Viewpoint Magazine

Issue 5: Social Reproduction




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.

Mariarosa Dalla Costa | Introduction to the Archive of Feminist Struggle for wages for housework. Donation 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.

Terrains of Struggle

Patrick Cuninghame | Mapping the Terrain of Struggle: 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 Vijayakumar | “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 it pro­duces 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.

Paradigms of Production

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.

Forms of Life

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.