments of reg­u­la­tion with­in cap­i­tal­ism, and with the help of the state.

What can we learn today from the the­o­ry and polit­i­cal expe­ri­ences of the 1970s? And vice-ver­sa, how do our strug­gles against the neolib­er­al restruc­tur­ing of edu­ca­tion and social infra­struc­ture, against polic­ing and the carcer­al state, and against racism, xeno­pho­bia, Euro­cen­trism, het­ero­sex­ism, and trans­pho­bia – under cap­i­tal­ism, but also in anti-cap­i­tal­ist and anti-state orga­niz­ing – allow us to devel­op a new his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive on the 1970s? And, per­haps most impor­tant­ly, how can we think of auton­o­my and mil­i­tant strug­gle on the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion today?

In this essay, we would like to explore the spec­trum of ideas and argu­ments on social repro­duc­tion begin­ning in the late 1960s and offer a sort of geneal­o­gy of the dif­fer­ent mean­ings, polit­i­cal uses, and cri­tiques of the cat­e­go­ry, while test­ing the promis­es and lim­i­ta­tions of these var­i­ous approach­es for think­ing social repro­duc­tion in the present.

Fur­ther, by revis­it­ing Althusser­ian and Fou­cauldian cri­tiques of cap­i­tal­ism and the state from the stand­point of repro­duc­tion, as well as Black, Third-World and post­colo­nial fem­i­nist cri­tiques of West­ern Marx­ist and social­ist fem­i­nism, we hope to broad­en exist­ing his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tives of social repro­duc­tion.

Historical Genealogies of Discourses Social Reproduction

In their pio­neer­ing work from the 1970s, Marx­ist fem­i­nists in West­ern Europe and the Unit­ed States iden­ti­fied social repro­duc­tion as a field of pro­duc­tive, gen­er­a­tive activ­i­ty. For them, patri­ar­chal rela­tion­ships and the sub­or­di­na­tion of women in the home appeared as a pre­con­di­tion to cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion. What stood for labor, name­ly wage labor and indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion, was a prod­uct of a white male polit­i­cal imag­i­nary unable to account for the work of social repro­duc­tion rel­e­gat­ed to the home, the “pri­vate,” and oth­er spheres out­side the fac­to­ry.2 The work of domes­tic labor, bio­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion, and the repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er were all ignored by “tra­di­tion­al” Marx­ist accounts, which con­fined their notion of labor to the fac­to­ry. In oth­er words, the cri­tique of the “cap­i­tal-labor” rela­tion­ship exclud­ed the sphere of the home and the domes­tic, where women were respon­si­ble for all the work of repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er through domes­tic work, and for the repro­duc­tion of the work­ing class more gen­er­al­ly, by bear­ing and car­ing for chil­dren. Marx­ist fem­i­nists showed how these dis­avowed, invis­i­ble, and unrec­og­nized forms of work were absolute­ly nec­es­sary for the exis­tence of the wage-labor form and the “sphere of pro­duc­tion” in the first place. More­over, they showed how women’s work in the home was cen­tral to the sur­vival and repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er and to cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions more gen­er­al­ly. Fur­ther, the ques­tion was what count­ed as “work” and “labor,” and who was the sub­ject wor­thy of what they envi­sioned as “free­dom” from neces­si­ty. They fought against the social invis­i­bil­i­ty of repro­duc­tive, affec­tive, and care work and the ways in which these were entan­gled in nat­u­ral­ized notions of women’s bod­ies and their affec­tive social lives.

In short, the Marx­ist-fem­i­nist uses of social repro­duc­tion in the 1970s became a use­ful fem­i­nist lens for show­ing how patri­ar­chal social orga­ni­za­tion was a struc­tur­al ele­ment in cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion, and fur­ther, how the his­to­ry of work­ing class strug­gle had effec­tive­ly mir­rored and repro­duced patri­ar­chal rela­tions and gen­der norms under cap­i­tal­ism. All these became points of fem­i­nist cri­tique of the male-dom­i­nat­ed Marx­ist left as well as a focus of fem­i­nist orga­niz­ing against exploita­tion and cap­i­tal­ism.

How­ev­er, this body of work had sig­nif­i­cant lim­i­ta­tions. Even though Marx­ist fem­i­nists pro­vid­ed a sol­id account of how women’s sex­u­al­i­ty and the nuclear fam­i­ly became a func­tion of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions, they essen­tial­ized women’s bod­ies and gen­er­al­ly worked with a sta­t­ic notion of the body, took for grant­ed the gen­der bina­ry, and, to a great extent, accept­ed the het­ero­sex­u­al premis­es of both the labor move­ment and the women’s move­ment. As con­trib­u­tors to the mate­ri­al­ist-fem­i­nist jour­nal LIES have recent­ly writ­ten, “We find unten­able the fail­ure of large­ly sec­ond-wave Marx­ist fem­i­nism to con­sid­er gen­der flu­id­i­ty and mul­ti­plic­i­ty under cap­i­tal­ism, to grap­ple with the forms of exploita­tion and vio­lence that under­gird these cat­e­gories, and the polit­i­cal con­se­quences of these facts.”3

Marx­ist and social­ist fem­i­nists had no account of the kinds of tech­nolo­gies involved in the pro­duc­tion of gen­dered sub­jects, sexed bod­ies, and in the reg­u­la­tion of sex­u­al­i­ty, and how these may be tied to wage labor, the log­ic of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, and the pri­vate prop­er­ty regime. Sub­se­quent work in gen­der stud­ies and queer the­o­ry used an alter­na­tive path – through Althuss­er and Fou­cault – to address these ques­tions, turn­ing to the ways sub­jects are made and remade, and to the insti­tu­tions, tech­nolo­gies, and mate­r­i­al prac­tices of reg­u­lat­ing and polic­ing sex­u­al­i­ty, the body, and the gen­der bina­ry. Much of the sub­se­quent schol­ar­ship influ­enced by Fou­cault, how­ev­er, has lost sight of the ques­tion of how the body has become a set­ting for the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions and class inequal­i­ty, even as these links, we think are addressed in parts of Foucault’s work.4

Fur­ther, writ­ing from the Unit­ed States and West­ern Europe, Marx­ist and social­ist fem­i­nists con­cerned with issues of repro­duc­tion and domes­tic labor for the most part did not acknowl­edge pri­or lega­cies of women of col­or orga­niz­ing around issues of social repro­duc­tion, in par­tic­u­lar hous­ing and wel­fare.5 It is per­haps no sur­prise that black fem­i­nists in the Unit­ed States and the Unit­ed King­dom respond­ed crit­i­cal­ly to them. Draw­ing genealo­gies of social repro­duc­tion from the per­spec­tive of black women’s expe­ri­ence, from slav­ery to the racist pol­i­tics of the wel­fare regimes, black fem­i­nists demon­strat­ed that the domes­tic con­fines of the house­wife was the prob­lem of white work­ing- and mid­dle-class women. Some of these ideas were first artic­u­lat­ed in Clau­dia Jones’ ger­mi­nal 1949 essay, “To End the Neglect of the Prob­lems of the Negro Woman,” where she coined the idea of a triple oppres­sion of work­ing-class black women. She showed that, hav­ing had to work along­side their men, black women were nev­er con­fined to the “domes­tic” sphere alone.6 Writ­ing in the 1970s and the ear­ly 1980s from oppo­site sides of the Atlantic, Angela Davis and Hazel Car­by con­tin­ued the line of thought artic­u­lat­ed by Jones. “Through­out the country’s his­to­ry,” Angela Davis wrote in par­tial response to Wages for House­work, black women toiled togeth­er with men under the whip of plan­ta­tion over­seers, suf­fer­ing “a gru­el­ing sex­u­al equal­i­ty at work.”7 After slav­ery, Davis con­tin­ues, black women were employed in vast num­bers in a range of indus­tries, from tobac­co and sug­ar, to lum­ber and steel. Although Davis does not ade­quate­ly address the ques­tion of white immi­grant women’s labor in a num­ber of indus­tries, she shows how black women’s labor was mobi­lized in the repro­duc­tive realm as well as in the man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vice indus­tries long before dis­cours­es of the “dou­ble bur­den” emerged in white fem­i­nist thought. As wives and moth­ers, work­ers and bread­win­ners, notions of black wom­an­hood often revolved around strength, resilience, and inde­pen­dence rather than fem­i­nin­i­ty and sub­or­di­na­tion, the white mid­dle-class norms of wom­an­hood. Yet Car­by had also point­ed out that ide­olo­gies of black wom­an­hood and con­struc­tions of black women’s sex­u­al­i­ty did not stem just from the mate­r­i­al con­di­tions of oppres­sion and the way they shaped the black fam­i­ly: “The way the gen­der of black women is con­struct­ed dif­fers from con­struc­tions of white fem­i­nin­i­ty because it is also sub­ject to racism.”8

More­over, as both Davis and Car­by argue, for black com­mu­ni­ties the home was his­tor­i­cal­ly a site of auton­o­my and resis­tance. Davis showed that, para­dox­i­cal­ly, domes­tic labor, that “expres­sion of the social­ly con­di­tioned infe­ri­or­i­ty for women,” was in fact “the only mean­ing­ful labor for the slave com­mu­ni­ty as a whole.”9 Women’s author­i­ty in the home made them the back­bone of resis­tance move­ments against slav­ery, colo­nial­ism, and racism. Car­by argued that “the black fam­i­ly has func­tioned as a prime source of resis­tance to oppres­sion” and a “site of polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al resis­tance to racism.”10 Immi­grant and Third-World women, as we will dis­cuss lat­er, sim­i­lar­ly con­test­ed white women’s crit­i­cisms of the fam­i­ly as a site of oppres­sion. Show­ing how the state pathol­o­gized, and often pun­ished, forms of fam­i­ly and social life which did not con­form to West­ern lib­er­al mod­els, they focused on the role of fam­i­ly life in cul­tur­al resis­tance and resis­tance to the state.

How­ev­er, black women’s labor and their bod­ies were also cen­tral to the suc­cess­ful func­tion­ing of the slave sys­tem as a whole, and of racial and class dom­i­na­tion dur­ing and after slav­ery. Work from the late 1970s, 1980s, and ear­ly 1990s, in par­tic­u­lar from Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bam­bara, and Patri­cia Hill Collins, exposed how the con­trol of women’s bio­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion had been mobi­lized towards racist projects of pop­u­la­tion con­trol and the out­right anni­hi­la­tion of black pop­u­la­tions (as well as Puer­to-Rican and poor white pop­u­la­tions, as in Davis’ work).11 Build­ing upon these ear­li­er works, more recent fem­i­nist schol­ar­ship returned to the ques­tion of repro­duc­tion and slav­ery. Jen­nifer Mor­gan has demon­strat­ed the cen­tral­i­ty of women slaves’ phys­i­cal and repro­duc­tive labor to the mate­r­i­al and ide­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tion of the New World slave sys­tem. Pamela Bridge­wa­ter argued that, as the Atlantic slave trade was closed in 1808, the South had to “pro­duce” its own slaves, mark­ing a shift towards dis­cours­es and prac­tices around “breed­ing” and rewards for hav­ing chil­dren.12 Wal­ter John­son has sim­i­lar­ly high­light­ed slave own­ers’ aware­ness that their social repro­duc­tion depend­ed on “the bio­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion of the peo­ple they owned.”13 These works have also traced the forms of resis­tance and alter­na­tive forms of inti­ma­cy, com­mu­ni­ty, and col­lec­tive knowl­edge black women con­jured in con­di­tions of oppres­sion. Fur­ther work on the polic­ing of women’s bod­ies and repro­duc­tion has expand­ed this focus to oth­er racial, eth­nic, and immi­grant groups, in par­tic­u­lar Lati­na and Native-Amer­i­can women.14

Marx­ist-fem­i­nist inter­ven­tions from the 1970s and 1980s had a mixed recep­tion among immi­grant women. In one respect, cri­tiques of domes­tic work res­onat­ed with immi­grant women, who had been shut­tled in mas­sive num­bers to per­form domes­tic and care work for the white mid­dle class­es in the metrop­o­les. In the Unit­ed King­dom, Sel­ma James artic­u­lat­ed the Wages for House­work frame­work with the con­cerns of immi­grant women: for them it was about mak­ing vis­i­ble not only their labor, but also the hid­den cost of rebuild­ing their lives and the lives of loved ones anew in mate­r­i­al, cul­tur­al, and his­tor­i­cal con­texts that did not belong to them, after “the uproot­ing of every­thing you’ve known.” It was about the strength need­ed while “fight­ing to stay” where they are often unwel­come, and about the per­sis­tence and resilience of keep­ing togeth­er a life in con­stant uncer­tain­ty and threat of depor­ta­tion.15 For women com­ing from the col­o­nized coun­tries, immi­gra­tion was about “reap­pro­pri­at­ing their own wealth, stolen from them at home and accu­mu­lat­ed in the indus­tri­al metrop­o­lis.”16 It was the wealth stolen from their own and their ances­tors’ labor, and it was as much theirs as it was any­one else’s. As the geo­gra­phies of the new glob­al divi­sion of labor devel­oped – not just in the Unit­ed King­dom but across Europe and in the Unit­ed States – fem­i­nists turned to exam­ine the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of domes­tic and care work and to chal­lenge the social hier­ar­chies and mean­ings of “work.” Focus­ing on the glob­al recon­fig­u­ra­tion of the labor force, they showed how the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of domes­tic, care, affec­tive, and ser­vice work rein­scribed the deval­ued social mean­ings of these activ­i­ties in hier­ar­chi­cal val­ue-regimes of labor, which mobi­lized racial, gen­der, and eth­nic dif­fer­ences, as well as immi­gra­tion sta­tus, to sub­or­di­nate, dehu­man­ize, and deval­ue black, brown, and immi­grant bod­ies and lives.17

“It is impos­si­ble to speak of the rela­tion of women to cap­i­tal any­where with­out at the same time con­fronting the ques­tion of devel­op­ment ver­sus under­de­vel­op­ment,” James wrote. Her work and orga­niz­ing held togeth­er inter­sec­tions between women’s strug­gles, immi­gra­tion, race, and Third-World lib­er­a­tion move­ments, while play­ing with emerg­ing dis­cours­es around “devel­op­ment.”18 These ten­den­cies became the basis for inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions such as the Inter­na­tion­al Wages for House­work Cam­paign, which wel­comed women from a dizzy­ing range of cul­tur­al, mate­r­i­al, and eco­nom­ic con­texts, from Peru and Trinidad, to India, Ugan­da, the Philip­pines, and Mex­i­co, to account for their shared polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence and social con­di­tions, while forg­ing an expe­ri­ence of sol­i­dar­i­ty and togeth­er­ness.19

How­ev­er, this sweep­ing inter­na­tion­al­ism came at a great cost: by con­jur­ing an “inter­na­tion­al sis­ter­hood,” James con­sis­tent­ly uni­ver­sal­ized women’s oppres­sion, insist­ing that across cul­tur­al and mate­r­i­al con­texts, “what does not vary is that what­ev­er the stan­dard, women are the poor­er and the social­ly weak­er sex.”20 These forms of orga­niz­ing and writ­ing saw a strong push-back from Third-World and post-colo­nial fem­i­nists. Along­side Hazel Car­by and oth­ers, Chan­dra Tal­pade Mohanty’s sig­na­ture inter­ven­tion from the ear­ly 1980s unpacked their Euro­cen­tric, colo­nial, and evo­lu­tion­ary premis­es. Mohan­ty argued that West­ern Marx­ist and social­ist fem­i­nists con­tributed to the pro­duc­tion of the “Third World” as a mono­lith­ic con­struct across wide­ly dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al and socio-his­tor­i­cal con­texts and posit­ed an imag­ined, sin­gu­lar notion of Third-World wom­an­hood, which rein­scribed colo­nial hege­mo­ny. Patri­archy became a uni­ver­sal struc­ture that oppressed all women in the same way – a “sta­ble ahis­tor­i­cal some­thing that appar­ent­ly oppress­es most if not all the women in these coun­tries.”21 Pre­sum­ing in this way that the con­di­tions of oppres­sion were the same, they erased their his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al con­texts and con­sti­tut­ed women as a homoge­nous group on the basis of their shared oppres­sion. Mixed up with racist and colo­nial prej­u­dice, they posit­ed a sub­ject pow­er­less, depen­dent, and une­d­u­cat­ed, a prod­uct of the “back­ward” socio-eco­nom­ic con­di­tions of which she was part. In this sense, “repro­duc­tion” and “unpaid labor” also became uni­ver­sal­iz­ing frame­works as they erased the kinds of cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic val­ues and social mean­ings these activ­i­ties assumed in non-West­ern and non-cap­i­tal­ist con­texts.22 And infa­mous­ly, by pro­ject­ing norms of agency and eman­ci­pa­tion spe­cif­ic to West­ern lib­er­al cap­i­tal­ist soci­eties onto non-west­ern con­texts, they judged “tra­di­tion­al” gen­der and sex­u­al prac­tices as “unciv­i­lized,” back­ward, oppres­sive, and patri­ar­chal. Thus para­dox­i­cal­ly, Car­by point­ed out, West­ern Marx­ist fem­i­nists assumed cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions as the gate­way to eman­ci­pa­tion and progress and implic­it­ly embraced cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment as the vehi­cle for reforms.23

Instead of posit­ing “women” as a coher­ent group, pre­ex­ist­ing and already con­sti­tut­ed, post­colo­nial fem­i­nists insist­ed that fem­i­nist analy­ses should exam­ine how “women” and “men” emerged as sub­jects through cul­tur­al prac­tices in each par­tic­u­lar con­text and exam­ine the cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic log­ics of gen­der prac­tices and gen­der sub­or­di­na­tion, as they con­fig­ure the polit­i­cal and social mean­ings of “women,” “men,” and their social activ­i­ties.24 Uncov­er­ing these log­ics would reg­is­ter not only the his­tor­i­cal­ly and cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic modes of gen­der sub­or­di­na­tion embed­ded in con­texts of social dif­fer­ence and socio-eco­nom­ic con­di­tions, but also ren­der vis­i­ble women’s agency, pow­er, and their cul­tures of resis­tance – rather than just their vic­tim­hood. Argu­ing for sit­u­at­ed knowl­edges, for con­tex­tu­al­ly and cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic analy­ses of gen­der rela­tions, and for stay­ing atten­tive to the cul­tur­al mean­ings of gen­dered social prac­tices, they chal­lenged West­ern Marx­ist and social­ist fem­i­nists to sit­u­ate their the­o­riz­ing – to devel­op an aware­ness that their con­cepts and crit­i­cal method­olo­gies are prod­ucts of their own socio-cul­tur­al con­texts and geo­gra­phies.

Social Reproduction and the State

For the most part, move­ments around social repro­duc­tion in the cap­i­tal­ist West turned to the wel­fare state to resolve the struc­tur­al con­tra­dic­tions between the spheres of pro­duc­tion and social repro­duc­tion, main­tain­ing a rather ambigu­ous rela­tion­ship to the state. Even as they cri­tiqued the dis­ci­pli­nary and racial­iz­ing prac­tices of the state, the wel­fare rights move­ment con­tin­ued to levy their social demands on the state. As Pre­mil­la Nadasen out­lines in Rethink­ing the Wel­fare Rights Move­ment, this move­ment was orga­nized around forc­ing the state to give ade­quate ben­e­fits, while also fight­ing against the “dehu­man­iz­ing and sur­veil­lance-based com­po­nents of wel­fare.”25

Sim­i­lar­ly, auton­o­mists, who argued for auton­o­my from cap­i­tal­ism, auton­o­my from men and patri­archy, and last­ly, auton­o­my from the state, had a con­tra­dic­to­ry rela­tion to the state, advo­cat­ing for women’s eco­nom­ic inde­pen­dence through the “female wel­fare wage” and var­i­ous oth­er demands on the state, such as the house­work wage. Var­i­ous “claimants and wel­fare move­ments” in the UK and North Amer­i­ca, the “Fam­i­ly Allowance Cam­paign” in the UK, child ben­e­fits for sin­gle moth­ers, and oth­er demands to redi­rect mon­ey from the gen­er­al “fam­i­ly income” towards the spe­cif­ic needs of women, were all ways to advance women’s strug­gle for inde­pen­dence and empow­er­ment by fight­ing to “keep the mon­ey in women’s hands, to increase it.”26 Against the social­iza­tion and col­lec­tiviza­tion of house­work and child­care, Sil­via Fed­eri­ci argued:

It is one thing to set up a day care cen­ter the way we want it, and then demand that the state pay for it. It is quite anoth­er thing to deliv­er our chil­dren to the State and ask the State to con­trol them not for five but for fif­teen hours a day. It is one thing to orga­nize com­mu­nal­ly the way we want to eat… and then ask the State to pay for it, and it is the oppo­site thing to ask the State to orga­nize our meals. In one case we regain some con­trol over our lives, in the oth­er we extend the State’s con­trol over us.27

Thus, as they addressed their demands main­ly to gov­ern­ment, the auton­o­mists were posi­tioned ambigu­ous­ly vis-à-vis the state, espe­cial­ly because by cen­ter­ing their orga­niz­ing around demands on the state they inevitably endorsed it. Yet these con­tra­dic­tions posed no prob­lem for them: the state was a giant appa­ra­tus of con­trol and dis­pos­ses­sion, and these demands aimed to reclaim some of the resources that work­ing peo­ple were robbed of. The ques­tion, Sel­ma James argued, “was not whether the State can afford to give [the demands], but whether we can afford to con­tin­ue to give so much to the state.”28 But a rad­i­cal cri­tique of the state was not exact­ly on their polit­i­cal hori­zon.

In this sense, they shared some, per­haps unin­tend­ed, com­mon­al­i­ties with post-Stal­in­ist social­ist human­ists in the East-Euro­pean con­texts, who also had no rad­i­cal cri­tique of the state but embraced its forms of social dis­tri­b­u­tion. Insist­ing that ordi­nary humans were the cre­ators of their own des­tiny and their own envi­ron­ment, they saw the insti­tu­tions of the repro­duc­tion of social rela­tions at large as the sites where social mobil­i­ty could be achieved. Social mobil­i­ty, seen as a mea­sure of free­dom and social wealth, was the pre­con­di­tion for the per­son­al and social self-real­iza­tion of the post-Stal­in­ist social­ist per­son – “the holis­ti­cal­ly devel­oped per­son” or the “all-round devel­op­ment of the indi­vid­ual” which Marx spoke about in his 1844 Man­u­scripts. 29 Their views of social repro­duc­tion, wed­ded to state gov­er­nance, became an expres­sion of a seam­less con­ver­gence between social eman­ci­pa­tion and social nor­mal­iza­tion projects. Yet ques­tions of auton­o­my, of com­mu­nal con­trol of land, resources, and labor in the social­ist coun­tries was con­fig­ured in very com­plex and rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent ways – a top­ic which needs spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion.

A force­ful cri­tique of the state came from anoth­er, often over­looked, tra­di­tion on social repro­duc­tion. Althuss­er also wrote about social repro­duc­tion in the 1970s, inde­pen­dent­ly of Marx­ist-fem­i­nists and against social­ist and Marx­ist human­ists. Among all these tra­di­tions, he was the one to expose most force­ful­ly the struc­tur­al role of the state in cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions.30 Though his work does not attend to the artic­u­la­tions of race and gen­der under cap­i­tal­ism, Althuss­er, like fem­i­nists, came to the ques­tion of social repro­duc­tion as a way of chal­leng­ing tra­di­tion­al pro­duc­tivist and ortho­dox Marx­ism. But for him, social repro­duc­tion was a more expan­sive cat­e­go­ry, which includ­ed a range of prac­tices, such as – “the repro­duc­tion of the means of pro­duc­tion, [and] also the repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er – fam­i­ly, hous­ing, chil­dren, school­ing, health, prob­lems faced by the cou­ple, by young peo­ple, etc.”31 Besides the law, the courts, the police, and the pris­ons, he saw the school, the church, and the fam­i­ly as part of the myr­i­ad insti­tu­tions and every­day prac­tices involved in the repro­duc­tion of social rela­tions. Fur­ther, sim­i­lar to the work of Ital­ian auton­o­mists, he saw the fac­to­ry not just as a place where work­ers pro­duced com­modi­ties and their labor was exploit­ed, but as anoth­er site involved in the dis­ci­plin­ing of bod­ies, in the mak­ing of work­ing class sub­jects, and in the repro­duc­tion of the work­ing class itself.

Such a def­i­n­i­tion of social repro­duc­tion may seem too dif­fuse and gen­er­al to be of any use, but what made it spe­cif­ic and con­cep­tu­al­ly dif­fer­ent was that by repro­duc­tion, Althuss­er meant the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions, or “the rela­tions of exploita­tion.”32 What fell in the realm of “social repro­duc­tion,” there­fore, were those prac­tices that repro­duce rela­tions of inequal­i­ty and exploita­tion, those ele­ments that enable and legit­i­mate the rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion and guar­an­tee their con­tin­ued exis­tence. In this sense, Althusser’s project offered anoth­er ambi­tious re-read­ing of Marx, sug­gest­ing that the pri­ma­ry dri­ving log­ic of cap­i­tal­ism was not just the extrac­tion of resources and labor pow­er from work­ers. Coex­is­tent, although not always in con­cert, with the log­ic of accu­mu­lat­ing sur­plus val­ue and its eco­nom­ic ratio­nal­i­ty, was the need to repro­duce the hier­ar­chies and forms of sub­or­di­na­tion on which cap­i­tal­ism depend­ed.

Fur­ther, Althuss­er took into account the role of the state seen as the repro­duc­tion of social and class sub­ju­ga­tion, and to him we owe one of the most inter­est­ing Marx­ist cri­tiques of state pow­er. Marx had left the issue of state pow­er in a rel­a­tive void, leav­ing the ques­tion “What is a Marx­ist cri­tique of the state?” an unre­solved the­o­ret­i­cal chal­lenge. In his essay “Marx in his Lim­its” from 1978, Althuss­er wrote that in ortho­dox Marx­ist accounts, the state “issued” direct­ly from the mode of pro­duc­tion and fig­ured as an expres­sion of the eco­nom­ic and mate­r­i­al orga­ni­za­tion of labor and pro­duc­tion.33 This rather sim­plis­tic view was tak­en to its log­i­cal extreme in the Stal­in­ist “base-super­struc­ture” doc­trine, which saw the state as a deriv­a­tive of mate­r­i­al-eco­nom­ic rela­tions, sec­ondary to the so-called “base” or the orga­ni­za­tion of eco­nom­ic life. Instead, Althuss­er saw the state as that which guar­an­teed the repro­duc­tion of the rela­tions of social inequal­i­ty and exploita­tion through a con­tin­u­um of legal, admin­is­tra­tive, dis­cur­sive, and vio­lent or repres­sive means. In oth­er words, the state was the nec­es­sary pre­con­di­tion for the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions; it made sure that the mate­r­i­al and nor­ma­tive premis­es of cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion remain intact, that they are being repro­duced in dai­ly life.34

Foucault’s work on gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty and the biopo­lit­i­cal reg­u­la­tion of “life” con­tin­ues this Althusser­ian project, yet his work, most­ly writ­ten in the con­text of the wel­fare state, cre­ates oppo­si­tions between repres­sive and pro­duc­tive forms of pow­er, the sov­er­eign right to kill ver­sus the biopo­lit­i­cal approach of “let­ting live.”35 Unlike Fou­cault, Althuss­er nev­er lost sight of, or inter­est in, state vio­lence and the log­ic of state repres­sion, see­ing them as con­tin­u­ous with the more pro­duc­tive “tech­nolo­gies” of gov­er­nance under cap­i­tal­ism – a con­tri­bu­tion which is use­ful to revis­it in the present polit­i­cal con­text.

Implications for the Contemporary Moment

That we have turned back to the 1970s at this par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal moment is not a coin­ci­dence: such a turn has been prompt­ed by the exi­gen­cies of our strug­gles. To that effect, Aman­da Arm­strong wrote, out of the stu­dent strug­gles against aus­ter­i­ty and the pri­va­ti­za­tion of pub­lic high­er edu­ca­tion, that “now and then seem to mir­ror one anoth­er” both in the struc­tur­al con­di­tions and the forms of strug­gle.36 She showed how the cri­sis of prof­itabil­i­ty in some indus­tries in the 1970s pro­pelled intense rounds of lay­offs, which in turn spurred “waves of orga­niz­ing” such as wild­cat strikes and var­i­ous forms of rebel­lions and orga­nized defi­ance.37

We would add that the two eras seem to mir­ror each oth­er neg­a­tive­ly as well. Hard-fought gains of waged and unwaged women’s strug­gles in the 1970s are being cur­rent­ly undone, forc­ing us to return, once again and rather urgent­ly, to the ques­tion of social repro­duc­tion. In fact, in the neolib­er­al con­text, exist­ing infra­struc­tures of social repro­duc­tion, the lega­cies of wel­fare state cap­i­tal­ism and social­ism, have become instru­ments of dis­pos­ses­sion of the means of sur­vival and extrac­tion of resources from already mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties, often through state-admin­is­tra­tive means. Their func­tion is, besides extract­ing resources, to demand com­pli­ance and obe­di­ence to the work and debt regime, and to ensure that mate­r­i­al wealth and class pow­er remain struc­tural­ly unavail­able to those affect­ed. Most­ly falling on com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, immi­grants, and the poor, these mea­sures repro­duce the struc­tur­al con­di­tions of their class through coer­cion and repres­sion. As we show else­where, these trends have been par­tic­u­lar­ly egre­gious in the post-indus­tri­al urban areas of the Mid­west, as in the water shut­offs in Detroit, and the clo­sures of pub­lic schools and men­tal health clin­ics in Chica­go. Pre­dom­i­nant­ly in African-Amer­i­can parts of the city, infra­struc­tures of access to social ser­vices and social-repro­duc­tive needs have been turned into coer­cive instru­ments of dis­pos­ses­sion and racial­iza­tion.38

Fur­ther, the ques­tion of state repres­sion at the site of social repro­duc­tion has emerged today more urgent­ly than ever. The cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and the state have amassed tremen­dous polit­i­cal instru­ments to pre­vent the pro­lif­er­a­tion of social forms alter­na­tive to wage-labor, mar­ket rela­tions, and the pri­vate prop­er­ty regime, whether they are prac­ticed as forms of sur­vival of those on the mar­gins of the sys­tem and by dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ties, or whether they are part of polit­i­cal visions of imag­in­ing social rela­tions dif­fer­ent­ly. As Arm­strong argued, “by sus­tain­ing regimes of own­er­ship, by enforc­ing fees for basic neces­si­ties, and by break­ing up squats and com­mu­nal encamp­ments, police forces, the courts, and oth­er state bureau­cra­cies enclose the mate­r­i­al con­di­tions of life, mak­ing it vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble to repro­duce our­selves and each oth­er free of waged work.”39 In oth­er words, the state has crim­i­nal­ized a vast range of social, mate­r­i­al, and eco­nom­ic forms of life involved in reshap­ing social and mate­r­i­al rela­tions beyond cap­i­tal­ism and the state, and has been per­se­cut­ing basic forms of sur­vival, of help­ing and car­ing for each oth­er – to make sure that cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions remain dom­i­nant. By per­se­cut­ing activ­i­ties such as pan­han­dling and per­form­ing on the streets and in the sub­ways, feed­ing oth­ers in pub­lic, and find­ing shel­ter out­side the pri­vate prop­er­ty regime, and by bar­ring direct access to health and gen­der-affirm­ing tech­nolo­gies and knowl­edges, the state “close[s] off,” through repres­sion, “of what we could hold in com­mon.”40

These con­di­tions have made us turn urgent­ly to the ques­tion of auton­o­my, of devel­op­ing col­lec­tive­ly skills and resources nec­es­sary for our every­day sur­vival. They lead us to the forg­ing of new autonomous forms of col­lec­tive gov­er­nance, net­works of mutu­al care, sur­vival, and well-being, and invite com­mu­ni­ties to take back the resources and knowl­edges nec­es­sary to care for each oth­er and to con­tin­ue to sur­vive on a dai­ly basis. Arm­strong has called these “insur­gent forms of social repro­duc­tion.”41 In oth­er words, today, unlike dur­ing the 1970s, strug­gles on the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion, his­tor­i­cal­ly teth­ered to the state, are fac­ing the chal­lenges to reimag­ine them­selves against or out­side of its hori­zons.42 In the process of build­ing auton­o­my on the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion, these strug­gles can humbly learn from the expe­ri­ence and the col­lec­tive sur­vival of those per­ma­nent­ly barred from the repro­duc­tive infra­struc­tures of the state through var­i­ous legal exclu­sions. Undoc­u­ment­ed and pre­car­i­ous­ly-doc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, as well as ex-felons, have been per­ma­nent­ly exclud­ed from access to hous­ing, unem­ploy­ment, food stamps, and oth­er social resources avail­able to cit­i­zens. They have accu­mu­lat­ed skills, knowl­edge, and the resilience and strength to sur­vive in spaces of exclu­sion and invis­i­bil­i­ty. In this sense, study­ing the his­to­ries and cul­tures of social repro­duc­tion and sur­vival of immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, who have been his­tor­i­cal­ly exclud­ed from or have had lit­tle recourse to state resources, is of great­est impor­tance. Fur­ther, trans­gen­der and gen­der non-con­form­ing peo­ple, often trapped in the admin­is­tra­tive and legal lim­bos of the state and in the bina­ry regimes of pub­lic ser­vices and the health care sys­tem, have devel­oped means of nav­i­gat­ing with­in and against these insti­tu­tions’ vio­lence and harass­ment. Their par­tic­u­lar con­di­tions have giv­en rise to body auton­o­my and gen­der-hack move­ments ded­i­cat­ed to reclaim­ing our bod­ies from the admin­is­tra­tive and reg­u­la­to­ry regimes of the med­ical sys­tem and the state. As the polit­i­cal links and pos­si­bil­i­ties for sol­i­dar­i­ty between these posi­tions are becom­ing clear­er, cri­tiques of the state and strug­gles for auton­o­my can hard­ly go very far with­out their expe­ri­ences and insights. This kind of orga­niz­ing requires a seri­ous com­mit­ment to post­colo­nial cri­tiques of Euro­cen­trism and First-World frame­works. This is not only because peo­ple of col­or and immi­grants who come from non-First-World and non-West­ern con­texts join our strug­gles only to be sub­sumed by U.S. regimes of gen­der, class, and racial dif­fer­ence – a process which eras­es their social dif­fer­ence and the his­to­ries of oppres­sion and resis­tance present in the mul­ti­ple worlds they car­ry and nego­ti­ate. It is also because there is a great deal to learn from indige­nous and non-West­ern cul­tures of social and com­mu­nal life.  We hope that think­ing mate­ri­al­ist fem­i­nism in these direc­tions opens a wider range of avenues for move­ments in the present, and for build­ing mil­i­tant strug­gle on the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion.

  1. This essay was writ­ten in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Jon Cramer. 

  2. We deploy the term “Marx­ist-fem­i­nist” here to name a slight­ly more capa­cious cat­e­go­ry than just the ten­den­cy asso­ci­at­ed with Wages for House­work, to include authors from the 1970s who focused on the home as a site of pro­duc­tive activ­i­ty. There are sig­nif­i­cant ten­sions and dif­fer­ences with­in these, how­ev­er, as in the case of some social­ist-fem­i­nist iden­ti­fied thinkers, who held a dual oppres­sion mod­el of women’s sub­or­di­na­tion where cap­i­tal­ism and patri­archy inter­act­ed to pro­duce the oppres­sion of women. Oth­ers, who iden­ti­fied with Marx­ist fem­i­nism, while not ignor­ing cul­tur­al or oth­er dynam­ics of oppres­sion, thought the cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion was at the root of most salient fea­tures of women’s sub­or­di­na­tion. 

  3. FLOC, “To make many lines, to form many bonds// Thoughts on Autonomous Orga­niz­ing,” Lies: A Jour­nal of Mate­ri­al­ist Fem­i­nism 2 (August 2015): 60. 

  4. Only recent­ly some of these links have been explored in the work of Dean Spade, Paul Pre­ci­a­do, Eric Stan­ley, among oth­ers. Dean Spade, Nor­mal Life: Admin­is­tra­tive Vio­lence, Crit­i­cal Trans Pol­i­tics, and the Lim­its of the Law (Brook­lyn, NY: South End Press, 2011); Eric A. Stan­ley and Nat Smith, eds. Cap­tive Gen­ders: Trans Embod­i­ment and the Prison Indus­tri­al Com­plex (Edin­burgh, Oak­land, and Bal­ti­more: AK Press, 2011); Beat­riz [Paul] Pre­ci­a­do, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopol­i­tics in the Phar­ma­co­porno­graph­ic Era (New York: The Fem­i­nist Press, CUNY, 2013). We also con­sid­er the unfin­ished work of Chris Chit­ty to be a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion in this direc­tion. For impor­tant ear­li­er inter­ven­tions, see Judith But­ler, “Mere­ly Cul­tur­al,” New Left Review, I/227 (Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary 1998): 33-44 (with response by Nan­cy Fras­er in the sub­se­quent issue); and Gayle Rubin’s clas­sic text, “The Traf­fic in Women: Notes on the ‘Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my’ of Sex” in Toward an Anthro­pol­o­gy of Women (New York: Month­ly Review Press, 1975), 157-210.  

  5. Recent schol­ar­ship has revealed the extent and range of black women’s orga­niz­ing from the 1940s to the 1980s, from with­in mul­ti­ple polit­i­cal for­ma­tions and across a range of prob­lem­at­ics, many of which includ­ed hous­ing, edu­ca­tion, and domes­tic labor, high­light­ing that the sphere of social repro­duc­tion for black women has long been a site of resis­tance, com­mu­ni­ty, and pow­er. See for instance, Pre­mil­la Nadasen, Wel­fare War­riors: The Wel­fare Rights Move­ment in the Unit­ed States (New York and Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2005), Rethink­ing the Wel­fare Rights Move­ment (New York and Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2012), and House­hold Work­ers Unite! The Untold Sto­ry of African Amer­i­can Women Who Built a Move­ment (Boston: Bea­con Press, 2015); Rhon­da Y. Williams, The Pol­i­tics of Pub­lic Hous­ing: Black Women’s Strug­gles against Urban Inequal­i­ty (Cam­bridge: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2005); Dayo Gore, Rad­i­cal­ism at the Cross­roads: African Amer­i­can Women Activists in the Cold War (New York: NYU Press, reprint edi­tion, 2012); and Kim­ber­ly Springer, Liv­ing for the Rev­o­lu­tion: Black Fem­i­nist Orga­ni­za­tions, 1968–1980 (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2005). 

  6. Clau­dia Jones, “To End the Neglect of the Prob­lems of the Negro Woman” (New York: Nation­al Women’s Com­mis­sion, C.P.U.S.A, 1949, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Polit­i­cal Affairs, June 1949). 

  7. Angela Davis, “The Approach­ing Obso­les­cence of House­work: A Work­ing-Class Per­spec­tive,” in Women, Race, and Class (New York: Vin­tage Books, 1981), 230. 

  8. Ibid. 

  9. Angela Davis, “Reflec­tions on the Black Woman’s Role in the Com­mu­ni­ty of Slaves,” in Joy James, ed., Angela Davis Read­er (Malden, MA and Oxford, U.K.: Black­well Pub­lish­ing, 1998), 111-128. 

  10. Hazel Car­by, “White Woman Lis­ten!” in Hei­di Safia Mirza, ed., Black British Fem­i­nism: A Read­er (Lon­don and New York: Rout­ledge, 1997), 46 

  11. Angela Davis, “Racism, Birth Con­trol, and Repro­duc­tive Rights,” in Women, Race, and Class, 202-21; Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Pill: Geno­cide or Lib­er­a­tion” The Black Woman: An Anthol­o­gy (New Amer­i­can Library, 1970), 167-69; Patri­cia Hill Collins, Black Fem­i­nist Thought (New York and Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 1991). 

  12. See for instance Marie Jenk­ins Schwartz, Birthing a Slave: Moth­er­hood and Med­i­cine in the Ante­bel­lum South (Cam­bridge, MA: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2006); Pamela Bridge­wa­ter, Breed­ing a Nation: Repro­duc­tive Slav­ery, the Thir­teenth Amend­ment and the Pur­suit of Free­dom (Brook­lyn, NY: South End Press, 2014); Gre­go­ry D. Smithers, Slave Breed­ing: Sex, Vio­lence and Mem­o­ry in African Amer­i­can His­to­ry (Gainesville: Uni­ver­si­ty Press of Flori­da, 2012) and Jen­nifer Mor­gan, Labor­ing Women Repro­duc­tion and Gen­der in New World Slav­ery (Philadel­phia: Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia Press, 2004). For a wide-rang­ing and more con­tem­po­rary take on race and repro­duc­tion, see Dorothy Robert’s now clas­sic Killing the Black Body: Race, Repro­duc­tion, and the Mean­ing of Lib­er­ty (New York: Vin­tage Books, 1997). 

  13. Wal­ter John­son, Riv­er of Dark Dreams: Slav­ery and Empire in the Cot­ton King­dom (Cam­bridge: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013), 193. 

  14. Some of these include: Ele­na R. Gutiér­rez, Undi­vid­ed Rights: Women of Col­or Orga­nize for Repro­duc­tive Jus­tice (Brook­lyn, NY: South End Press, 2004); Jael Sil­li­man, Mar­lene Ger­ber Fried, and Loret­ta Ross, Fer­tile Mat­ters: The Pol­i­tics of Mex­i­can-Ori­gin Women’s Repro­duc­tion (Austin: Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas Press, 2008); Jen­nifer Nel­son, Women of Col­or and the Repro­duc­tive Rights Move­ment (New York: NYU Press, 2003); INCITE! The Col­or of Vio­lence: The Incite! Anthol­o­gy (Brook­lyn, NY: South End Press, 2006); Jeanne Flavin, Our Bod­ies, Our Crimes: The Polic­ing of Women’s Repro­duc­tion in Amer­i­ca (New York: NYU Press, 2010); and Bar­bara Gurr, Repro­duc­tive Jus­tice: The Pol­i­tics of Health Care for Native Amer­i­can Women (New Brunswick: Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2014). 

  15. Sel­ma James, “Strangers and Sis­ters: Women, Race, and Immi­gra­tion,” 174-89. 

  16. Sel­ma James, “Strangers and Sis­ters,” 175. Also, Hei­di Safia Mirza, ed., Black British Fem­i­nism (New York and Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 1997). 

  17. A sam­ple of the volu­mi­nous lit­er­a­ture with a focus on domes­tic and ser­vice work: Bar­bara Ehren­re­ich, Nick­el and Dimed: On (Not) Get­ting By in Amer­i­ca (New York: Hen­ry Holt and Co, 2001); Bar­bara Ehren­re­ich and Arlie Hochschild, eds.,Glob­al Woman: Nan­nies, Maids, and Sex Work­ers in the New Econ­o­my, (New York: Hen­ry Holt and Co, 2002); Grace Chang Dis­pos­able Domes­tics: Immi­grant Women Work­ers in the Glob­al Econ­o­my (Brook­lyn, NY: South End Press, 2000); Brid­get Ander­son Doing the Dirty Work? The Glob­al Pol­i­tics of Domes­tic Labor (Lon­don, Zed Books, 2000); and Rha­cel Salazar Par­reñas, Ser­vants of Glob­al­iza­tion: Women, Migra­tion and Domes­tic Work (Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2001). 

  18. Sel­ma James, “Wage­less of the World,” Sex, Race, and Class – The Per­spec­tive on Win­ning: Selec­tion of Writ­ings, 1952-2011 (Oak­land: PM Press, 2012), 104. See also her work with the UN, “The UN Decade for Women: An Offer We Couldn’t Refuse,” Sex, Race, and Class, 191-204. 

  19. For dis­cus­sion, see Nina Lopez, “A Win­ning Per­spec­tive,” in Sex, Race, and Class, 8-9. We find that this devel­op­men­tal inter­na­tion­al­ism rose to dom­i­nance in the sec­ond half of the 1970s in a num­ber of inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences on women in Mex­i­co City (1975); Welles­ley (1976); Copen­hagen (1980), and more, and was embraced by the Unit­ed Nations in var­i­ous projects on women and devel­op­ment in the Third World. For a crit­i­cal response, see Naw­al Saadawi, Fetie Mernissi, and Malli­ca Vajarathon, “A Crit­i­cal Look at the Welles­ley Con­fer­ence,” Quest: A Fem­i­nist Quar­ter­ly 4:2 (Win­ter 1978), 101-7. 

  20. James, “The Glob­al Kitchen,” in Sex, Race, and Class, 173. 

  21. Chan­dra Tal­pade Mohan­ty, “Under West­ern Eyes: Fem­i­nist Schol­ar­ship and Colo­nial Dif­fer­ence,” first pub­lished in bound­ary 2 12/13 (1984): 333-58. 

  22. For some of the ear­ly inter­ven­tions, see also Felic­i­ty Edholm, Olivia Har­ris, and Kate Young, “Con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing Women,” Cri­tique of Anthro­pol­o­gy 3 (1978): 101-30; Michelle Ros­al­do: The Use and Abuse of Anthro­pol­o­gy: Fem­i­nism and Cross-cul­tur­al Under­stand­ing Signs: Jour­nal of Women in Cul­ture and Soci­ety 3, no. 5 (Spring 1980): 389-417; Prat­i­ba Par­mar and Valerie Amos, “Chal­leng­ing Impe­r­i­al Fem­i­nism” Fem­i­nist Review 17 (Autumn 1984): 3-19; Kum-kum Bhan­vani and Mar­garet Coul­son, “Trans­form­ing Social­ist Fem­i­nism: the Chal­lenge of Racism,” Fem­i­nist Review 23 (1986): 81-92. (See inter­ven­tions in the two spe­cial issues of Fem­i­nist Review, “Many Voic­es, One Chant: Black Fem­i­nist Per­spec­tives,” no. 17 (Autumn 1984); “Social­ist Fem­i­nism: Out of the Blue,” no. 23 (Sum­mer 1986). For dis­cus­sion on the his­to­ry of the debates, as well as some fur­ther inter­ven­tions, see Hei­di Seifa Mirza, “Intro­duc­tion: Map­ping a Geneal­o­gy of Black British Fem­i­nism,” in Black British Fem­i­nism (Lon­don and New York: Rout­ledge, 1997), 1-28; Chan­dra Tal­pade Mohan­ty, Ann Rus­so, and Lour­des Tor­res, eds., Third World Women and the Pol­i­tics of Fem­i­nism (Bloom­ing­ton and Indi­anapo­lis: Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1991); M. Jacqui Alexan­der and Chan­dra Tal­pade Mohan­ty, Intro­duc­tion, Fem­i­nist Genealo­gies, Colo­nial Lega­cies, Demo­c­ra­t­ic Futures (New York and Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 1997); Mohan­ty, “‘Under West­ern Eyes’ Revis­it­ed: Fem­i­nist Sol­i­dar­i­ty through Ant­i­cap­i­tal­ist Strug­gles,” Signs: Jour­nal of Women in Cul­ture and Soci­ety 28, no. 2 (2002): 499-535.  

  23. Car­by, “White Woman Lis­ten!,” 47-48. 

  24. Mohan­ty, 344. 

  25. Pre­mil­la Nadasen, Rethink­ing the Wel­fare Rights Move­ment (New York: Rout­ledge, 2012), 5. While wel­fare rolls in “the mid-1960s were 48 per­cent African Amer­i­can,” Nadasen esti­mates that 85% of the wel­fare rights move­ments were African Amer­i­can (16). 

  26. Sel­ma James, “The Fam­i­ly Allowance Cam­paign: Tac­tics and Strat­e­gy,” Sex, Race, and Class, 86. 

  27. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, “Wages Against House­work,” Rev­o­lu­tion at Point Zero: House­work, Repro­duc­tion, and Fem­i­nist Strug­gle (Oak­land: PM Press, 2012), 21. 

  28. Sel­ma James, “The Fam­i­ly Allowance Cam­paign,” 88. 

  29. For exam­ple, the work of Petur-Emil Mitev, Maria Dinko­va, and Svo­bo­da Pute­va, who were part of a pro­gres­sive move­ment among soci­ol­o­gists and social the­o­rists in post-Stal­in­ist Bul­gar­ia and the Sovi­et Union, study­ing ques­tions of social mobil­i­ty, edu­ca­tion, leisure, and per­son­al self-real­iza­tion through human­ist lens. 

  30. Althusser’s book On the Repro­duc­tion of Cap­i­tal­ism: Ide­ol­o­gy and Ide­o­log­i­cal State Appa­ra­tus­es, writ­ten most­ly between 1968-70, where he devel­ops his the­o­ry of social repro­duc­tion and his cri­tique of the base-super­struc­ture rela­tion­ship, was recent­ly trans­lat­ed in Eng­lish (New York and Lon­don: Ver­so, 2014). 

  31. Louis Althuss­er, “Marx in his Lim­its,” Phi­los­o­phy of the Encounter: Lat­er Writ­ings, 1978-1987 (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2006), 44. 

  32. Ibid.,99. 

  33. Ibid., 97-99. 

  34. Althuss­er, On the Repro­duc­tion of Cap­i­tal­ism, 53-93, and through­out; fur­ther devel­oped in “Marx in his Lim­its.” 

  35. Michel Fou­cault, Secu­ri­ty, Ter­ri­to­ry, Pop­u­la­tion: Lec­tures at the Col­lege de France, 1977-78 (New York: Pal­grave MacMil­lan, 2004); The Birth of Biopol­i­tics: Lec­tures at the Col­lege de France, 1978-1979 (New York: Pal­grave MacMil­lan, 2004). 

  36. Aman­da Arm­strong, “Insol­vent Futures/Bonds of Strug­gle,” Recla­ma­tions Jour­nal, spe­cial issue on debt, August-Sep­tem­ber 2011. 

  37. Aman­da Arm­strong, “Infra­struc­tures of Injury,” Lies Jour­nal 2, August 2015, 130-135. Focus­ing on the air­line indus­try, she shows how the cri­sis in the 1970s also inten­si­fied sex­ism and the patri­ar­chal sub­or­di­na­tion of waged and unwaged women-work­ers, and led women to orga­nize against both the man­age­ment and the coopt­ed and male-dom­i­nat­ed unions. 

  38. See Jon Cramer, “Race, Class, and Infra­struc­tures of Social Repro­duc­tion in the Urban Present,” in the cur­rent issue. 

  39. Aman­da Arm­strong, “Debt and the Stu­dent Strike: Antag­o­nisms in the Sphere of Social Repro­duc­tion,” Recla­ma­tions 6, July 2012. 

  40. Ibid. 

  41. Ibid. 

  42. Cer­tain­ly impor­tant polit­i­cal expe­ri­ences for this reimag­ing would be the social pro­gram­ming devel­oped and offered by groups like the Black Pan­thers and the Young Lords. See for exam­ple Dar­rel Enck-Wanz­er, ed., Young Lords: A Read­er (New York: New York Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2010); Alon­dra Nel­son, Body and Soul: The Black Pan­ther Par­ty and the Fight Against Med­ical Dis­crim­i­na­tion (Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2011), and David Hilliard, ed., The Black Pan­ther Par­ty: Ser­vice to the Peo­ple Pro­grams (Albu­querque: Uni­ver­si­ty of New Mex­i­co Press and Huey P. New­ton Foun­da­tion, 2008). 

Author of the article

is a writer and organizer based in Brooklyn, NY.