Social Reproduction Beyond Intersectionality: An Interview

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View­point: We can begin with the con­cept of social repro­duc­tion itself. In your recent fore­word to the reis­sue of Lise Vogel’s clas­sic 1983 work, Marx­ism and the Oppres­sion of Women, you locate Vogel’s dis­tinct con­tri­bu­tion to the Marx­ist-fem­i­nist thought in her inquiry into the “con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty of labor-pow­er,” or the man­ner in which labor-pow­er is bio­log­i­cal­ly, social­ly, and gen­er­a­tional­ly repro­duced. From this impor­tant point it is then pos­si­ble to trace the inner con­nec­tions of activ­i­ties and rela­tion­ships that are nec­es­sary for the con­tin­ued exis­tence of wage labor and process­es of class for­ma­tion out­side of pro­duc­tion. In your opin­ion, how does social repro­duc­tion trans­form the cat­e­gories of Marx­ist class analy­sis? What is its the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal impor­tance?

David McNal­ly and Sue Fer­gu­son: First, there’s the ques­tion of a cat­e­go­ry trans­for­ma­tion. As your ques­tion points out, the social repro­duc­tion approach trans­forms our under­stand­ing of labor-pow­er. 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. It also sharp­ens our under­stand­ing of the con­tra­dic­to­ry posi­tion of labor-pow­er with respect to cap­i­tal – iden­ti­fy­ing all aspects of our social repro­duc­tion – of our quest to sat­is­fy human needs, to live – as essen­tial to, but also a drag on, accu­mu­la­tion (because cap­i­tal pays indi­rect­ly for this through wages, ben­e­fits, and tax­es).

These are the key insights of the ear­ly gen­er­a­tion of social repro­duc­tion fem­i­nists. But, as more recent schol­ar­ship sug­gests, this approach also reveals labor-pow­er itself to be a more com­plex, dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed, cat­e­go­ry. When one attends to the social repro­duc­tive rela­tions, it becomes clear that – despite the equal­iz­ing impuls­es of cap­i­tal­ist val­ue extrac­tion – all labor-pow­er is not the same. Cer­tain work­ers, indeed increas­ing­ly so, are more vul­ner­a­ble to height­ened oppres­sion than oth­ers – not due to any dif­fer­ence in the ways in which cap­i­tal­ist laws of accu­mu­la­tion oper­ate, but because oppres­sive rela­tions beyond the work­place medi­ate the social repro­duc­tion of labor-pow­er, ensur­ing not only that work­ers arrive at capital’s doorstep, but that they do so embody­ing vary­ing degrees of degra­da­tion or dehu­man­iza­tion.

This leads to your sec­ond ques­tion, the the­o­ret­i­cal impor­tance of the social repro­duc­tion approach. In explain­ing the inter­con­nec­tion of the unwaged work we do to repro­duce our­selves on the one hand, and waged work on the oth­er, social repro­duc­tion fem­i­nism presents us with a com­plex­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed yet nonethe­less uni­fied under­stand­ing of social total­i­ty. This is its cen­tral the­o­ret­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion to Marx­ism. With the turn from dual sys­tems analy­sis to inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty, rad­i­cal social the­o­rists have con­vinc­ing­ly pre­sent­ed us with an image of the messy expe­ri­en­tial world, and they have iden­ti­fied key social, polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and psy­cho­log­i­cal dynam­ics that sus­tain patri­ar­chal, racial­ized, and set­tler colo­nial rela­tions to name but a few. And the best inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty accounts have right­ly insist­ed that it is impos­si­ble to iso­late any par­tic­u­lar set of oppres­sive rela­tions from the oth­er. Yet they’ve not devel­oped any coher­ent expla­na­tion of how and why, for instance, het­ero­sex­u­al­ized rela­tions inter­sect with patri­ar­chal rela­tions in some ways and not oth­ers (why the fam­i­ly, though its form changes over time to accom­mo­date, for instance, same-sex mar­riage, nonethe­less remains a pri­vate insti­tu­tion through which het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty and patri­archy are rou­tine­ly if not always affirmed). One rea­son for this has to do with inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty feminism’s inad­e­quate the­o­riza­tion of the social total­i­ty, the over­all process­es or dynam­ic in and through which dis­crete social rela­tions inter­sect. This dynam­ic is either not the­o­rized at all or is sim­ply assumed to be neu­tral, void of pow­er rela­tions itself. And this means, of course, that despite claim­ing dis­tinct oppres­sions are co-con­sti­tu­tive, they are in fact treat­ed as onto­log­i­cal­ly dis­tinct sys­tems, criss­cross­ing or inter-mesh­ing in space.

The social repro­duc­tion approach, on the oth­er hand, posits a cap­i­tal­ist total­i­ty. A cap­i­tal­ist social whole is defined, in the first instance, by the sep­a­ra­tion of work­ers (by which we mean all peo­ple who work to repro­duce them­selves and their world, the social repro­duc­ers in oth­er words) from the means of their sub­sis­tence (or social repro­duc­tion). This is a bare fact of exis­tence under cap­i­tal­ism, and as such, it broad­ly shapes what is pos­si­ble – with­in the labor/capital rela­tion, to be sure, but also with­in our gen­dered, racial­ized, het­er­sex­u­al­ized, etc. rela­tions beyond the work­place.

While to speak of cap­i­tal­ist deter­mi­na­tion may sound like a throw-back to Marx­ist fun­da­men­tal­ism, there is noth­ing mechan­i­cal­ly causal in this notion of deter­mi­na­tion. Patri­archy and racism, accord­ing to this per­spec­tive, are not pre­sumed to be direct­ly func­tion­al to the needs of cap­i­tal; they did not arise because cap­i­tal called them into being. Rather the cap­i­tal­ist imper­a­tive to accu­mu­late is deter­mi­na­tive in the sense that it sets lim­its to what is pos­si­ble, even if the spe­cif­ic pos­si­bil­i­ties – the degree of women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the work­force, for exam­ple, or access to abor­tion – are them­selves altered through strug­gle.

By this reck­on­ing, the pre­cise rela­tions through which we social­ly repro­duce our­selves can vary quite a bit. And peo­ple can and do con­tin­u­al­ly mod­i­fy these rela­tions in ways that best accom­mo­date their needs, and may in fact be dis­rup­tive to capitalism’s needs for labor-pow­er. Peo­ple choose, for instance, to live in all types of rela­tion­ships, includ­ing child­less rela­tion­ships. Men, women, and trans­gen­dered peo­ple might share the house­work and child­care equal­ly. Oth­ers may choose to spend time paint­ing pic­tures that will nev­er sell, star­ing into space, or fight­ing racism on the streets. None of that is func­tion­al to cap­i­tal­ism, and all of it pri­or­i­tizes human need over the repro­duc­tion of labor-pow­er for cap­i­tal. But, so long as cer­tain oppres­sive forms of rela­tions facil­i­tate (rather than hin­der) the task of bring­ing labor-pow­er to capital’s doorstep, there will be pow­er­ful forces (be they the insti­tu­tions and prac­tices of state, civ­il soci­ety or cap­i­tal) sus­tain­ing racism, sex­ism and oth­er oppres­sions – and dis­cour­ag­ing alter­na­tive forms of human rela­tions. As a result, the degree to which peo­ple can take con­trol over their lives beyond the work­place – the degree, for instance, that women can take con­trol of the con­di­tions of their waged work and repro­duc­tive work and bod­ies, or that racial­ized peo­ple can con­trol hous­ing, child­care and food dis­tri­b­u­tion in their com­mu­ni­ties – is, with­in cap­i­tal­ism, lim­it­ed. Put dif­fer­ent­ly, there is a rea­son that oppres­sive prac­tices and insti­tu­tions have not dis­ap­peared under cap­i­tal­ism on their own accord, and why they will remain points of strug­gle for as long as cap­i­tal­ism sur­vives.

And this brings us to the final ques­tion, that of the polit­i­cal impor­tance of social repro­duc­tion. Let’s agree that capitalism’s repro­duc­tion requires some­thing more than the direct labor/capital rela­tion, “eco­nom­ic” exchanges and laws of motion – that in fact it crit­i­cal­ly depends upon the messy, com­plex, set of lived rela­tions car­ried out by dif­fer­ent­ly gen­dered, sex­u­al­ized, racial­ized human beings. If this is the case, then we need to also real­ize that racial­ized, sex­u­al­ized, gen­dered bod­ies, prac­tices, and insti­tu­tions mat­ter: racism and sex­ism are not his­tor­i­cal aber­ra­tions that can some­how be sep­a­rat­ed from capitalism’s “real” or “ide­al” func­tion­ing. Rather, they are inte­gral to and deter­mi­nant of – in the sense that they real­ly and active­ly facil­i­tate– actu­al process­es of cap­i­tal dis­pos­ses­sion and accu­mu­la­tion. By the same rea­son­ing, chal­leng­ing racism, sex­ism, or any oppres­sion that impacts the social repro­duc­tion of labor-pow­er, can hin­der the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal.

It is in this sense that “move­ment” or non-work­place strug­gles are class strug­gles. That is, they are them­selves poten­tial­ly anti-cap­i­tal­ist in essence, just like a work­place strug­gle is always incip­i­ent­ly anti-cap­i­tal­ist. And just as down­ing tools can make the cap­i­tal­ist heart skip a beat, so can a move­ment that demands the end to the dif­fer­en­tial degra­da­tion of human life, full and com­mu­nal access to the means of sub­sis­tence, con­trol over our own human bod­ies. Cer­tain­ly, no sin­gu­lar move­ment or work­place strug­gle of course will bring the cap­i­tal­ist heart to a full stop. But each dis­rup­tion rever­ber­ates through­out the body, poten­tial­ly weak­en­ing its pulse. So the polit­i­cal impor­tance of the social repro­duc­tion approach lies in its capac­i­ty to show the impor­tance of strug­gling on many fronts, but with an explic­it anti-cap­i­tal­ist ori­en­ta­tion.

VP: In your piece in the recent issue of the Social­ist Reg­ister, you focus on the con­nec­tion between social repro­duc­tion and migrant labor, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the North Amer­i­can con­text. Now, the top­ic of immi­gra­tion or migra­tion has been cov­ered exten­sive­ly by Marx­ist schol­ars in Europe, but with­in the Unit­ed States, Cana­da, and Mex­i­co, com­par­a­tive­ly lit­tle has been done to elab­o­rate research on migrant labor into a broad and con­tem­po­rary Marx­ist the­o­ry. There are excep­tions of course – Rose­mary Hennessy’s recent book comes to mind – but by and large, the pol­i­tics of immi­grant-rights orga­ni­za­tions are not artic­u­lat­ed in a Marx­ist or social­ist lan­guage. Do you see your piece as con­tribut­ing to this larg­er project, i.e., view­ing process­es of migra­tion and racial­iza­tion as insep­a­ra­ble from class and gen­der analy­sis?

DM and SF: The short answer to your ques­tion is yes. A Marx­ist social repro­duc­tion the­o­ry helps us draw out and explore the con­tra­dic­tion at the heart of the for­ma­tion of labor-pow­er. After all, cap­i­tal­ism has a ten­den­cy to ren­der labor homo­ge­neous and inter­change­able. At the same time, there is no dis­crete com­mod­i­ty called labor-pow­er just wait­ing on the mar­ket for pur­chase by cap­i­tal. Instead, there are con­crete human beings who are “bear­ers” of labor-pow­er, to use Marx’s apt expres­sion. As a result, the capac­i­ty for abstract labor is tied to con­crete per­sons. And such per­sons exist in real, dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed places and spaces. Just as labor-pow­er must be pro­duced and repro­duced in actu­al social rela­tions, so these rela­tions sub­sist in con­crete space and time. Yet, and this is anoth­er ten­den­cy of the sys­tem, the spaces of cap­i­tal are dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed accord­ing to regimes of race and empire. All of this mas­sive­ly affects the actu­al treat­ment of the liv­ing “bear­ers” of labor-pow­er, par­tic­u­lar­ly if they are racial­ly degrad­ed, or locat­ed as out­siders to the prin­ci­pal zones of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion.

There is an econ­o­mistic strain in much of rad­i­cal polit­i­cal econ­o­my which tends to default to the idea of “labor” as a com­mod­i­ty with its own mar­kets, just like real estate or invest­ment goods. Social repro­duc­tion the­o­ry demys­ti­fies all this by push­ing on Marx’s insight about the human bear­ers of labor-pow­er and then pos­ing ques­tions about the con­di­tions of their pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion. And the­o­riz­ing the con­crete sites of that repro­duc­tion requires not only attend­ing to house­hold and com­mu­ni­ty prac­tices the key insight of ear­ly social repro­duc­tion the­o­ry but also to the social-geo­graph­ic loca­tion of those house­holds and com­mu­ni­ties in a racial­ized social hier­ar­chy with­in and between nation-states.

And here ques­tions of migra­tion come to the fore. After all, labor-pow­er today is being mas­sive­ly repro­duced at low-wage sites out­side the core zones of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion and accu­mu­la­tion. In some cas­es, cap­i­tal can migrate to set up pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion and infor­ma­tion­al net­works in areas where labor-pow­er is cheap. But in cas­es of work that is spa­tial­ly immo­bile agro-busi­ness, child­care for wealthy fam­i­lies in the Glob­al North, or con­struc­tion, restau­rant and hotel ser­vice work in those same zones cheap labor-pow­er (and its human bear­ers) must be brought to where this work is direct­ly required. But, because its human bear­ers are gen­er­al­ly des­per­ate, they can be attract­ed with­out offers of full legal and polit­i­cal rights and mem­ber­ship. This results in dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed sta­tus­es borne by many migrant work­ers, and the height­ened pre­car­i­ty, degra­da­tion and oppres­sion that go with them.

Of course, many com­men­ta­tors have pro­vid­ed rich descrip­tions of tem­po­rary work­er regimes and the forms of servi­tude they entail. Much of this work is high­ly valu­able. But we believe that a Marx­ist social repro­duc­tion approach can the­o­rize migrant labor in ways that more ful­ly grasp its role in late cap­i­tal­ism and the mul­ti-dimen­sion­al­i­ty of the class for­ma­tions involved, par­tic­u­lar­ly their gen­dered and racial­ized dimen­sions. To offer just one exam­ple, con­sid­er the spa­tial sep­a­ra­tion of sites of house­hold repro­duc­tion from those of paid employ­ment. To the­o­rize this ade­quate­ly we need to attend not only to the phys­i­cal move­ment of migrant work­ers across bor­ders, but also to the counter-flows of chunks of their wages (in the form of remit­tances), as well as the work of nur­tur­ing and edu­cat­ing chil­dren, cur­rent­ly reliant on those remit­tances, who will like­ly com­pose part of the glob­al reserve army of labor avail­able for migra­tion to the cap­i­tal­ist core. Social repro­duc­tion analy­sis has the capac­i­ty to link these flows of peo­ple and wages, as well as the spa­tial­ly and nation­al­ly sep­a­rat­ed prac­tices of waged work and social repro­duc­tion into a com­plex yet uni­tary social process. Migra­tion thus becomes cen­tral to the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal and the glob­al work­ing class, rather than an inter­est­ing side­bar. And such a mode of inves­ti­ga­tion inter­nal­ly links racial­iza­tion and dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed sta­tus to any mean­ing­ful gen­der and class analy­sis.

VP: Sue Fer­gu­son has writ­ten on the emer­gence and impor­tance of Cana­di­an social repro­duc­tion fem­i­nism as an approach that con­cep­tu­al­ly inte­grates the rela­tion­al char­ac­ter of class, gen­der, and race with­in the broad­er con­text of specif­i­cal­ly cap­i­tal­ist pow­er rela­tions. We can think here espe­cial­ly of the work of ear­li­er the­o­rists in jour­nals like Stud­ies in Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my and influ­en­tial edit­ed col­lec­tions like Hid­den in the House­hold, to more con­tem­po­rary the­o­rists like Stephen Gill and Isabel­la Bakker, David Cam­field, Alan Sears, and sym­pa­thet­ic crit­ics like Himani Ban­ner­ji. Why did social repro­duc­tion analy­sis remain so promi­nent in Cana­di­an think­ing?

DM and SF: It is cer­tain­ly true that, as Australia’s Kate Davi­son remarked at last year’s Lon­don His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism con­fer­ence, there was a “social repro­duc­tion par­ty” going on in Cana­da in the 1970s and 80s. We can only spec­u­late as to why that was the case here, and not else­where. To begin with, it is sure­ly impor­tant that social­ist fem­i­nism had become the dom­i­nant fem­i­nism in Eng­lish-speak­ing Cana­da by the ear­ly 1970s (in Que­bec a left-wing kind of fem­i­nism took hold, with sig­nif­i­cant roots in the unions and left-nation­al­ist social move­ments). Meg Lux­ton and Heather Jon Maroney sug­gest there were two rea­sons this was the case: (i) the strength of social democ­ra­cy (unlike in the Unit­ed States, a social demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty has had a mean­ing­ful social and elec­toral pres­ence here since the 1930s), and (ii) the rel­a­tive lack of insti­tu­tions and prac­tices espous­ing a more tra­di­tion­al Marx­ism (unlike Great Britain or France, where Com­mu­nist par­ties had a greater pres­ence). These under­ly­ing con­di­tions, they believe, helped cre­ate and sus­tain an intel­lec­tu­al and polit­i­cal cul­ture that took social­ist ideas seri­ous­ly.

As mem­bers of a group that dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed itself from CP-influ­enced Marx­ism – David joined the Inter­na­tion­al Social­ists in the mid-1970s, and Sue joined in the ear­ly-1980s – we par­tic­i­pat­ed in many of the debates around Marx­ist Fem­i­nism. This is where we encoun­tered Lise Vogel’s book, Marx­ism and the Oppres­sion of Women. Although our inter­est in Vogel’s text was not wide­ly shared with­in our polit­i­cal ranks, and indeed encoun­tered out­right hos­til­i­ty, we con­tin­ued to con­sid­er Vogel’s ori­en­ta­tion among the sound­est in devel­op­ing a uni­tary Marx­ist Fem­i­nist approach.

Even more sig­nif­i­cant, how­ev­er, was the way in which social­ist-fem­i­nism devel­oped some real trac­tion inside the unions in both Eng­lish-speak­ing Cana­da and Que­bec. Union dri­ves among retail and bank work­ers were very sig­nif­i­cant in this regard, as were strikes by nurs­es and hos­pi­tal work­ers through­out the 1970s. In Ontario, where we are active, a strike by pre­dom­i­nant­ly female auto parts work­ers in 1978 became a ral­ly­ing point for the left. At the same time, a large strike by nick­el min­ers erupt­ed, in which women, orga­nized under the ban­ner “Wives Sup­port­ing the Strike” played a crit­i­cal, gal­va­niz­ing role. This was fol­lowed by a union-based cam­paign in the ear­ly 1980s to get women hired in the high­ly union­ized steel indus­try. All of this meant that fem­i­nist issues were res­onat­ing with­in the unions. And this gave real cred­i­bil­i­ty to social­ist-fem­i­nists who insist­ed on the inter-con­nec­tions between gen­der oppres­sion and class exploita­tion. This pro­vid­ed a social and polit­i­cal con­text in which a fem­i­nism con­cerned with labor and class expe­ri­ence in all their com­plex diver­si­ty could devel­op.

Cer­tain­ly, we saw a rise of post­struc­tur­al dis­course-based fem­i­nism in these quar­ters. But fem­i­nist polit­i­cal econ­o­my remained vibrant, includ­ing in its Marx­ist and social repro­duc­tion vari­ants. With­in the uni­ver­si­ties, much of the the­o­ret­i­cal work being done in this area found its way into the jour­nal, Stud­ies in Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my, launched in the late 1970s. Fem­i­nists – Meg Lux­ton, Bon­nie Fox, Wal­ly Sec­combe, and Pat and Hugh Arm­strong among oth­ers – start­ed expos­ing the male bias of most polit­i­cal econ­o­my frame­works. Draw­ing on the pio­neer­ing work of Mar­garet Ben­ston, social­ist-fem­i­nist the­o­rists like these looked for ways around the short­com­ings of the domes­tic labor debate. While, as Himani Ban­ner­ji has sug­gest­ed, they too often default­ed to a struc­tural­ist frame­work, and neglect­ed the­o­riz­ing the expe­ri­ences of racial­ized women, they nonethe­less strug­gled to the­o­rize gen­der and class in mate­ri­al­ist, uni­tary terms. Against the odds, they suc­ceed­ed in sus­tain­ing an intel­lec­tu­al inter­est in social repro­duc­tion through­out the 1980s and into the 1990s while so many oth­ers were heed­ing the siren call of post­mod­ernism.

VP: What was the influ­ence of Ital­ian Marx­ist-fem­i­nist thought in Cana­di­an Marx­ist-fem­i­nist cir­cles? Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta and Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, among oth­ers, have made dis­tinc­tive con­tri­bu­tions to the devel­op­ment of social repro­duc­tion as a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work. In addi­tion, their work has been quite influ­en­tial in the Unit­ed States. Did any direct ties to this tra­di­tion exist?

DM and SF: Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta is the only Ital­ian Marx­ist fem­i­nist that we’re aware of hav­ing been influ­en­tial. Inspired by her work, a few small “Wages for House­work” col­lec­tives were formed, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Toron­to, but these remained rel­a­tive­ly mar­gin­al and nev­er con­sti­tut­ed a seri­ous alter­na­tive to the approach of social­ist-fem­i­nists work­ing in the unions. Get­ting women into union­ized waged work was much more pre­dom­i­nant than the idea of orga­niz­ing women as home­work­ers. Dal­la Costa’s work was con­sid­ered part of the Domes­tic Labor Debate, and as such was con­struc­tive­ly cri­tiqued. And today, the work of Sil­via Fed­eri­ci is being very wide­ly read, although in these parts it is tak­en up less in rela­tion to the wages-for-house­work cur­rent, and more for its insights and rethink­ing of issues of enclo­sure, prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, and women’s bod­ies.

VP: To con­clude: we know that the­o­ret­i­cal analy­sis is always con­nect­ed to social move­ments on the ground. What were the sites of strug­gle that prompt­ed you to inves­ti­gate social repro­duc­tion and class for­ma­tion in the recent past and today? Are there spe­cif­ic expe­ri­ences you can speak to here?

DM and SF: Part of our expe­ri­ence sim­ply has to do with the com­plex ways in which the left of the 1970s and 1980s strug­gled in prac­tice and the­o­ry to inte­grate class and gen­der. Par­tic­u­lar­ly sig­nif­i­cant for both of us was our involve­ment in pro-choice strug­gles in Ontario in the mid- to late-1980s. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in this move­ment real­ly fore­grounds how resis­tant cap­i­tal­ist soci­eties have been to repro­duc­tive free­dom for women. And this rais­es all kinds of inter­est­ing the­o­ret­i­cal and strate­gic ques­tions in which we have both been inter­est­ed. But espe­cial­ly since the mid-1990s, when we began to work polit­i­cal­ly in a less dog­mat­ic Marx­ist envi­ron­ment (espe­cial­ly in the New Social­ist net­work), we increas­ing­ly felt the need to grap­ple much more seri­ous­ly with race and racialization—and ulti­mate­ly with sex­u­al­i­ty and ability—as con­sti­tu­tive dimen­sions of class and gen­der. Our sup­port for anti-racist and migrant jus­tice move­ments was cer­tain­ly an impor­tant part of this sto­ry. And we found our­selves dis­sat­is­fied with just assert­ing that the axes of mul­ti­ple oppres­sions “inter­sect­ed” in mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.

While inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty the­o­ry has raised impor­tant ques­tions, and gen­er­at­ed impor­tant insights, it tends to floun­der at explain­ing why these mul­ti­ple oppres­sions exist and are repro­duced through­out late cap­i­tal­ism, and at account­ing for the how of their inter­ac­tion. Because its approach is holis­tic and uni­tary, social repro­duc­tion the­o­ry is, we think, poten­tial­ly bet­ter equipped in these areas. But this requires a lot of work, and a real com­mit­ment to learn­ing from the best of anti-racist and anti-colo­nial the­o­ry and prac­tice, in order to over­come some sig­nif­i­cant short­com­ings of ear­ly social repro­duc­tion the­o­ry. By empha­siz­ing the spa­tial orga­ni­za­tion of cap­i­tal­ist and work­ing class repro­duc­tion, Sue has attempt­ed to take up this chal­lenge in a cou­ple of essays by show­ing how the spaces of cap­i­tal­ism are always racial­ized and colo­nial ones. And our joint con­tri­bu­tion in the lat­est Social­ist Reg­is­ter rep­re­sents an effort to take this some­what far­ther by sharply push­ing beyond the hori­zons of the nation-state in order to con­sid­er the repro­duc­tion of the work­ing class as a glob­al phe­nom­e­non in which migra­tion is a cen­tral fea­ture. We think this is an espe­cial­ly excit­ing and chal­leng­ing time for his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ist work in these areas. And the liv­ing pulse of real social strug­gles is like­ly to keep push­ing work in these areas for many years to come.

Authors of the article

teaches political science at York University Toronto and actively supports numerous social justice movements in that city.

is Assistant Professor in the Journalism Program at the Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford Campus. Her previous work on feminist theory and politics explores the development of the social reproduction framework in the Canadian context. Current research interests include applying that framework to media and children's culture.