Lecture #5: Social Reproduction and Marxist-Feminism

Definition of social reproduction

Katz defined social reproduction as the “daily and long-term reproduction of the mode of production and the labor power that makes it work,” or as the “messy and fleshy” everyday occurrences and cultural forms that make a mode of production seem sensible and natural. She stressed that social reproduction is an ongoing practice, and one that has lead to considerable struggle throughout history. Specifically, questions of how much capital, the state, or the household should bear the costs of social reproduction have been central to the development of capital. Social reproduction itself is not revolutionary, Katz argues, because its function is to continue divisions and social structures. However, by recognizing its importance and dislodging the point of production from its privileged position in theorizing revolution, analyzing social reproduction opens up a wider field of possibility for political action. This type of theory has been overlooked by masculinist Marxists who often view the cultural forms that social reproduction produces as belonging to the “superstructure,” and ultimately as being determined by the mode of production in a unilateral way.


Geographies of social reproduction

Katz stressed that capital has always been global. What we need to think about when we discuss globalization is instead the increasing fluidity of production, compared to the relative fixity of labor. This process creates disparate labor pools with different social wages, pitted against each other, and exerting downward pressure on wages and benefits in the global north. Rather than naturalize this race to the bottom, Katz framed this apparent competition as a strategic project on the part of capital: capital creates the creations in both the north and south, simultaneously producing and preying on cheap labor. The ways this differentiation is naturalized and made common-sense — dividing the workforce along various lines and lubricating both exploitation and circulation — is a key part of the work of social reproduction. Transforming the sphere of social reproduction into a truly revolutionary arena means recognizing the nature and amount of work that goes on there. The role of nature in work becomes literal as Katz briefly touched upon our natural environment. While Marx’s spaces of inquiry typically revolved around the factory and machinery, Katz argues that the involvement of Marxist feminists created linkages between the role of labor in contending with questions of environmental justice.  


Marxism, Feminism

A crucial early marxist feminist text that informs Katz’s analysis of social reproduction is Della Costa and James’s 1972 essay “Women and the Subversion of the Community.” Della Costa and James understand capital as necessarily destructive pre-capitalist forms of family, production, and community – this latter which they treat not as any group of people but as specifically communal (and now subverted) forms of being together. With the transformation of production, the role of social reproduction in the household is re-structured to serve “the production of that special kind of commodity, labour power.” And as long as revolutionary action is limited to the site of production and not social reproduction, they argue, those in charge of the latter – viz. housewives – will always be restricted to a supporting role. Della Costa and James challenge the women’s movement of the 1970s to resist a platform of integration into capitalist control and the double shift. “The role of housewife,” they argue, “behind whose isolation is hidden social labour, must be destroyed.”

Katz provided several examples of marxist feminist attempts to intervene in social reproduction. Drawing from Della Costa and James, Katz emphasized that withholding reproductive labor and redirecting it to communal efforts does not in itself stop the reproduction of a fragmented workforce. Similarly, things like the family wage may aid in accounting for the labor of social reproduction, but it banks on patriarchy for its effectiveness. Therefore, Katz asserted that things such as the wages for housework movement should be viewed as a stepping stone rather than endpoint of an anti-capitalist struggle.


Discussion questions

Katz discussed the recent US teachers strikes as responses to state disinvestment from education. How might we approach the importance of controlling social reproduction with the ongoing defunding and privatization of its institutions/primary channels?

Many of our previous discussions of anti-capitalist action revolved around actions that occurred outside of private spaces — through organized labor, regulatory practices, or alternative modalities in banking, etc. However, Katz notes that that …”the global and the intimate happen in the arena of social reproduction… it inheres in it the possibility of unmaking since it inheres in us, not outside.” What, then, are the possibilities of anti-capitalist action within the home, among the “messy and fleshy” contradictions of social reproduction?

We discussed withdrawing reproductive labor from the process of maintaining capitalism, and many of the examples were on a local and every day scale. What might global and long term anti-capitalist activity in the realm of reproduction look like?

Katz touched briefly upon the relationship of Marxist-feminism and our natural environment. How can we extend a feminist reading of Marxism into other fields of study, such as the science of climate change?


Further reading

Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, & James, Selma. (1972). Women and the Subversion of the Community. Bristol, UK: Falling Wall Press. [PDF]

Katz, Cindi. (2006). Messing with “the Project”. David Harvey: A critical reader, 234-246. [PDF]

Katz, Cindi. (2001). Vagabond capitalism and the necessity of social reproduction. Antipode, 33(4), 709-728. [PDF]

Katz, Cindi. (1996). Towards minor theory. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 14(4), 487-499. [PDF]

Pratt, Geraldine. (2004). Working feminism. Temple University Press.

Wright, Melissa. (2013). Disposable women and other myths of global capitalism. Routledge.

12 thoughts on “Lecture #5: Social Reproduction and Marxist-Feminism

  1. Anthony Ramos

    First, I want to thank the reviewers for this week for providing such a thorough, robust summary of Cindi Katz’s first lecture on social reproduction from a feminist Marxist critique, and especially for providing us a set of themes from which consider the lecture.

    What I found particularly generative throughout Katz’s lecture, and described in the summary topic: geographies of social reproduction, was the emphasis placed on the integral role of socially necessary practices associated with the “messy, fleshy aspects of everyday life” and “the ways this differentiation is naturalized and made common-sense.” Pointing to her articles on linkages between vagabondage of capital/fixity of labor pools, as well her research on the retreat by the State from investments in social reproduction accompanied by an off-loading of the costs associated with social reproduction onto the individual, we were given a rather robust and sober depiction that we indeed might want to consider more closely: “interests are produced!” By centering social reproduction, the effects of Capital flight and mobility in warranting and justifying the incarceration of what we might call the excesses and unneeded surpluses of labor left in the wake of capital-intensive processes that leave a particular site, in response to competition in global markets for cheaper labor (which includes wages, but as significantly the benefits associated with social reproduction of labor forces). Thus, she provides a sobering explanation for the rise of incarceration rates, the growth of management, environmental destruction, and processes of social (and slow?) death, by connecting these moments to the “crisis of social reproduction.” In so doing, I think Katz provides a convincing critique of Karl Marx’s tendency to figure social reproduction in terms of the superstructure, and thusly not as integral to the processes required for the formation of Capital and a loci from which contradictions internal to Capital unfold.

    From this perspective, then, can we say the formation of the household is structurally determinant? What I am alluding to here is the notion of the structuration in dominance which Stuart Hall distilled from his readings of Louis Althusser (Hall 1985) and Antonio Gramsci (1986), who shied from “extrapolating a common and universal structure to racism” (Hall 1980, p. 337), and which I presume we can extend into a productive framing of the structuring articulations of gender, empire, and class.
    In this spirit I would like to engage, simultaneously, a question posed during lecture that was directed to Prof. Katz about her definition and mobilization of “civil society” and the question posed by this week’s discussion leaders: “what, then, are the possibilities of anti-capitalist action within the home, among the “messy and fleshy” contradictions of social reproduction?” More specifically, I am interested in questioning what I perceive as an implicit reiteration of the public/private divide that has in many ways shaped understandings of what we mean by “household”, as opposed to the implicitly masculinist “public” where civil society occurs. For example, de la Costa’s (1972) essay, referred to by Katz, in which she analyzes the “female role,” by challenging the figuration of feminity and housework, employs a similar differentiation between the house, where unwaged labor of women, put in to the reproduction of laborers, is hidden, which is enclosed by “four walls” from the work of men, “perceived only as a shadow behind the shoulders of the husband who goes out each day and meets this something.” We might even look to Raymond William’s keywords to find that notions of household (or oikos) have been historically connected to ways economy (or oikos) and the family unit, or lineage, have been conceptualized.
    Yet, I would like to stray for a moment to an interesting case where the logics of private and public revealed during a social movement in which a woman disrobed herself during protests by indigenous women workers, in Peru, against the privatization of services provided by the Empresa de Servicios Municipales de Limpieza de Lima (ESMLL). In “City at its Limits,” ethnographer Daniela Gandolfo provides a robust description of these protests, which first began with a seven months long occupation outside ESMLL’s offices, located on a highway in Lima. There were also demonstrations from the highway to the city’s main plaza, a feature of many cities of the Latin America, linked to the processes of settler colonization associated with how Spanish imperialism, Catholicism, and resource extraction was resolved in the built environment of colonial entrepots. What Gandolfo makes evident is how a woman’s disrobing was, in one sense, transgressive of the forms of surveillance by police brought to Peru by Bratton, whose “zero tolerance” policies, like “stop and frisk”, fit with the Liman mayor’s desire to bring back forms of surveillance known during Peru’s colonial period (p. 26). Her nudity, moreover, transgressed notions of order established during periods of colonization and racialization of Incan descendants, especially relevant to the disciplining practices of a public square. Gandolfo further claims, that the spontaneous disrobing “rather than effecting an inversion of social meaning… rather than turning a negative into a positive, the women’s transgressions were acts of self-extrication from the realm of meaning… as the shattering of limit, transgression undoes… the distinction between power and powerlessness and brings forth a sovereign moment that abolishes the anticipation of political strategy” (p. 212-213). The actions of these women, protesting the privatization of ESMLL, and the inevitable loss of their jobs as street sweepers, given wage to maintain the hygiene of public space, remade their bodies into sites of mediation and struggle. Particularly relevant in the Latin American context where “motherist movements” have been significant for revealing the underbelly of the many dictatorships, propped up by US foreign policy, and world financial institutions, and the use of desaparición and violence by the state. The reiteration of nakedness, activism, and progressive politics have been especially noticed in the resistance to conservative measures by populist administrations, especially during Keiko Fujimori’s campaign: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=wL5efnbhsgM

    Gandolfo’s ethnography came to mind, for the reason noted above, over the question of the public/private, and specifically the history from which the logic of an ordered and hygienic urban space was established concretely into the built environment while Lima was being urbanized into a colonial port for the trade in goods extracted from the dispossession of indigenous labor. The protests against the privatization of mostly indigenous women’s work, whose wage labor maintained the materiality of colonial sensibilities in their public form, brought to life the interrelationship between economy and household in the mid-1990s, as the durable ideologies formed during the colonial period came into contact with strategies for expanding neoliberal economic policies to everyday life, through policing strategies brought from NYC and the Andrade’s privatization of ESMLL. But, as well, how logics of order and society inform the ideological practices and political terrain in which Lima’s built environment was realized, and to which the woman’s choice was directly responding.

    In reflecting on this case, I have found it difficult to square the notion of the household and civil society which Katz made a distinction between, during lecture. To what extent, did logics of private and pubic fold into each other in the articulations of gender, class, and race in the protests against privatizing ESMLL is difficult to say; messy and fleshy seems to work. Yet, I have offered this case to highlight what I find to be implicit in how we have thus far discussed household (private) and civil society (public). Moreover, these distinctions have a history, especially within the histories of liberal political theory. Frederic Jameson, the literary critique of high cultural Marxism, apt to confine the politics of culture to a relatively autonomous sphere (the ethnography above similarly tends to reduce processes of economic activity to an -ism), nevertheless, suggests a paradox: “theory of the “proletarian” public sphere, find themselves forced against their will to produce instead the rudiments of a theory of the bourgeois public sphere” (1998, p. 151).

    Perhaps, we might want to insert the question of “the commons” in our discussion for next week. I am thinking here of the work by Silvia Federici, in which she extols the role of women in helping to make commining a verb of actions centering around community: “not as a gated reality, a grouping of people joined by exclusive interests separating them from others, as with communities formed on the basis of religion or ethnicity, but rather as a quality of relations, a principle of cooperation and of responsibility to each other and to the earth, the forests, the seas, the animals” (Federici 2011). The communalization of housework being an integral starting point for broader anti-capitalist action, which she finds happening in the women-led cooperativist in the city of Buenos Aires (Federici 2018), the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil which after winning rights to land built new facilities designed as compounds to center communal housework (Fedrici 2018), and recently discussed Hayden’s (1982) history of the home designs which cropped out of the US feminist movement that sought to reorganize the city and house through plans for “public kitchens”, “cooperative houses”, and the like. Though, I wonder to what extent does the idea of the commons, which Fedirici puts forth, parallels the concept of a progressive understanding of counterpublics? As noted in an article by Cody (2011): “cultural production among marginalized social groups takes on a sort of self-conscious dual addressivity in a globalized media context, not unlike that found in Fraser’s (1990) earlier delineation of subaltern counterpublics, insofar as they often function according to contrasting value systems, one generated within and another oriented toward imagined onlookers” (Cody 2011, p. 46). Ida Susser’s review of the commons in anthropological literature would also contribute to a discussion of the commons. On the commons and commoning, Susser argues, “allows a recognition of the fragmented nature but joint mobilizations of the ecological movements, as well as groups addressing the questions of gender, displacement, immigration, race, sans papiers, and refugee status as they have actually come together in squares and occupations in many places…. as alternate ways of relating and forms of horizontalism become real if momentary experiences. Occupations and other modes of protest in the urban street, as well as squatting and more long-term efforts at solidariy, not only resonate with historical experience but also help to create visions and goals for social justice in the future” (Susser 2016, p. 195-196; see also, case studies on NYC, Barcelona, and Paris: Susser 2017).

    I am interested in, perhaps, further exploring to what extent do commons and commoning might be “forced against their wills” to reify a bourgeoisie notion of a public sphere? Moreover, to what extent, are we able to extrapolate from the practices of resistance from, say, the Peruvian case I have provided above to speak to a larger generality of what the commons might be (and its past and future) without situating these resistances within their ideological terrains? And, more hopefully, how do commons and commoning help us return to the question of the household and civil society in ways that might challenge a notion of the private and public?

    And lastly, these questions thus force us to question the role of the commons and commining within the context of the rise of populism, especially given the shockingly similar forms of populism, we are witnessing in various contexts today. On one hand, the rise of populist politics – for example witnessed in the US, France, and Brazil – have made central the formation of the dangerous ethnic other (immigrants, gangsters). And on the other hand, these political regimes have repeatedly fomented struggles over the meaning of the oikos. That is, the meaning and role of the state, which in neoliberal terms is, theoretically, an abstract body solely charged with maintaining the functioning of “free” markets; but, in actuality, functioning as an interventionist body at times of financial crisis. And as significant, the role of the family and women’s bodies. In the US, the appointment of Kavanaugh brought these questions to a head in the arena of formal politics. Less discussed, from my perspective, at least, was the line of questioning about Kavanaugh’s position on
    women’s right:
    gay rights:
    and presidential immunity:

    In Brazil, the case might be direr: the jailing of Lula, Bolsonaro’s views on “feminism” and drug traffickers, as well as the work to shape his campaign around family values and anti-establishment rhetoric.

    1. Anthony Ramos


      Cody, F., 2011. “Publics and politics.” Annual Review of Anthropology, 40, pp.37-52.
      Federici, Silvia. 2011. “Feminism and the Politics of the Commons.”

      Federici, Silvia. 2018. Public Talk. Cooperative Cities book launch, at the New School.

      Hall, Stuart. “Signification, representation, ideology: Althusser and the post‐structuralist debates.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 2, no. 2 (1985): 91-114.

      Hall, Stuart. “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 10, no. 2 (1986): 5-27.

      Hall, Stuart. 1980. “Race, articulation and societies structured in dominance,” in Sociological Theories: Race and Colonialism, ed. (Paris: Unesco).

      Hayden, D., 1982. The grand domestic revolution: A history of feminist designs for American homes, neighborhoods, and cities. MIT Press.

      Jameson, Fredric. “On Negt and Kluge.” October 46 (1988): 151-177.

      Susser, I., 2016. “Considering the urban commons: anthropological approaches to social movements.” Dialectical Anthropology, 40(3), pp.183-198.

      Susser, I., 2017. Commoning in New York City, Barcelona, and Paris. Focaal, 2017(79), pp.6-22.

  2. Pere Nogues Martin

    Thank you for the excellent summary and questions. Although the last question is specifically about science and climate change, I would like to contribute in this post with some comments on the relationship between social reproduction and land uses or agriculture because climate change is directly related.
    The women in “ex-colonial” territories have experienced the systematic attempt to be separated from agriculture. The feminine systems of agriculture, which still constitute the bulk of the agricultural workers of the planet, are part of the main attempts of resistance for a non-capitalist use of natural resources (land, water, etc.).
    There is a profound amnesia in urban societies, more severely in the Western societies, about the importance of the land in our daily life as sustenance, food producer and as a basic means for social reproduction. The rise of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution cannot be understood without the urbanization and industrialization of some areas (changing land use and the relationship with the environment) and the intensive use of land and masculinization of work in plantations. That is, without human and land exploitation on both sides of the Atlantic.
    The struggles that women are currently developing to re-appropriate the land and to promote a subsistence agriculture in which there is no commercial use of resources, are fundamental if we want the reproduction of our society not to be at the expense of the exploration of other people and if our goal is to stop being a threat to the planet.
    Women produce and sell in local markets most of the food that is consumed in African and Asian families (where the bulk of the world’s population lives) on a daily basis. The majority of subsistence agriculture is not quantified, in fact, it is usually not perceived as a job, that is, just as domestic work in urban areas it is fundamental for social reproduction but it does not have the status of paid work.
    The persistence of subsistence agriculture is staggering if one takes into account the attempts that capitalism has made during centuries to separate the producers (mainly women) from the use of land, which means, by replacing women engaged in subsistence agriculture for social reproduction by proletarian men in the commercial agricultural system.
    The works of Silvia Federici, Ester Boserup or Irene Silverblatt show the struggles of women in colonized territories to resist the commodification of agriculture in different historical periods. And further, articles as Silvia Federici’s “The Dept Crisis: Africa and the new enclosures” show how women have had to face reproductive crises in territories that were once known for their agricultural productivity but currently are facing either food scarcity or are experiencing a cost of food out of reach for local population.
    Women have also led the fight against commercial logging and afforestation. Forests are fundamental for the social reproduction of many communities because they provide food, medicines and other means of subsistence.
    For these reasons, there is not conceivable an anti-capitalist movement which wants to fight climate change that does not pay attention to the work of women farmers for social reproduction.

    1. Mikey Elster (they/them/their)

      This is a great comment and good food for thought. I would challenge the idea that urban movements have forgotten about the importance of controlling land, however. If you look at the urban gardening movement in the US you’ll find a mix of political motivations, some of them very corporate and ultimately aimed at gentrification. But among them you’ll find a very explicit socialist program of owning the land that one works. I’ll concede that this is primarily in the so-called post-industrial cities in the US where there is land to actually be taken that this happens, but I don’t think it’s fair to paint urban places so broadly as having amnesia.

      1. Kathryn Alessi

        Understandably, with urbanization, households are much less likely to own the spaces they live in and, even if they do own it, the probability of having a space of land you can grow food on is pretty scare. As mentioned above, in major cities like NYC, urban gardens and indoor hydroponics have become popular ideas, but I feel a growing resource that can actually challenge the negative effects of capitalism on multiple levels is the food cooperative. Many food coops have popped up in NYC in recent years and, since they run as a cooperative, the members make the choices about food procurement and distribution. There is a democratically agreed upon distribution of responsibilities for members and the food available is usually locally grown and, most importantly, in season. One of the benefits of focusing on locally grown, high quality food (that is in season) is increased soil health which is vital to the fight against climate change. The food cooperative itself is a step (or three) away from large supermarkets, and although still operating within larger scale capitalism, can improve food scarcity within undeserved communities and help alleviate the financial hardships of local farmers.

  3. Emily Holloway

    Thank you to the reviewers for the great overview and questions this week. I’m going to address questions one and two in this response.

    Something that has been on my mind about the question of institutions as sites of social reproduction (I’m trying to resist the much-maligned “care work” descriptor!) is the inherently gendered structure that guided their development and growth in American cities, particularly in cities that were formerly industrial production powerhouses–Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland…As technological obsolescence rationalized production through outsourcing or automation (or, in many cases, through state-led intervention), urban economies fell into decline. Suburban migration became a common coping strategy, and cumulative federal disinvestment in economic planning (among many, many other factors) coalesced to reverse population growth and consumption. Residents, many of them former manufacturing workers, too old to move, stayed put and aged in place. On top of natural aging, these residents faced the aftermath of industrial externalities vis-a-vis environmental risks; the accumulated and embodied physical symptoms of poverty; and the elimination of comprehensive health care.

    Needless to say, this created a very specific type of demand: “meds and eds” (medicine and education industries). The devalorized and inexpensive land sweetened the pot and allowed preexisting institutions like universities to expand their reach as employers and service providers. Deindustrialization incurred enormous growth in this sector, making it particularly vulnerable to its own new iteration of capitalist accumulation. Most of the thousands of jobs in these institutions are not well-paid, symptomatic of both rationalization and essentialized labor subjectivities (i.e. feminized “Care work” labor), but provide a critical service for residents. The institutional structure itself is inherently flawed, whether owned and operated by the state or private companies.

    In connecting this point with the second question, I am considering the other fundamental construct dialectically connected to capitalism: the binary distinction of public and private life. Not only did this build a feminized subjectivity of labor for social reproduction work, it also reconfigured important social infrastructure among family and community. An idealist might suggest a return to this arrangement, wherein boundaries of public and private could be dissolved and reconstituted differently. But, as Cindi Katz pointed out, patriarchy predates capitalism. Are there institutionalisms that could engender a more equitable and less essentialized notion of social reproduction labor? I think that is a risky proposition. I like Anthony’s point above regarding “a return to the commons”, and I think there’s valuable knowledge within democratically-owned and -managed spaces to inform a reconfiguration of public and private.

    However, even in successful cooperatively-owned enterprises, injustice and inequality continue to arise, regardless of the number of worker-owners or CLT tenants. Mondragon, among the most “successful” worker-owned enterprises in the world, suffered in the past from low participation from women, who had home obligations that did not impact men’s participation. I have not uncovered any literature on this issue since it was first publicized (Hacker 1987).

    Hacker, S.L.., 1987. “Women workers in the Mondragon System of Industrial Cooperatives.” Gender and Society 1(4), pp.358-379.

  4. Nicolas Benacerraf

    I was thankful for this window into the mechanics of social reproduction, and political opportunities that this kind of analysis opens. I felt compelled by the strategic virtue of withholding socially reproductive labor in order to leverage short-term concessions from capital — ideally by collectivizing household labor in order to generate disposable labor that can be deployed towards organizing systemic revolution. Indeed, it seems that the first step in a capitalist economy is to free the laborer from the totalizing conditions of surviving in this system, so that they can devote more time to education and political organization.

    My thoughts, as they often do, turn towards the political/economic circumstances of the performing arts. While there are many similarities between household laborers and performing arts laborers regarding their relationship to social reproduction, my initial analysis about the political possibilities for this sector is nonetheless discouraging. In the case of household laborers, it is *capital* that depends on this labor. But in the case of the performing arts — at least with regards to the largely invisible (non-commercial) majority of artists — capital does not care much either way if such cultural activity exists. They would likely be happier if radical, perspective-shifting art disappeared altogether. These laborers are instead concerned with fostering civic society that combats alienation, practices deep listening and collective action, and eschews easy answers in favor of multitudinous and paradoxical representations of the social.

    That is to say: it is the (future, imagined) socialist revolution that benefits the most from this activity. There seems to be no meaningful way for performing artists to withhold labor in a way that can leverage concessions, without completely infiltrating the commercial sector (including film/TV/internet production) as well as the enormous reserve army of labor that stands at its gates. The time of performing artists is already over-leveraged as compared that of virtually all other sectors. Efforts to collectivize broadly have failed in almost every instance — evaporating almost as quickly as they appear — as nobody has the disposable labor to sustain the efforts in the long term. And yet, the people involved are deeply convinced that this energy is connected to the longterm social health of every society.

    At the same time, capital has found a way to subjugate this activity. This cultural space often serves essentially as a research and development laboratory for new looks and aesthetics, which are stripped of their political and economic circumstances before being deployed towards advertising campaigns and storefront designs. So I am left with the same question: what is there to do? Is there another moment in the circulation of capital where these people can leverage concessions that can (directly or indirectly) create the disposable time to organize productively?

  5. Patrick

    I’d like to pick up on the above comments on the persistence of unquantified and uncommodified labor processes in agriculture and the production / reproduction boundary. The comment above is correct in saying that such work has persisted in many parts of the world, as peasantries around the world whose access to the land is not market-mediated, and thus few incentives exist to fully organize such production on capitalist lines. As Cindi has mentioned in her work, several actually existing capitalist production systems, particularly but not only in colonies, have in fact depended directly on continued subsistence farming work by households to further subsidize the wage.

    Now what is interesting here is how and to what extent which capitalist actors want to see such land enclosed and used for production for the world market. Obviously capitalists receiving such a subsidy to their labor costs would face some pressure if the enclosure of subsistence agricultural land meant that a working family would need more of a wage to survive at the same standard of living (though of course such conflict happens all the time and is often resolved in a progressively lower standard of living). So here, the interest of the firms employing the migrant worker whose family stayed on the farm would be directly opposed to the interests of capitalists seeking to seize that agricultural land and turn it into a commercial farm. This example is one reason why it may be particularly helpful to think carefully before we name the interests of “capital” as though there were not many times the interests of capitalists directly conflict.

    In a capitalist labor process, Taylorism sought to uncover the secrets workers used to make time for rest at work, quantifying each movement and pushing workers toward being active sixty seconds out of every minute. Contrarily, as Katz noted, Marx argues that capitalists often don’t give a damn about straining workers’ social reproduction and leave it up to people’s will to survive, Henry Ford’s famous social workers aside. Interestingly, however, in Chapter 25 of Volume I of Capital, Marx quotes at length from a Belgian parliamentary report to examine the effects of crises on squeezing the very same kinds of “secrets” out of workers’ social reproductive activity, if in a manner less directly quantified by capitalists. Ducpétiaux writes that workers survive wage cuts “by adopting expedients, the secret of which only the labourer knows;, by reducing his daily rations; by substituting rye-bread for wheat; by eating less meat, or even none at all, and the same with butter and condiments; by contenting themselves with one or two rooms where the family is crammed together, where boys and girls sleep side by side, often on the same pallet; by economy of clothing, washing, decency: by giving up the Sunday diversions; by, in short, resigning themselves to the most painful privations. Once arrived at this extreme limit, the least rise in the price of food, stoppage of work, illness, increases the labourer’s distress and determines his complete ruin; debts accumulate, credit fails, the most necessary clothes and furniture are pawned, and finally, the family asks to be enrolled on the list of paupers.”

    Examining how these strategies interplay, and how pressure on one is subject to direct quantified management while pressure on the other is subjected precisely to unquantified squeezing, is particularly important for differences of strategy regarding building power for exploited people on either side of the formal/informal, productive/reproductive boundary.

  6. Matthew Whitley

    (Long stream of conscious post on the Action side of things – forget if there’s an edit function but wanted to just post for now. I’m primarily responding to the second lecture with this note and can cross-post when available. Also, this is from the limited perspective of an American anti-capitalist.)

    The discussion around social-reproduction as a possible key site of anti-capitalist intervention seemed particularly interesting to me. Cindi Katz’s assertion that the simplified notion of the shop floor should no longer dominate struggle seems legitimate to me in the United States at least. I don’t see a future in which we won’t have a massive globalized industrial and agricultural proletariat, but I think movements build on localized issues and we can only be effective as internationalists with a certain degree of strength. The flexibilization of work, the ossification of American labor unions, de-industrialization, and the burgeoning “care” and service sectors all seem to support the idea that an organizing focus on “productive labor,” in its most limited form, is not enough.

    I wanted to speak particularly to this view paired with Prof. Maskovsky’s comment on a possible future in which democracy was once again in fundamental opposition to authoritarianism and in which democracy might be re-understood as something innately anti-capitalist. It seems clear that representative, liberal democracy is increasingly being identified with oligarchy, corruption, and structural racism – leaving an opening for radical re-interpretations. This is why I appreciate anthropologists like David Graeber attempting to re-mythologize American democracy in a way that brings it into harmony with direct democracy and horizontalism.

    From my own experience I’m aware that Prof. Maskovsky is skeptical of the tendency of anarchists in social movements to obsess over the notion of democracy, but its slow re-definition seems to be one of our greatest successes on the radical left and it is a concept that might allow us to rhetorically and tactically combine struggles around reproduction and production. Specifically, expanding the notion of democracy allows us to pose the political question “who is allowed to legislate our ‘way of life’ – us or technocrats?”

    One of the reasons for failing to do this already on a mass scale might be that movements like anti-globe were most focused on (not exclusively) developing radical democracy within the ephemeral context of mobilizations rather than within enduring organizations or directly in neighborhoods, cities and sites of local struggle. By combining this emphasis on radical democracy with enduring political organizations (unfortunately radical democracy has frequently been used to push anti-organizational politics) I think we can see a lot of potential to give political content to often de-politicized questions around social reproduction.

    I do believe that the incredible recuperative power of capitalism that we keep noting ultimately demands something like a classic revolution for “real victory,” but in the medium term I see this potent combination coming out of projects like neighborhood popular assemblies. While we don’t have much of a history of neighborhood assemblies in the U.S., there have been sporadic attempts, including a Queens Popular Assembly just launched, and I think they’ll be increasingly attractive.

    Such assemblies can refuse the narrow economic focus of labor bargaining, not be consumed by the single issue mobilizations that national conflict often brings, preserve organization in a context of high legitimacy (community members acting directly), and organically bring together issues around wages, cost of living, culture, environmental justice, urbanism etc.

    For a concrete example, assemblies in Athens, Greece that skew anarchist/socialist have: unilaterally demolished a parking lot and re-built it as a playground, created neighborhood security to avoid interaction with police, systematically pirated electricity for neighbors unable to pay utility fees, supported communal kitchens, and endorsed occupations to create space for health clinics, rehabilitation centers, refugees, and migrants. While one can argue such activities simply fill the “social wage” void of an absent state, and can even serve as a pressure release, they are also fundamentally conflictual (even communal kitchens are targeted by police), build real solidarities, and are incredible propaganda for the viability of self-management. “What should social reproduction look like?” is really the popular assemblies’ key question, beyond survival, if built on the generally unlimited framework of radical democracy.

    At the same time, their repression demonstrates the real limits of capitalist, liberal “democracy,” heightens militancy, and the rootedness of assemblies provides a long political and organizational memory. They’re also structures that don’t have to retreat into provincial localism, as they’re demonstrably easily federated and, when developed in parallel with or organized by explicitly anti-capitalist political organizations, can serve as functional dual power with a sense of legitimacy in revolutionary situations.

    I think that social reproduction is what people really want to know about (and potentially fear changes around) when you speculate about a revolutionary future. “What will my daily life look like?” “What will happen to the family?” “How will my sense of identity change or be threatened?” Marxist-Feminists/Anarcha-Feminists like Kollontai and Goldman were highly engaged with post-revolutionary questions around motherhood, love, child-care, community creches, etc. The Rojava Revolution brought a lot of these issues, especially around feminist concerns, back to the table in our post-Soviet, more anarchistically inclined left world. Creating popular assemblies might be a strong way to bring experimentation with these issues back into the here in now (while maintaining a utopian horizon), demonstrate the more anti-authoritarian position of most socialists today, and allow struggles around life, health, family, and economics to coalesce in enduring ways.

  7. Anna Rebrii

    Anthony’s comments on commoning got me thinking about community gardens and on their potential to transform community engagement and eventually contribute to a systemic transformation. Using the examples of urban community projects, I will partially respond to the third question — long term anti-capitalist activity in the realm of reproduction.

    Cindi Katz privileges social reproduction as an arena of struggle due to its ubiquity: we are all involved in social reproduction in its political-economic, cultural and environmental aspects (2001, 712). The focus on social reproduction takes us beyond the workplace into multifarious fields where the labor power and social relations of the capitalist system are reproduced. In my opinion, this focus opens up an arena for organizing on a neighborhood/community level given that people in a given locale face the same reproduction concerns (housing, education, environment, food), and these are the people who have or could develop meaningful ties to each other by sharing responsibility to their community, including sharing the struggle. I see such engagement as extending the “intimate” beyond the household into a larger community, thus shifting the boundary between private and public, a concern that was brought up by Anthony.

    At the same time Katz acknowledges the non-revolutionary side of social reproduction because it reproduces problematic social relations, alongside oppositional politics (2001, 718). So how do we foster oppositional politics while participating in the capitalist social reproduction rather than withdrawing from it?

    I would like to examine to which degree urban community projects create potentially transformative social reproductive practices. A couple of days ago, I listened to an episode of Laura Flanders’ show that featured three women activists engaged in different initiatives around urban gardening: an urban farm run by African-American women; a Dominican cooperative kitchen that provides cooking classes and knowledge sharing and works with local food producers; and an organization that works on redesigning urban landscape, including the creation of networks to connect various community projects.

    The experience that these women shared points to the directions in which such community engagement has a transformative potential. In particular, they highlighted the cross-cutting nature of urban farming as it addresses such issues as access to food, health, environmental justice, urban landscape, social relations in the community — all pertaining to the sphere of social reproduction. Moreover, they stressed that community projects develop community cohesion and specifically give a means of empowerment to low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately affected by the lack of access to the basic means of subsistence, disinvestment and environmental degradation. Katz emphasized that the process of social reproduction recreates divisions along various lines, such as gender, race and ethnicity, that are integral to capitalist production. Community initiatives can challenge these by empowering or reintegrating the disadvantaged groups into the community in the absence of any initiative on the part of the state. For example, Ysanet Batista, founder of Woke Foods cooperative, mentioned that she works with immigrants and women recently released from prison.

    They also expressed concerns in regards to the limitations of their activities and what is necessary for transcending them. It is primarily the lack of access to capital –that affects disproportionately people of color– that prevents the growth of such projects. They emphasized the need for a comprehensive public policy that would provide resources to those willing to engage in local initiatives. As I discussed in my previous blog, public banks could be one way to address the issue as they provide additional profits to the municipality or state that could be funneled towards community projects. In an interview on the public banking legislation in CA, Phoenix Goodman draws attention to all the interest that goes to private banks (he cites the figure of 1.1 billion dollars a year that goes to various financial institutions in LA). He makes a compelling point that the German green infrastructure was made possible thanks to the financing by public banks which constitute 40-50% of all banks in Germany. https://therealnews.com/stories/la-voters-to-consider-creating-nations-first-municipal-public-bank

    What I found particularly interesting in this discussion on urban farming, is that the emphasis on the need of public policy is combined with a focus on the community’s active participation in the creation of alternatives. Here is where Katz’s use of the “pie” (state-capital-civil society-family) of the distribution of costs of social reproduction can be useful. If the relationship among these parts of the pie does not change, that is, if we only redistribute resources within family/community without forcing the capital and the state to take on a larger share of the social-reproductive costs, such a change would not challenge existing configuration of power and resource distribution. On the contrary, if such initiatives do press the state and capital for a larger share, they can be considered in the long run as transformative of structural relations.

    On the other hand, if a community project involves simply a hunt for resources and lobbying elected officials without a radical long-term vision, then it ends up being not too different from an NGO that merely ameliorates the symptoms of the wreckage done by the capitalist system. The lack of access to decision making over resource distribution, that is, the lack of truly democratic engagement due to economic inequality and insufficiencies of liberal democracy, calls for activism that fosters the community’s systematic engagement in decision-making over their own lives. Community projects have a potential to subvert social relations, as they have been normalized by capitalism, into “communal forms of being together,” as the blog leaders paraphrase della Costa and James.

    Similar potential and limitations can be identified in regards to housing struggles, struggles for better childcare and schools, environmental movements, and so on. Once we recognize that these struggles all revolve around capitalist expropriation in the sphere of social reproduction, that opens up a whole world of creative alliances that transcend one-issue politics, including neighbourhood assemblies mentioned by Matthew in his blog.

    Katz, Cindi. (2001). Vagabond capitalism and the necessity of social reproduction. Antipode, 33(4), 709-728. [PDF]

  8. Zachary Paganini

    Thanks to the bloggers for their insightful questions. My response will focus on the first two prompts.

    Regarding the second question, regarding the possibilities of anti-capitalist action within the home, among the “messy and fleshy” contradictions of social reproduction, I have to admit that at times I find myself somewhat skeptical about the idea that the site of production is been unfairly privileged in Marxist theorizing, or that the household scale is a potential locus for anti-capitalist action. This is not to say that the household scale is unimportant, outside capitalism, or not worthy of study- these sorts of studies are crucial for illuminating the strategies people take up in their desperate attempts to survive and thrive in the face of capitalist exploitation and alienation, and these everyday strategies can tell us quite a bit about peoples’ consciousness and capacity for self-organization. So indeed, investigating the household scale through the lens of social reproduction can tell us quite a bit about the development of anticapitalist thought. Here I’m thinking about Susan Saegert’s work with Kristen Hackett (2018) on how community land trusts residents found that their lower rents and secured housing allowed them to work less, giving them more free time for intellectual development and community organizing.

    However, I find the idea of the household as a locus for anticapitalist action a bit more difficult to conceptualize. I’m thinking that anticapitalist action aims to accomplish two immediate goals: the raising of anticapitalist consciousness (as I touched upon in paragraph one), and the disruption of the capitalist system. So my skepticism around the potential for anticapitalist action in the household is more to ask, to what extent can withholding household labor really disrupt the capitalist system? It seems to me that the privileging of the production system over social reproduction in Marxist texts is a strategic question rather than a masculinist slight, although I assume that the latter must have been a part of the picture in more than a few cases. If I get a bunch of workers together to occupy a factory floor and interrupt just-in-time production systems, or to disrupt shipments at a port facility, the national guard are being deployed because we’re causing a massive threat/disruption to accumulation- and in doing so we’ve attained some degree of leverage. If I organize that many households to stop doing their housework, the furthest it escalates is that we’re all unhealthily living in filth and maybe eventually the landlord gets involved. So to me, the disproportionate focus on the site of production in Marxist writings is a a question of strategy rather than a blanket value judgement on the household sphere or social reproduction at large.

    For these reasons, I tend to gravitate towards social reproduction analyses that are attuned to the dialectical relationship between social reproduction and broader structural changes, which the bloggers question in their first prompt. One good example of this I’ve come across recently is Henry’s (2015) discussion of hospital closures in NYC. She melds Katz’s approach to social reproduction with Harvey’s writings on capitalist urbanization to situate hospital closures within three restructurings: (1) the restructuring of space, as hospital closures allow the built environment to turn over in gentrifying neighborhoods, (2) the restructuring of industry, as the health care industry is ‘rightsized’ by the state and increasingly dominated by the for-profit sector, and (3) the restructuring of labor, as hospital closures and the move towards urgent care centers emerges as a fix to the relative shortage of nurses and ascendant power of nurse unions. In doing so she shows how social reproduction crises are produced across multiple sites and scales, both in the increasingly uneven geographies of health as working class communities lose crucial care facilities, and in the threat to the nurses’ reproduction as their profession becomes less accessible and stable.

    Sources cited:

    Hackett K, Saegert S, Dozier D, and Marinova M. 2018. Community land trusts: releasing possible selves through stable affordable housing. Housing Studies https://doi.org/10.1080/02673037.2018.1428285

    Henry C. 2015. Hospital closures: the sociospatial restructuring of labor and health care. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105 (5).

  9. Erin Ward

    The argument put forward by Dalla Costa and James, and by Prof. Cindi Katz in this lecture, that social reproduction is the “hidden abode of capitalism” or the linchpin of the creation of surplus value (the unwaged work of women is what produces and reproduces workers who are then exploited by capitalists) suggests that the expansive sphere of social reproduction is the central sphere in which oppositional, anticapitalist practice should figure. This argument is a critical intervention into orthodox Marxist formulations that overlook or disregard the importance of unwaged labor of women in the home to the functioning of capitalism. However, I also want to address the feminist critique of this theory that it does not explain why it is that women in particular have historically been made responsible for this labor. Addressing this question entails examination not only of the functioning of capitalism and the organization of the ‘sex-gender-system’ under capitalism (as Gayle Rubin put it in her 1975 Marxist-feminist formulation) but also the gender (and race) ideologies that justify particular arrangements for the production and distribution of value. Prof. Katz touched on this idea with her discussion of how capitalism produces and naturalizes social difference in order to make anticapitalist alliance unimaginable, but I want to suggest that we also consider ideologies of social difference that supersede or confound the functioning of capitalism. In particular, I am interested in the idea that old gender ideologies must be transformed in order to justify and promote the neoliberal ideal of self-sufficiency that forces poor women, previously dependent on male partners or the paternal welfare state, to become ‘self-reliant’ low-wage workers. In the case of poor women in situations of domestic violence, for example, efforts to help women become independent of abusive partners often becomes a project of economic independence and “empowerment” that is more about finding them low-wage work in the absence of welfare benefits (notably, jobs that are often in the sphere of social reproduction that do not provide a high enough wage for them to provide for their own social reproduction) than it is about substantive economic empowerment.

    Rubin, Gayle. 1975. “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex.” In Toward an Anthropology of Women, by Reyna Reiter, 155–70. New York: Monthly Review Press.

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