Between La Salada and the Workshop: Communitarian Wealth in Dispute

Sarah Pab­st, “Inside the Mar­ket”

Start­ing from the enor­mous infor­mal mar­ket on the out­skirts of Buenos Aires – La Sal­a­da – in Neolib­er­al­ism from Below, Veróni­ca Gago exam­ines the com­plex pop­u­lar economies con­struct­ed on the bor­ders of the legal and the ille­gal, the for­mal and the infor­mal, the “tra­di­tion­al” and the “mod­ern.” In doing so, she shows how neolib­er­al­ism, not mere­ly as a set of eco­nom­ic poli­cies, but as a spe­cif­ic sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and social rela­tion, is repro­duced not only from above but also from below, as migrants apply their own forms of cal­cu­la­tion and log­ics of com­pe­ti­tion.

In this excerpt, Gago ana­lyzes Argentina’s eco­nom­ic recom­po­si­tion fol­low­ing its 2001 cri­sis by start­ing from those sup­pos­ed­ly mar­gin­al­ized sub­jects of women, migrants, and the indige­nous, thus open­ing up new lines of inquiry that do not start from the assump­tion of a uni­tary lead­ing sub­ject or a homog­e­nized form of pro­duc­tion. Here the notion of a homo­ge­neous com­mu­ni­ty is torn apart, reveal­ing the mul­ti­plic­i­ty and con­flict that has always been inher­ent in the con­cept. This places dif­fer­ence at the cen­ter of the analy­sis and under­stand­ing how cap­i­tal man­ages to cap­ture val­ue from this dif­fer­ence becomes a cen­tral ques­tion. Thus it push­es us to rec­og­nize the diverse forms of exploita­tion and extrac­tion of val­ue present with­in cap­i­tal­ism since its begin­ning, chal­leng­ing tele­o­log­i­cal notions of eco­nom­ic progress and the bound­aries between pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion, the mod­ern and the tra­di­tion­al, the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an and the cap­i­tal­ist.

Infor­mal­iza­tion and Fem­i­niza­tion: Toward Slave Labor? 

The infor­mal­iza­tion of the econ­o­my rein­tro­duces the cat­e­gories of home and com­mu­ni­ty as impor­tant eco­nom­ic spaces and rein­ter­prets them to its advan­tage. In Argenti­na the cri­sis of neolib­er­al­ism led to the wide­spread use of sub­si­dies as a way of get­ting through this cri­sis in the world of work. The log­ic of the enter­pris­es pro­mot­ed by these sub­si­dies can be cat­e­go­rized as a dri­ve toward ini­tia­tives based in the house­hold and in the com­mu­ni­ty.

This means that social assis­tance is artic­u­lat­ed, par­tic­u­lar­ly in times of cri­sis like 2001, based on domes­tic-com­mu­ni­tar­i­an economies in pop­u­lar neigh­bor­hoods. The cri­sis was a moment when so-called domes­tic labor (of care, feed­ing a neigh­bor­hood, etc.) moved to the fore­front because it was mas­sive­ly artic­u­lat­ed with unem­ploy­ment sub­si­dies and in many house­holds became the only source of income. Since then, the social pro­tag­o­nism dur­ing the cri­sis has also led to a polit­i­cal reshap­ing of pub­lic assis­tance: the dis­tri­b­u­tion of food, tra­di­tion­al­ly a domes­tic task, was a fun­da­men­tal moment in the for­ma­tion of move­ments and enter­pris­es that, in many cas­es, demand­ed auton­o­my from the state, appro­pri­at­ing its resources and col­lec­tive­ly redi­rect­ing the use of those indi­vid­u­al­ly allo­cat­ed ben­e­fits. In the cri­sis of 2001, social repro­duc­tion became inde­pen­dent from employ­ment rela­tions, in turn show­ing how the notion of employ­ment is dis­tanced from that of the (biopo­lit­i­cal) pro­duc­tion of social val­ue, capa­ble of sus­tain­ing forms of social­iza­tion in cri­sis.

In itself, neigh­bor­hood-ter­ri­to­r­i­al orga­ni­za­tion requires domes­tic knowl­edges, and, at the same time, it projects them onto a pub­lic-polit­i­cal space in a very spe­cial way when the cri­sis is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a cri­sis of polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion and of the medi­at­ing func­tion of insti­tu­tions in gen­er­al. This sup­pos­es that in pop­u­lar expe­ri­ence there is a capac­i­ty to reap­pro­pri­ate an instru­ment of gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty that, since its ori­gins, has rep­re­sent­ed the state’s onslaught against alter­na­tive forms of social­iza­tion in order to, after pro­duc­ing dis­pos­ses­sion, resta­tize the social.2 It is worth remem­ber­ing that since its begin­nings pub­lic assis­tance was (1) a deci­sive moment in the sta­tist rela­tion­ship between work­ers and cap­i­tal and in the def­i­n­i­tion of the state’s func­tion; (2) the first recog­ni­tion of the unsus­tain­abil­i­ty of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, which rules by hunger and ter­ror; and (3) the first step toward the recon­struc­tion of the state as the guar­an­tor of class rela­tions, as the super­vi­sor of the repro­duc­tion and dis­ci­plin­ing of the labor force.3 What is being debat­ed now is the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the appro­pri­a­tion and tac­ti­cal use of these resources that were orig­i­nal­ly dis­trib­uted as social assis­tance.

I want to high­light how pub­lic assis­tance is entan­gled with the man­age­ment of the cri­sis of wage labor in order to bring new ele­ments into the debate over a pol­i­tics of gov­er­nance of the social. Mau­r­izio Laz­zara­to4 argues that the lan­guages of assis­tance and the labor mar­ket are today inter­twined. The hypoth­e­sis is that both oper­ate by man­ag­ing scarce labor and, there­fore, pro­mot­ing the arti­fi­cial cre­ation of employ­ment, but under a log­ic of the sub­sidy. The pas­sage from the unem­ploy­ment sub­si­dies of the Plan Jefes y Jefas de Hog­ar (Heads of House­hold Pro­gram), which were used mas­sive­ly in the midst of the cri­sis, to their recon­fig­u­ra­tion into the Plan Argenti­na Tra­ba­ja (Argenti­na Works Pro­gram) exem­pli­fies this ten­den­cy in a lit­er­al way.5 This dynam­ic simul­ta­ne­ous­ly occurs in the pro­lif­er­a­tion of infor­mal, mul­ti­fac­eted forms of work.

The Fem­i­niza­tion of Space: The Com­mu­ni­ty and the Home as Inputs

The fem­i­niza­tion of these economies is inscribed with­in the frame­work of the cri­sis of wage labor, weav­ing the fab­ric through which the com­mu­ni­ty and the home become essen­tial for think­ing about wealth. Dora Bar­ran­cos clas­si­fies this rela­tion­ship between women’s pro­tag­o­nism and cri­sis in broad terms: “There are count­less his­tor­i­cal set­tings in which ‘fem­i­nine nature’ is forged, not as an incar­di­na­tion, as an eccen­tric out­side, but rather as an ele­ment that is imma­nent to the cri­sis.”6 She puts par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on Argen­tine his­to­ry from the Moth­ers of the Plaza de Mayo to the piqueteras: “I will insist on the upheaval in stan­dards, norms, and expec­ta­tions of gen­der that emerges from crises, and on the hypoth­e­sis that the greater the sever­i­ty of the dam­ages, the more expres­sive is that which I call fem­i­nine vis­i­bil­i­ty in the ago­ra. Women loosen the chains and defy the nor­ma­tive restric­tions that restrain them as sub­jects of pri­vate mean­ing.”7

The fem­i­niza­tion of labor involves a twofold process: on one hand, women’s pub­lic pres­ence increas­es, posi­tion­ing them as impor­tant eco­nom­ic actors, at the same time as tasks under­tak­en by men in that same infor­mal econ­o­my are fem­i­nized. On the oth­er hand, it trans­fers char­ac­ter­is­tics of the econ­o­my of the house­hold or the com­mu­ni­ty, usu­al­ly under­stood in neigh­bor­hood terms, into the pub­lic sphere. Some ques­tions arise from high­light­ing this per­spec­tive: how does this fem­i­niza­tion of the econ­o­my alter domes­tic and labor hier­ar­chies? To what extent does such fem­i­niza­tion of the econ­o­my refer to a ten­den­cy that can­not be reduced to the quan­ti­ty of women that become part of it but rather is a qual­i­ta­tive mod­i­fi­ca­tion of labor process­es and forms of exchange?

Accord­ing to Sask­ia Sassen, women com­bine two dif­fer­ent dynam­ics. On one hand, they inte­grate an invis­i­ble and pow­er­less class of work­ers, in the ser­vice of strate­gic sec­tors of the econ­o­my (they have no chance of union­iz­ing or con­sti­tut­ing a labor aris­toc­ra­cy). At the same time, access to an income, albeit small, fem­i­nizes the com­mer­cial oppor­tu­ni­ties pro­duced by the infor­mal­iza­tion of the econ­o­my and trans­forms gen­dered hier­ar­chies.

Cer­tain sub­si­dies, orga­nized under a log­ic of micro­fi­nanc­ing of enter­pris­es and self-man­aged ini­tia­tives, allow the neolib­er­al per­spec­tive to be com­pat­i­ble with pop­u­lar and com­mu­ni­tar­i­an forms of liveli­hoods. The know-how involved in domes­tic-repro­duc­tive labor, along with a com­plex reper­toire of com­mu­ni­tar­i­an prac­tices and knowl­edges, cre­at­ed a web of mul­ti­ple economies in the midst of the cri­sis that enabled thou­sands of peo­ple to sur­vive, while it dis­played the pow­er­ful polit­i­cal capac­i­ty of pop­u­lar self-man­age­ment.

There are affini­ties between the fem­i­nine and the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an that cat­e­go­rize these economies in a par­tic­u­lar way: the abil­i­ty to work at microscales, con­fi­dence in the val­ue of the affec­tive as a pro­duc­tive moment, expe­ri­ence of the minori­tar­i­an as a spe­cif­ic poten­cia. The his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter of these fea­tures has to do with a dense his­to­ry of sub­jec­tiv­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with repro­duc­tive labor, his­tor­i­cal­ly rel­e­gat­ed to a func­tion­al and high­ly pro­duc­tive mar­gin­al­iza­tion, as Chris­t­ian Marazzi indi­cates under the con­cise image of the sub­jec­tive his­to­ry that is hid­den in “the place of the socks.”9 In moments of cri­sis like 2001, those qual­i­ties take on a direct­ly polit­i­cal pro­file and begin ful­fill­ing strate­gic func­tions in social orga­ni­za­tion while they also nour­ish neoliberalism’s capac­i­ty to devel­op as gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty.

If neolib­er­al premis­es “seek to strength­en or estab­lish women as self-employed work­ers in small enter­pris­es that are mod­eled upon cap­i­tal­ist enter­prise,”10 it is also nec­es­sary to see their oth­er side: the moment of sub­jec­ti­va­tion and auton­o­my rep­re­sent­ed by these economies, which, as such, sup­pose a chal­lenge to hege­mon­ic economies. Along this line, the fem­i­nist J. K. Gib­son-Gra­ham the­o­rizes what they call “diverse economies” as “pro­duc­ing a lan­guage of eco­nom­ic dif­fer­ence to enlarge the eco­nom­ic imag­i­nary, ren­der­ing vis­i­ble and intel­li­gi­ble the diverse and pro­lif­er­at­ing prac­tices that the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with cap­i­tal­ism has obscured.”11 For these fem­i­nists, the lan­guage of eco­nom­ic dif­fer­ence is inspired by some cru­cial coun­ter­dis­cours­es: research about domes­tic labor as unpaid and invis­i­bi­lized labor in coun­tries’ nation­al sta­tis­tics, stud­ies of infor­mal economies and their inte­gra­tion into North-South trans­ac­tions, as well as the lan­guage of Cap­i­tal about eco­nom­ic dif­fer­ence when it is not cap­tured by his­tor­i­cal stage the­o­ry and devel­op­men­tal­ism, accord­ing to a sys­temic con­cep­tion of the econ­o­my.

The lan­guage of eco­nom­ic dif­fer­ence becomes a way of detect­ing oth­er process­es of becom­ing, pay­ing spe­cial atten­tion to their sit­u­at­ed char­ac­ter, which is the impor­tance of the cat­e­go­ry of place: “In more broad­ly philo­soph­i­cal terms, place is that which is not ful­ly yoked into a sys­tem of mean­ing, not entire­ly sub­sumed to a (glob­al) order; it is that aspect of every site that exists as poten­tial­i­ty. Place is the ‘event in space,’ oper­at­ing as a ‘dis­lo­ca­tion’ with respect to famil­iar struc­tures and nar­ra­tives. It is the unmapped and unmoored that allows for new moor­ings and map­pings. Place, like the sub­ject, is the site and spur of becom­ing, the open­ing for pol­i­tics.”12

The idea is not sim­ply to oppose alter­na­tive economies to cap­i­tal­ist dom­i­na­tion but rather to unrav­el cer­tain eco­nom­ic prac­tices in terms of their dif­fer­ence and to rein­tro­duce con­tin­gency into think­ing about the econ­o­my. But it is also to remove this eco­nom­ic diver­si­ty from the frame­works in which it was tra­di­tion­al­ly thought: as economies that were tra­di­tion­al, based in the fam­i­ly, back­ward, in oppo­si­tion to the mod­ern. Think­ing with a log­ic of eco­nom­ic dif­fer­ence, accord­ing to Gibson-Graham’s list, is a chal­lenge that requires mate­ri­al­iz­ing the dif­fer­ent types of trans­ac­tions and ways of nego­ti­at­ing com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty, the dif­fer­ent types of labor and ways of com­pen­sat­ing them, and the dif­fer­ent forms of enter­pris­es and ways of pro­duc­ing, appro­pri­at­ing, and dis­trib­ut­ing sur­plus. These cri­te­ria can serve to dis­place the com­mu­nal from its pre­cap­i­tal­ist con­no­ta­tion, but also to avoid pro­ject­ing it as a utopi­an-redemp­tive modal­i­ty, as a sav­ior from the com­mer­cial world. I aim to use this con­cept in rela­tion to its abil­i­ty to account for oth­er eco­nom­ic log­ics based on their undis­guised het­ero­gene­ity.

Com­mu­ni­ty economies are not a cel­e­bra­tion of the local. They are a way of account­ing for a new com­bi­na­tion of scales, capa­ble of assem­bling dynam­ics, pro­duc­tive modes, knowl­edges, and cir­cuits that at first appear to be incom­pat­i­ble. In this sense, place refers to a sit­u­at­ed sin­gu­lar­i­ty. Again, com­mu­ni­ty must be removed from its con­cep­tion as ter­ri­to­r­i­al cir­cum­scrip­tion that risks becom­ing a form of con­fine­ment. On the con­trary, the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a form of root­ed­ness and pro­jec­tion that, nev­er­the­less, can­not be enclosed as a cliché of a pre­fab­ri­cat­ed “alter­na­tive econ­o­my” or a type of ide­al­ly re-cre­at­ed sol­i­dar­i­ty. In this regard, the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an becomes oper­a­tive to the extent that it is capa­ble of open­ing an analy­sis of the ter­rains of eco­nom­ic exper­i­men­ta­tion beyond “for­mal mar­kets, wage labor and cap­i­tal­ist enter­prise.”13

The emp­ty, non­pre­scrip­tive char­ac­ter of what they under­stand as com­mu­ni­ty economies rests on the mean­ing of being in com­mon as an always polit­i­cal inven­tion: “To begin to think about this is to embark upon anoth­er kind of lan­guage pol­i­tics, one that involves what we have called the ‘com­mu­ni­ty econ­o­my.’ But rather than the pro­lif­er­a­tive full­ness we see in the diverse econ­o­my, the com­mu­ni­ty econ­o­my is an emptiness—as it has to be, if the project of build­ing it is to be polit­i­cal, exper­i­men­tal, open and demo­c­ra­t­ic.”14

The Eter­nal Irony of the Com­mu­ni­ty

A cer­tain Niet­zschean per­spec­tive allows us to point to a rela­tion­ship between the fem­i­nine and a form of the com­mon that goes beyond the effec­tive exis­tence of a com­mu­ni­ty. It would be a fem­i­nine com­mon that con­sists of the capac­i­ty to “eter­nal­ly” sat­i­rize the com­mu­ni­ty (to use—also ironically—G. W. F. Hegel’s phrase: the women are “the ever­last­ing irony of the com­mu­ni­ty.”15 Or, in Friedrich Nietzsche’s words, the “eter­nal fem­i­nine” could name that which opens a void with­in the com­mu­ni­ty, unfound­ing it and blur­ring its bound­aries. Pre­cise­ly what this fem­i­nine mode has in com­mon is a (vir­tu­al-actu­al) poten­cia: that of demys­ti­fy­ing the com­mu­ni­ty each time that it is pre­sent­ed as a total­i­ty, as a form of truth.

The fem­i­nine then func­tions as irony, decon­struct­ing the sta­bil­i­ty of that which is pre­sent­ed as uni­fied.16 It also sat­i­rizes the wide­spread idea of pol­i­tics accord­ing to which there is strength in uni­ty. If there is anoth­er econ­o­my of forces that is affirmed as plu­ral­ism and dis­per­sal, the force of the fem­i­nine com­mon is its mul­ti­plic­i­ty; it is a stranger to uni­ty and rather inclined to waste forces. This state­ment, how­ev­er, calls for a method capa­ble of assess­ing it, of show­ing its move­ment. In an attempt to address the mat­ter, I will devel­op three method­olog­i­cal points: why do Hegel and Niet­zsche link the fem­i­nine to the eter­nal? A point of depar­ture is to treat the fem­i­nine as the insistence—without bot­tom or end—on a becom­ing that desub­stan­tial­izes the com­mon: that makes it inca­pable of being attached to a ground, a lan­guage, or a land. The eter­nal fem­i­nine in Niet­zschean lan­guage can be read as that ter­ri­to­ry capa­ble of offer­ing state­less forms of democ­ra­cy, which do not require loy­al­ty or belong­ing, in oppo­si­tion to the sub­stan­tial com­mu­ni­ty. In the Hegelian allu­sion, the fem­i­nine indi­cates a neg­a­tiv­i­ty: that which casts doubt on the com­mu­ni­ty in regard to its own seri­ous­ness, its own gov­ern­abil­i­ty. In this con­text, I will draw on some fem­i­nist texts to under­stand that same indi­ca­tion in a pos­i­tive sense.

Hegel wrote that women are the “ever­last­ing irony of the com­mu­ni­ty.” On Hegel’s phrase, the Ital­ian fem­i­nist Car­la Lonzi, in the man­i­festo “Let’s Spit on Hegel,” states, “Wher­ev­er woman reveals her­self as the ‘eter­nal irony of the com­mu­ni­ty,’ we can at all times rec­og­nize the pres­ence of fem­i­nism.”17 After the decon­struc­tion of the com­mu­ni­ty, that is, after putting it in “more than one lan­guage,” there is some­thing of the fem­i­nine that becomes deci­sive in that mul­ti­pli­ca­tion, pre­cise­ly because women are the “sex” that is not “one” but mul­ti­ple.18

Women as a para­dox in the dis­course of iden­ti­ty is a point of depar­ture for the cri­tique of the meta­physics of sub­stance struc­tur­ing the sub­ject.19 Judith But­ler, fol­low­ing a decon­struc­tion­ist per­spec­tive, takes up Luce Irigaray’s cri­tique of phal­l­o­go­cen­tric lan­guage of “uni­vo­cal sig­ni­fi­ca­tion,” in which women are “lin­guis­tic absence and opac­i­ty” as they are the unrep­re­sentable, the non­re­strain­able, the nonas­sign­a­ble.20 This rais­es the ques­tion of a (sex­u­al lin­guis­tic-affec­tive) econ­o­my that escapes the sig­nif­i­cant phal­l­o­go­cen­tric econ­o­my (and its con­cep­tions of the oth­er, the sub­ject, and lack). What oth­er econ­o­my is account­ed for by the fem­i­nine?

Let’s return to Lonzi, for whom dif­fer­ence is not a juridi­cal argu­ment to oppose or replace equal­i­ty but rather women’s exis­ten­tial prin­ci­ple against (rev­o­lu­tion­ary) patri­cen­tric polit­i­cal the­o­ry. One key to this exis­ten­tial dimen­sion is pre­cise­ly that of giv­ing val­ue to unpro­duc­tive moments (recharg­ing that word with an eter­nal irony). This “form of life pro­posed by woman” is one of “women’s con­tri­bu­tions to cre­at­ing the com­mu­ni­ty, undo­ing the myth of this sub­sidiary indus­tri­ous­ness.”21( It could be said about sewing, as a depar­ture from the idea of fem­i­nine labor as com­ple­men­tary or sub­sidiary, that the unpro­duc­tive­ness claimed as the fem­i­nine mode is a way of sat­i­riz­ing the com­mu­ni­ty as the pure coor­di­na­tion of efforts, as a space of accu­mu­la­tion.22

When Niet­zsche speaks of the “eter­nal fem­i­nine,” he refers to the sin­gu­lar mode of that which “has no depth”—as Niet­zsche char­ac­ter­izes woman—and that, at the same time, is not “super­fi­cial.”23 It is a cer­tain amphib­ian char­ac­ter­is­tic that is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a no longer and a not yet. This is how the states of tran­si­tion are char­ac­ter­ized, and the eter­nal fem­i­nine seems to play with that image of inter­rupt­ed tran­si­tion, as the extreme part of an antiessen­tial­ism that draws forces toward an empti­ness of ori­gin and def­i­n­i­tion. The rela­tion­ship between the fem­i­nine and the eter­nal serves, in this regard, to enable us to con­ceive of an ever open, non­whole con­fig­u­ra­tion of the world.

There­fore, the idea of the eter­nal linked to the fem­i­nine curi­ous­ly appears in Hegel and Niet­zsche as dis­trust: as irony, as eter­nal war, toward the com­mu­ni­ty, which is always pre­sent­ed as com­plete and uni­fied (Jacques Der­ri­da would say fra­ter­ni­ty). How­ev­er, that idea of the eter­nal in Niet­zsche can also be linked to his def­i­n­i­tion of women, whom he describes in The Gay Sci­ence as those capa­ble of exer­cis­ing “action at a dis­tance.”24 This can be trans­lat­ed as a deter­ri­to­ri­al­ized and time­less influ­ence, capa­ble of a para­dox­i­cal effec­tive­ness: extra­com­mu­ni­tar­i­an.

Thus, the pos­si­bil­i­ty emerges for under­stand­ing women’s (iron­ic, dis­tant, eter­nal, unpro­duc­tive) force as state­less: that which does not allow the com­mu­nion between com­mu­ni­ty and iden­ti­ty. There­fore, the per­spec­tive of the fem­i­nine appears to go beyond all nos­tal­gia: there is no lost com­mu­ni­ty, and, thus, no com­mu­ni­ty to recov­er (invok­ing the mod­el going from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Hegel and lat­er resumed by the Roman­tics). Is it pos­si­ble to under­stand this unpro­duc­tive econ­o­my in the pro­found­ly iron­ic sense of the term unpro­duc­tive, which links the eter­nal to the fem­i­nine and its poten­tial to speak iron­i­cal­ly about the com­mu­ni­ty, as a way of dis­tin­guish­ing forms of social repro­duc­tion from the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal?

From the Com­mu­ni­ty to the Social Fac­to­ry

A par­tic­u­lar fem­i­nist per­spec­tive of the 1970s sought to debate the com­mu­ni­ty, demys­ti­fy­ing it and relat­ing it direct­ly to the fac­to­ry, its sup­port­ive oth­er. In their clas­sic text The Pow­er of Women and the Sub­ver­sion of the Com­mu­ni­ty, Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta and Sel­ma James state, “The com­mu­ni­ty there­fore is not an area of free­dom and leisure aux­il­iary to the fac­to­ry where by chance there hap­pen to be women who are degrad­ed as the per­son­al ser­vants of men. The com­mu­ni­ty is the oth­er half of cap­i­tal­ist orga­ni­za­tion, the oth­er area of hid­den cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion, the oth­er hid­den source of sur­plus labor. It becomes increas­ing­ly reg­i­ment­ed like a fac­to­ry, what Mari­arosa calls a social fac­to­ry where the costs and nature of trans­port, hous­ing, med­ical care, edu­ca­tion, police, are all points of strug­gle!”25

They indi­cate and antic­i­pate a fun­da­men­tal rela­tion­ship: the com­mu­ni­ty becomes the mech­a­nism for what the tra­di­tion of Ital­ian operais­mo would the­o­rize as the social fac­to­ry. That is, the com­mu­ni­ty is one of the ele­ments incor­po­rat­ed into the sphere of val­oriza­tion when this includes a set of con­nec­tions, affects, and forms of coop­er­a­tion that expand and reclas­si­fy a form of pro­duc­tion that is no longer con­fined with­in the fac­to­ry walls.26

With­in fem­i­nist thought, this pos­si­ble dec­li­na­tion of the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an (as know-how, tech­nol­o­gy, affect val­ue) is antic­i­pat­ed as a new chap­ter of cap­i­tal­ist val­oriza­tion. Return­ing to the fem­i­nine fig­ure as sub­vert­ing the community—the Hegelian warn­ing rad­i­cal­ized by feminism—James, in the intro­duc­tion to the book she co-authored with Dal­la Cos­ta, traces a rela­tion­ship between home and com­mu­ni­ty: “Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta con­sid­ers the com­mu­ni­ty as first and fore­most the home, and con­sid­ers there­fore the woman as the cen­tral fig­ure of sub­ver­sion in the com­mu­ni­ty. Seen in this way, women are the con­tra­dic­tion in all pre­vi­ous polit­i­cal frame­works, which had been based on the male work­er in indus­try. Once we see the com­mu­ni­ty as a pro­duc­tive cen­ter and thus a cen­ter of sub­ver­sion, the whole per­spec­tive for ful­ly gen­er­al­ized strug­gle and rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion is re-opened.”27

Com­mu­ni­ty and women, then, func­tion as the axis of a new form of val­oriza­tion and, at the same time, intro­duce a new type of con­flict. On one hand, they decen­ter the sub­ject of the white male indus­tri­al work­er from its priv­i­leged sta­tus of pro­duc­er, and, on the oth­er, they make vis­i­ble the pro­duc­tive mate­ri­als that from the begin­ning are foun­da­tion­al for cap­i­tal­ism while being invis­i­bi­lized and deval­ued: the labor of repro­duc­tion, the con­sti­tu­tion of social rela­tions, affec­tive coop­er­a­tion. Women’s rela­tion­ship as pro­duc­ers of labor pow­er direct­ly con­nects them to cap­i­tal and also puts them always on the verge of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of sub­ver­sion: “Women’s rela­tion­ship with cap­i­tal is fun­da­men­tal­ly that of pro­duc­ing and repro­duc­ing the cur­rent and future labor force, on which all cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion depends. This is the essence of domes­tic labor and this is the labor for which the major­i­ty of women are pre­pared and with which all women iden­ti­fy.”28

The iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of fem­i­nine labor as invis­i­bi­lized labor has a direct rela­tion­ship with its con­di­tion as unpaid labor in terms of wages, which min­i­mizes it as sub­sidiary to male wage labor, while ignor­ing the intrin­sic con­nec­tion between the two. The “patri­ar­chal wage,” how­ev­er, mar­gin­al­izes and sub­sumes not only women’s work but also peas­ant labor. Dal­la Cos­ta and James were writ­ing in the con­text of an inter­na­tion­al strug­gle for wages for housework—not only to incor­po­rate house­work into the wage regime but also to break away from the idea of house­work as strict­ly nat­u­ral­ized and free fem­i­nine labor. Deployed in this way, the fem­i­nist per­spec­tive does not sim­ply intro­duce a speci­fici­ty; it does not imply a par­tic­u­lar­ism. Instead, it opens up the notion and the com­po­si­tion of the work­ing class itself. In this regard, the authors put their strug­gle in con­ver­sa­tion with that of blacks in the Unit­ed States, not­ing a fun­da­men­tal rela­tion­ship between women and blacks. It is worth quot­ing at length:

This process of devel­op­ment is not unique to the women’s move­ment. The Black move­ment in the US (and else­where) also began by adopt­ing what appeared to be only a caste posi­tion in oppo­si­tion to the racism of white male-dom­i­nat­ed groups. Intel­lec­tu­als in Harlem and Mal­colm X, that great rev­o­lu­tion­ary, were both nation­al­ists, both appeared to place col­or above class when the white left were still chant­i­ng vari­a­tions of “Black and white unite and fight,” or “Negroes and Labour must join togeth­er.” The Black work­ing class was able through this nation­al­ism to rede­fine class: over­whelm­ing­ly Black and Labor were syn­ony­mous (with no oth­er group was Labor as syn­ony­mous except per­haps with women), the demands of Blacks and the forms of strug­gle cre­at­ed by Blacks were the most com­pre­hen­sive work­ing class demands and the most advanced work­ing class strug­gle.29

From this per­spec­tive, the pas­sage from the com­mu­ni­ty to the social fac­to­ry can be thought of as a move­ment of politi­ciza­tion (demar­gin­al­iza­tion and vis­i­bi­liza­tion) of the expe­ri­ence of unwaged labor. Dri­ven by the strug­gles of women, blacks, and peasants—in the fem­i­nist retelling—this move­ment prob­lema­tizes the notions of class and labor and makes vis­i­ble the mul­ti­ple lay­ers of val­ue that the wage seeks to homog­e­nize, monop­o­lize, and com­mand. The wage as polit­i­cal com­mand over a mul­ti­plic­i­ty that exceeds it is con­test­ed by the insub­or­di­nate emer­gence of sub­jec­tiv­i­ties that open up the very con­cept of exploita­tion.

The Social Fac­to­ry as Method

The cap­i­tal­ist social fac­to­ry, the expan­sion of exploita­tion over the whole of soci­ety, is the (invert­ed) cor­rel­a­tive of the capac­i­ty to—ontologically— pro­duce worlds and, there­fore, an enrich­ment of coop­er­a­tive capac­i­ty. It is invert­ed because that increas­ing coop­er­a­tion occurs as the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of exploita­tion, obe­di­ence, and mys­ti­fi­ca­tion of the world. Thus, the “inver­sion” (for­mer­ly in an ide­al­ist sense, now in a mate­ri­al­ist one, as Karl Marx would say read­ing G. W. F. Hegel) that we require “puts things on their feet” and allows us to break through the deep­er ratio­nal­i­ty of the present state of things. The social fac­to­ry is, above all, and even as a con­di­tion for the func­tion­ing of cap­i­tal­ism itself, an image of the total­i­ty of a sys­tem of val­oriz­ing res­o­nances, at the lev­el of being itself. The prob­lem of philoso­phies of com­mu­ni­ty30 is that they intellectually—although not in real­i­ty— dis­con­nect the com­mu­ni­ty from its pro­duc­tive machinic con­text (and hori­zon), that is, from the fac­to­ry, the val­oriz­ing move­ment of the whole. This sep­a­ra­tion is arti­fi­cial but moti­vat­ed by an under­stand­able need to strength­en com­mu­ni­tar­i­an resis­tance to the becom­ing cap­i­tal­ist of the world, that is, to the—global—capitalist social fac­to­ry. This gives ratio­nal­i­ty to sov­er­eign insti­tu­tions and polit­i­cal forces of eman­ci­pa­tion that work against them.

The social fac­to­ry then becomes a method­olog­i­cal per­spec­tive (and its vari­a­tion founds an ontol­ogy of vari­a­tion) that enables a crit­i­cal point of view, from below, of the sub­sump­tion of life by cap­i­tal, where the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an cri­tique plays an impor­tant role, as demon­strat­ed by a cer­tain fem­i­nist phi­los­o­phy. The cat­e­go­riza­tion of fem­i­nine labor as “per­son­al ser­vice” is one of the ways of not clas­si­fy­ing it as work, by locat­ing it beyond cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of pro­duc­tion (out­side of the invest­ment of cap­i­tal, accord­ing to Marx) and thus down­play­ing its spe­cif­ic pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and dehis­tori­ciz­ing its func­tion.

If, “in respect to women, their labor appears to be a per­son­al ser­vice out­side of cap­i­tal,”31 the sep­a­ra­tion between repro­duc­tion and pro­duc­tion con­demns the for­mer to a non­va­l­oriz­ing, non­ret­ribu­tive sphere, sub­or­di­nat­ed to the def­i­n­i­tion of the wage in neg­a­tive terms (as non­waged activ­i­ty). It is no coin­ci­dence that Pao­lo Virno, when speak­ing on the mul­ti­tude, returns to asso­ci­at­ing man­u­al and servile labor with the source of the per­for­ma­tive, as does Marx.

Slaves ver­sus Wage Labor­ers

Fol­low­ing Dal­la Cos­ta and James, Sil­via Fed­eri­ci33 argues that with the devalu­ing and invis­i­bi­liza­tion of women’s work, domes­tic labor is cre­at­ed as a way of sharply sep­a­rat­ing pro­duc­tion from repro­duc­tion. This enables a cap­i­tal­ist use of the wage to com­mand the labor of the unwaged. How­ev­er, Fed­eri­ci directs the force of this argu­ment to think­ing about the dis­pos­ses­sion of fem­i­nine labor as the core of capitalism’s prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion.

In this respect, she argues that with the pri­va­ti­za­tion of land (enclosures)—the most well-known nucle­us of the­o­riza­tion about prim­i­tive accumulation—women become the “com­mu­nal goods.” This means that their bod­ies and labor are mys­ti­fied as per­son­al ser­vices and/or nat­ur­al resources. They are a ter­ri­to­ry that can be uti­lized because they guar­an­tee social repro­duc­tion and pro­vide com­mon ser­vices:

Accord­ing to this new social-sex­u­al con­tract, pro­le­tar­i­an women became for male work­ers the sub­sti­tute for the land lost to the enclo­sures, their most basic means of repro­duc­tion, and a com­mu­nal good any­one could appro­pri­ate and use at will. Echoes of this “prim­i­tive appro­pri­a­tion” can be heard in the con­cept of the “com­mon woman” which in the six­teenth cen­tu­ry qual­i­fied those who pros­ti­tut­ed them­selves. But in the new orga­ni­za­tion of work every woman (oth­er than those pri­va­tized by bour­geois men) became a com­mu­nal good, for once women’s activ­i­ties were defined as non-work, women’s labor began to appear as a nat­ur­al resource, avail­able to all, no less than the air we breathe or the water we drink.34

Women’s his­tor­i­cal defeat, in this respect, was the fem­i­niza­tion of pover­ty. Fed­eri­ci argues that through a new patri­ar­chal order, the mas­cu­line “prim­i­tive appro­pri­a­tion” of fem­i­nine labor was enforced, “reduc­ing women to a dou­ble depen­dence: on employ­ers and on men”35. Thus, women’s enslave­ment to repro­duc­tion pos­es an anal­o­gy to slaves in the Amer­i­c­as in the same move­ment of cap­i­tal­ism in its vio­lent begin­nings:

While in the Mid­dle Ages women had been able to use var­i­ous forms of con­tra­cep­tives, and had exer­cised an undis­put­ed con­trol over the birthing process, from now on their wombs became pub­lic ter­ri­to­ry, con­trolled by men and the State, and pro­cre­ation was direct­ly placed at the ser­vice of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion. In this sense, the des­tiny of West Euro­pean women, in the peri­od of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, was sim­i­lar to that of female slaves in the Amer­i­can colo­nial plan­ta­tions who, espe­cial­ly after the end of the slave-trade in 1807, were forced by their mas­ters to become breed­ers of new work­ers… But despite the dif­fer­ences, in both cas­es, the female body was turned into an instru­ment for the repro­duc­tion of labor and the expan­sion of the work­force, treat­ed as a nat­ur­al breed­ing-machine, func­tion­ing accord­ing to rhythms out­side of women’s con­trol.36

Pro­ce­dures for mak­ing domes­tic labor nat­ur­al and servile are renewed as fig­ures of mys­ti­fi­ca­tion while they oper­ate by clas­si­fy­ing this labor in a cer­tain way. The pop­u­lar­iza­tion of pros­ti­tu­tion has to do with the theft of time and the cre­ation of the fig­ure of the house­wife as a fam­i­ly enclo­sure for pro­duc­ing the labor force. Hence the impor­tance of her method­olog­i­cal warn­ing: women’s wage labor, house­work, and (paid) sex work can­not be stud­ied sep­a­rate­ly.

Labor: Beyond the Dis­tinc­tion between the Mod­ern and Non­mod­ern

The way in which postin­dus­tri­al cap­i­tal­ism pro­duces new com­bi­na­tions of ele­ments of the servile economies with ele­ments of post­mod­ern economies should no longer be ana­lyzed by look­ing at the hege­mon­ic (or hege­mo­niz­ing) ten­den­cy of free wage labor but based on the expan­sion of a new fem­i­niza­tion of labor that implies the increas­ing val­oriza­tion of attrib­ut­es that per­ma­nent­ly clas­si­fy labor as non­free. As an improved and expand­ed new type of colo­nial con­di­tion, the cur­rent fem­i­niza­tion of labor prin­ci­pal­ly sug­gests a great ambi­gu­i­ty: one through which a new cap­i­tal­ist dri­ve becomes com­pet­i­tive and dynam­ic by flex­i­bly artic­u­lat­ing itself with prac­tices, net­works, and fea­tures that his­tor­i­cal­ly char­ac­ter­ized the flows of unpaid labor.

It is nec­es­sary to high­light that the slave or servile mode is not the oth­er of mod­ern labor but rather its con­sti­tu­tive coun­ter­part, as Susan Buck-Morss con­clu­sive­ly demon­strates through ana­lyz­ing the simul­tane­ity (and imbri­ca­tion) of Enlight­en­ment philoso­phies and the slave econ­o­my start­ing in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry.37 The colo­nial con­di­tion of the world has since char­ac­ter­ized that dou­ble econ­o­my: non­mod­ern economies and mod­ern economies—as an appar­ent dichoto­my between servi­tude and freedom—functioning in a coher­ent man­ner in the same mode of pro­duc­tion.

Car­ole Pate­man writes, “The com­par­i­son of wives and slaves rever­ber­at­ed through the women’s move­ment in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. Women were very promi­nent in the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment and they quick­ly made the con­nec­tion between the con­di­tion of slaves and their own con­di­tion as wives.”38 The same could be said of indige­nous peo­ple, who—in anoth­er economy—share, along with slaves and women, a regime of labor with char­ac­ter­is­tics of non­free labor. They share demands of loy­al­ty and avail­abil­i­ty, and the fact that there is no (waged) mea­sure of their labor. These are com­mon requirements—although in dif­fer­ent ways—of the domes­tic econ­o­my, the slave econ­o­my (of sug­ar pro­duc­tion), and the econ­o­my of the mita, the encomien­da, and the pon­go (char­ac­ter­is­tic of the min­ing econ­o­my).39 This sup­pos­es that fem­i­nized subjects—in a reac­tionary ver­sion of feminization—remain on one side of the mod­ern line that divides servile labor from free wage labor. A series of bina­ries are imposed: wage labor ver­sus sub­sis­tence, the dis­tinc­tion between labor force and own­er­ship of per­sons, free choice ver­sus force or cap­tiv­i­ty. This argu­ment is even extend­ed to sex­u­al expro­pri­a­tion and expro­pri­a­tion of under­age minors—often linked to the impos­si­bil­i­ty of hav­ing one’s own name—that removes the pos­si­bil­i­ty of locat­ing a will in these sub­jects and also serves as a mode of reac­tive­ly fem­i­niz­ing them, of severe­ly vic­tim­iz­ing them.

Thus, the fem­i­nine refers to a weak­ness that is foist­ed onto cer­tain par­a­dig­mat­ic attributes—those who are sup­pos­ed­ly under­age minors, those who are under the sex­u­al own­er­ship of anoth­er, and final­ly, those who engage in a type of labor that is not for­mal­ly gov­erned by the rules of mod­ern wage labor. Thus, the fem­i­nine or the fem­i­niza­tion of a subject—by tone of voice and body posi­tion, but also in a deter­mined rela­tion to pro­duc­tion and prop­er­ty, and in cer­tain rela­tion to the anony­mous and the collective—implies a way of nam­ing the sub­al­tern. This nam­ing implic­it­ly car­ries a dis­tinc­tion that oppos­es a pas­sive body, reduced to pure bio­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion, to an active body with the pow­er of pro­duc­ing mean­ing and lan­guage, in which the pas­sive is tied to the fem­i­nine or to that which is fem­i­nized.

It is pos­si­ble to pro­pose anoth­er mean­ing, a vari­a­tion, of fem­i­niza­tion. It is a dis­tinc­tion of terms (polit­i­cal pow­er ver­sus bio­log­i­cal-adap­tive pow­er), yet these are not mutu­al­ly exclu­sive but rather affirm their dif­fer­ence with­out being set against one anoth­er: it is not a log­ic of oppo­sites. Thus, dis­junc­tion is the dynam­ic of a sep­a­ra­tion; how­ev­er, I want to dis­tin­guish between dis­junc­tion that excludes one of its terms and that which enables the affir­ma­tion of both, main­tain­ing their dif­fer­ences.40 The lat­ter image can be linked to that con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of woman as “being on the bor­der­line,” between zoo and bios, as ana­lyzed by Julia Kris­te­va.41 Accord­ing to Kris­te­va, the fem­i­nine body expresses—in a dra­mat­ic way—a “strange inter­sec­tion between zoo and bios, phys­i­ol­o­gy and nar­ra­tion, genet­ics and biog­ra­phy,”42

The Fem­i­nine as an Econ­o­my

These modes of dis­junc­tion, then, dif­fer­en­ti­ate between, on one hand, the fem­i­nine as an econ­o­my of pro­duc­tion, use, and cir­cu­la­tion (of goods and speech) that express­es con­ducts of rebel­lion and, on the oth­er, the fem­i­nine that func­tions by nam­ing the exas­per­a­tion with or fix­a­tion on fea­tures of a sub­mis­sion that impedes lan­guage, or reduces it to lament as the nat­u­ral­iza­tion of the sex­u­al con­di­tion, mak­ing it inof­fen­sive. This fix­a­tion or uni­di­men­sion­al­iza­tion of the fem­i­nine oper­ates by mak­ing the voice a—semantic and somatic—record of sub­mis­sion or of the lack of author­i­ty to speak. How­ev­er, it has anoth­er use: the fem­i­nine voice is that which breaks down the divi­sion between the pub­lic and the domes­tic by using lan­guage as a space of the het­ero­ge­neous, while it is also capa­ble of a strate­gic effi­ca­cy of silence and lan­guage, in both cas­es as the orga­nized and secret voice of mutiny or rebel­lion. This involves chal­leng­ing or dis­man­tling the attrib­ut­es pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed in their pure neg­a­tiv­i­ty.

Through ana­lyz­ing the migrant dis­course and expe­ri­ence in Peru, Anto­nio Corne­jo Polar (1996) devel­ops the cat­e­go­ry of migra­tion for read­ing seg­ments of Latin Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture that are dis­tin­guished by their “rad­i­cal het­ero­gene­ity.”43 Migra­tion, as a cat­e­go­ry, does not allow the exclu­sive oppo­si­tion between indige­nous and met­ro­pol­i­tan iden­ti­ties (and, there­fore, the dis­lo­ca­tion of the terms cen­ter and periph­ery); it avoids the flat fig­ure of the sub­al­tern as the vic­tim and, at the same time, per­ceives modes of rep­e­ti­tion in dif­fer­ence: for exam­ple, how cer­tain pro­duc­tive forms that migrants use—“reciprocity, eco­nom­ic oper­abil­i­ty of the extend­ed fam­i­ly or sim­ple godparenting”—are implant­ed in the cities in a non­lin­ear way in respect to the cap­i­tal­ist norm.

This idea of migra­tion as “non­di­alec­ti­cal het­ero­gene­ity” enables a par­tic­u­lar read­ing in respect to pos­si­ble alliances and sub­jects: if the sub­ject is unde­fined by its expe­ri­ence of migra­tion, its iden­ti­ty is not dis­solved but mul­ti­plied to the point of mak­ing each sub­ject a plu­ral­i­ty of ongo­ing process­es of sub­jec­ti­va­tion. Some fem­i­nists have the­o­rized this type of rela­tion­ship as a coali­tion: the con­cept of an “uneasy alliance” used by the Boli­vian fem­i­nist group Mujeres Cre­an­do rais­es the chal­lenge of a het­ero­ge­neous com­po­si­tion as a fun­da­men­tal dilem­ma of activism. This kind of coali­tion, since it is prac­ticed by affin­i­ty and not by iden­ti­ty, dis­places the bina­ry cat­e­go­riza­tions of con­sti­tut­ed and fixed sub­jects: out­side the com­mu­ni­ty and lit­er­ate as opposed to native and non­lit­er­ate, or even sub­al­tern ver­sus non-sub­al­tern.44

- Trans­lat­ed by Liz Mason-Deese


  1. Between La Sal­a­da and the Work­shop: Com­mu­ni­tar­i­an Wealth in Dis­pute,” in Neolib­er­al­ism from Below, Veróni­ca Gago, pp. 78-107-. Copy­right, 2017, Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press. All rights reserved. Repub­lished with per­mis­sion of the copy­right hold­er. 

  2. Joachim Hirsch, Glob­al­ización, cap­i­tal, esta­do (Mex­i­co City: UAM-Xochim­il­co, 1996). 

  3. Jacques Donzelot, The Polic­ing of Fam­i­lies (New York: Pan­theon Books, 1979); Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, Cal­iban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Prim­i­tive Accu­mu­la­tion (New York: Autono­me­dia, 2004), 84 

  4. Mau­r­izio Laz­zara­to, Políti­cas del acon­tec­imien­to (Buenos Aires: Tin­ta Limón, 2006 

  5. While the first pro­gram (Plan Jefes y Jefas de Hog­ar) focused on sub­si­diz­ing the heads of house­holds con­sid­ered to be tem­porar­i­ly unem­ployed, the sec­ond is based on sub­si­diz­ing coop­er­a­tive forms of work that are rec­og­nized as qua­si-per­ma­nent. The begin­ning of these pro­grams, how­ev­er, marks a mile­stone because it was the most mas­sive social pro­gram in Argentina’s his­to­ry and the thresh­old sig­nal­ing a change of era: the social pro­grams were here to stay. 

  6. Dora Bar­ran­cos, “Mujeres y cri­sis en la Argenti­na: De las Madres de Plaza de Mayo a las piqueteras.” In Los con­flic­tos en los mun­dos ibéri­cos e iberoamer­i­canos con­tem­porá­neos, de las elab­o­ra­ciones sociales y políti­cas a las con­struc­ciones sim­bóli­cas, ed. Michel Ralle (Paris: Édi­tions His­paniques, 2013), 253 

  7. Ibid., 257 

  8. Sask­ia Sassen, Con­tra­geografías de la glob­al­ización (Madrid: Traf­i­cantes de Sueños, 2003 

  9. Chris­t­ian Marazzi, Cap­i­tal and Affects: The Pol­i­tics of the Lan­guage Econ­o­my, Trans. Giusep­pina Mec­chia (Los Ange­les: Semiotext(e), 2011 

  10. J.K. Gib­son-Gra­ham, “Build­ing Com­mu­ni­ty Economies: Women and the Pol­i­tics of Place,” in Women and the Pol­i­tics of Place, ed. Wendy Har­court and Arturo Esco­bar (Bloom­field, CT: Kumar­i­an, 2005), 147 

  11. Ibid., 133 

  12. Gib­son-Gra­ham, “Build­ing Com­mu­ni­ty Economies,” 132 

  13. Gib­son-Gra­ham, “Build­ing Com­mu­ni­ty Economies,” 137 

  14. Gib­son-Gra­ham, “Build­ing Com­mu­ni­ty Economies,” 142 

  15. G. W. F. Hegel, Phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy of Spir­it, Trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1977), 288 

  16. Rosi Braidot­ti, Nomadic Sub­jects: Embod­i­ment and Sex­u­al Dif­fer­ence in Con­tem­po­rary Fem­i­nist The­o­ry, 2nd ed. (New York: Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2011); Pre­carias a la deri­va, A la deri­va por los cir­cuitos de la pre­cariedad femeni­na (Madrid: Traf­i­cantes de Sueños, 2004); Raquel Gutiér­rez Aguilar, Desan­dar el laber­in­to: Intro­spec­ción en la fem­i­nidad con­tem­poránea (La Paz: Muela del Dia­blo, 1999 

  17. Car­la Lonzi, “Let’s Spit on Hegel,” in Ital­ian Fem­i­nist Thought: A Read­er, ed. Pao­la Bono and San­dra Kemp (Cam­bridge, MA: Black­well, 1991 [1971]), 40-59 

  18. Judith But­ler devel­ops this idea from Luce Iri­garay in her book Gen­der Trou­ble: Fem­i­nism and the Sub­ver­sion of Iden­ti­ty (New York: Rout­ledge, 1999). 

  19. This pres­ence of the fem­i­nine as the oth­er of the one-sub­ject is in the very ori­gin of West­ern mythol­o­gy, at least in its Judeo-Chris­t­ian ver­sion, through the fig­ure of Lilith, the first woman, who was cre­at­ed with Adam from the earth’s dust and who refused to lie beneath him in sex­u­al inter­course. Lilith escapes with an angel, and God solic­i­tous­ly cre­ates Eve from Adam’s rib. Accord­ing to this myth, col­lect­ed in reli­gious texts for cen­turies, this is the mean­ing of Adam’s phrase in Gen­e­sis, when God cre­ates Eve, “This time you are flesh of my flesh.” Lilith, in turn, would acquire a spec­tral pres­ence. She will return, threat­en­ing, hov­er­ing over the bed in which a cou­ple is hav­ing sex and seek the new­born in order to take them. For a doc­u­ment­ed ver­sion of the fea­tures of Lilith in Judeo-Chris­t­ian mythol­o­gy see Daniel Colo­den­co, Géne­sis: El ori­gen de las difer­en­cias (Buenos Aires: Lilmod, 2006). 

  20. But­ler, Gen­der Trou­ble, 14 

  21. Lonzi, “Let’s Spit on Hegel,” 53 

  22. The idea of unpro­duc­tive­ness can also be expand­ed. On one hand, one can dif­fer­en­ti­ate non­rec­og­nized labor that is pri­mar­i­ly domes­tic-fem­i­nine labor that remains pro­duc­tive, that pro­duces val­ue, while it is also invis­i­bi­lized. On the oth­er hand, unpro­duc­tive­ness could be spo­ken of as the mode of a fem­i­nized econ­o­my that shuns accu­mu­la­tion and pos­ses­sion and that could be char­ac­ter­ized accord­ing to cer­tain traits: (1) the pos­ses­sion of a mul­ti­ple, het­ero­ge­neous, and lim­it­ed code; and (2) the capac­i­ty to intro­duce frag­ments in frag­men­ta­tion. 

  23. Eugen Fink explains the Niet­zschean asso­ci­a­tion between woman and eter­ni­ty: “The turn towards the world is, how­ev­er, always a love for infin­i­ty for Niet­zsche, how­ev­er not an infin­i­ty of the world of the itself. All sev­en seals con­clude thus: ‘O how would I lust for eter­ni­ty and the wed­ding ring of marriage—the ring of eter­nal return. I have not found the woman who I love, with whom I would like to have chil­dren, unless it is this woman, who I love; because I love you, O eter­ni­ty.’ The love for infin­i­ty is com­pared to erot­ic love. Infin­i­ty is a woman; the ring of eter­nal return is a wed­ding ring.” Eugen Fink, Nietzsche’s Phi­los­o­phy (New York: Blooms­bury Aca­d­e­m­ic, 2003), 101. 

  24. Friedrich Niet­zsche The Gay Sci­ence: With a Pre­lude in Rhymes and an Appen­dix of Songs, trans. Wal­ter Kauf­mann (New York: Vin­tage, 1974), 123 

  25. Mari­arosa Dal­la Cos­ta and Sel­ma James, The Pow­er of Women and the Sub­ver­sion of the Com­mu­ni­ty (Bris­tol, UK: Falling Wall, 1972), 11 

  26. An inter­est­ing debate has been devel­oped around this top­ic in a spe­cial issue of Rethink­ing Marx­ism: The Com­mon and the Forms of the Com­mune, vol. 22, no. 3, July 2010, edit­ed by Anna Cur­cio and Ceren Özselçuk. 

  27. Dal­la Cos­ta and James The Pow­er of Women, 20 

  28. Ibid., vii 

  29. Ibid., 8 

  30. Raúl Zibechi, Dis­pers­ing Pow­er: Social Move­ments as Anti-state Forces, trans. Ramor Ryan (Oak­land, CA: AK Press, 2010 

  31. Dal­la Cos­ta and James, The Pow­er of Women, 32 

  32. Pao­lo Virno, A Gram­mar of the Mul­ti­tude: For an Analy­sis of Con­tem­po­rary Forms of Life. Trans. by Isabel­la Berto­let­ti, James Cas­caito, and Andrea Cas­son (Los Ange­les: Semiotext(e), 2004 

  33. Fed­eri­ci, Cal­iban and the Witch 

  34. Ibid., 97 

  35. Ibid. 

  36. Ibid., 89–91 

  37. “There is an ele­ment of racism implic­it in offi­cial Marx­ism, if only because of the notion of his­to­ry as a tele­o­log­i­cal pro­gres­sion. It was evi­dent when (white) Marx­ists resist­ed the Marx-inspired the­sis of the Jamaican-born Eric Williams in Cap­i­tal­ism and Slav­ery (1944)—seconded by the Marx­ist his­to­ri­an, Trinidad-born C. L. R. James in The Black Jacobins—that plan­ta­tion slav­ery was a quin­tes­sen­tial­ly mod­ern insti­tu­tion of cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion.” Susan Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Uni­ver­sal His­to­ry (Pitts­burgh, PA: Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh Press, 2009), 57. 

  38. Car­ole Pate­man, The Sex­u­al Con­tract. (Stan­ford, CA: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1988), 120 

  39. The mita, encomien­da, and pon­go are dif­fer­ent sys­tems of forced labor used by colo­nial regimes to extract labor from indige­nous pop­u­la­tions in the Amer­i­c­as, espe­cial­ly for min­ing gold and sil­ver. 

  40. This same dis­tinc­tion in the modes of dis­junc­tion could be thought for the rela­tion­ship between voice and writ­ing. 

  41. Cather­ine Clé­ment and Julia Kris­te­va, The Fem­i­nine and the Sacred (New York: Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013), 13 

  42. Ibid., 14) and it is pre­cise­ly the porous bor­der between “biol­o­gy and mean­ing” that famil­iar­izes it with this being in tran­sit. It is the fix­a­tion on some type of “nat­u­ral­ness,” how­ev­er, that enclos­es her as a “being on the bor­der­line” while it marks a clear space of exclu­sion. ((Kris­te­va states, “It is very pos­si­ble that a soci­ety dom­i­nat­ed by tech­nol­o­gy and prof­it may reduce women to being mere­ly the pos­ses­sors of ‘zoo­log­i­cal’ life and will not in any way favor the inquiry or spir­i­tu­al rest­less­ness that con­sti­tutes a ‘des­tiny’: a ‘biog­ra­phy.’ When I pro­posed this exchange regard­ing ‘women and the sacred,’ I par­tic­u­lar­ly had that dan­ger in mind: the new ver­sion of ‘soft’ total­i­tar­i­an­ism that, after the famous ‘loss of val­ues,’ erects life as the ‘supreme val­ue,’ but life for itself, life with­out ques­tions, with wives-and-moth­ers sup­posed to be the nat­ur­al execu­tors of that ‘zool­o­gy’?” Ibid., 13–14). 

  43. Anto­nio Corne­jo Polar, “Una het­ero­genei­dad no dialéc­ti­ca: Suje­to y dis­cur­so migrantes en el Perú mod­er­no,” Revista Iberoamer­i­cana 62 no. 176–77 (1996): 837–44 

  44. Regard­ing the ambi­gu­i­ty of the term sub­al­tern for the argu­ment I am con­sid­er­ing, Gay­a­tri Chakra­vorty Spivak’s read­ing of the Sub­al­tern Stud­ies Group, try­ing to bring them clos­er to decon­struc­tion, is inter­est­ing: “Our own transna­tion­al read­ing of them is enhanced if we see them as strate­gi­cal­ly adher­ing to the essen­tial­ist notion of con­scious­ness, that would fall prey to an anti-human­ist cri­tique, with­in a his­to­ri­o­graph­ic prac­tice that draws many of its strengths from that very cri­tique… It is in this spir­it that I read Sub­al­tern Stud­ies against its grain and sug­gest that its own sub­al­ter­ni­ty in claim­ing a pos­i­tive sub­ject-posi­tion for the sub­al­tern might be rein­scribed as a strat­e­gy for our times.” Gay­a­tri Chakra­vorty Spi­vak. 1988. “Can the Sub­al­tern Speak?” Marx­ism and the Inter­pre­ta­tion of Cul­ture, ed. Cary Nel­son and Lawrence Gross­berg (Urbana, IL: Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois Press, 1988), 276. The “strate­gic essen­tial­ism” that Spi­vak pro­pos­es seems to go against the “bi-frontal” or “schiz­o­phrenic” nar­ra­tives that Corne­jo Polar the­o­rizes for think­ing about migra­tion. How­ev­er, some fem­i­nists, such as Chela San­doval, make both strate­gies or “tech­nolo­gies” com­pat­i­ble in a post­mod­ern “dif­fer­en­tial oppo­si­tion­al con­scious­ness” of Third World fem­i­nism that brings togeth­er “a fac­ul­tad (a semi­otic vec­tor), the ‘outsider/within’ (a decon­struc­tive vec­tor), ‘strate­gic essen­tial­ism,’ (a meta-ide­ol­o­giz­ing vec­tor), la con­cien­cia de la mes­ti­za, ‘world trav­el­ing’ or ‘lov­ing cross-cul­tures’ (dif­fer­en­tial vec­tors), and ‘wom­an­ism’ (a democ­ra­tiz­ing, moral vec­tor).” Chela San­doval, Method­ol­o­gy of the Oppressed (Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2000), 180. 

Author of the article

is part of Colectivo Situaciones, teaches in the School of Social Sciences at Buenos Aires University, and is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET). She is currently working on a project exploring popular economies in post-neoliberal contexts.