Category Archives: 10/16 Cindi Katz #2

Professor in Environmental Psychology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, American Studies, and Women’s Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center.


10/16 Cindi Katz #2

[Lead bloggers: Erin, Megan, Austin]

Cindi Katz’s second presentation continued to address a significant lacuna in Marx´s work; that of the unwaged labor of social reproduction, which she introduced in the first presentation. She has also called this the “hidden abode of capitalism” and as in the preceding presentation, considered the centrality of this unwaged, so-called non-productive sphere to the functioning of capitalism and called on us to think about its potential as a center for oppositional practice.

In this week’s presentation Katz discussed what she calls “crisis of social reproduction” to express the expulsion of more and more people from employment and conditions of work and survival made increasingly precarious in recent decades. Katz encouraged us to consider how this has affected the practices and promises of social reproduction. With global capitalism, laborers have been vacated from the traditional workplace on a mass scale. The disintegration of certain markets and sites of production in global capitalism produces insecurity and competition, in turn producing migration on a national and international scale. Migration, where workers are reproduced in one territory and then produce in another, enables uneven capitalist accumulation and development to occur. This process also cheapens migrant labor as the labor is reproduced elsewhere with less regulation.

This week, Katz again facilitated questions from the audience to guide the lecture. One question was on workplaces that are sites where social reproduction has been commodified. Restaurants, babysitting, transportation, and education are all sites that straddle production and reproduction, making resistance in those locations especially multivalent. An example given by an audience member was fast food workers striking for better pay, or thinking about what kind of food they would like to feed their community. Katz pointed to Dalla Costa and James´ critique of traditional Marxism which has always imagined social reproduction as contained in the home.

The “crises of social reproduction” Katz invokes also involve the idea of disposability. In the “spatial fix” of global capitalism, extensively theorized by David Harvey, whole populations are increasingly expelled from employment, thus devalued, and deemed disposable. Katz discussed how the production of disposable populations involves dispossession, including the imposition of food insecurity on communities that had previously achieved food sovereignty though subsistence farming, with the new condition of food insecurity introduces competition among laboring populations and labor migration on a vast scale.

Katz posed the critical questions: how are these processes of expelling and making populations disposable invisibilized? As such, we would like to extend this question as to how regimes of visibility and invisibility serve to further disempower and enclose expelled populations.

As these processes of dispossession and expulsion become greater than the industrial reserve labor, such processes cut across classes and populations (while, as Katz discussed, also producing and naturalizing difference to make alliances unimaginable). Katz considered how the widening of the precarious expelled populations introduces the technocratic need to “manage” these populations. State strategies of managing the expelled populations approximates realms of “slow death” and “necropolitics” written about by other social theorists such as Achille Mbembe. Katz addressed a number of techniques used to manage crises in social reproduction:

  1. Increased investment in prisons and carceral institutions — state money spent on policing and incarcerating expelled populations; involves the further militarization of public spaces, neighborhoods, schools, etc. and administration of social death
  2. Increased investment in the military — increased investment in the military in order to absorb excess populations and to secure borders
  3. Migration — strategy for imbalances in labor populations; Katz discussed the role of gang labor in migration and what it means when viable labor is not found in the new site
  4. Space-time expansion and excessive commutes — globalization has produced a “space-time expansion” in which the working day and week is extended; one way people managed to be employed is by making excessive commutes, which Katz discussed as taking more time on a certain kind of social reproduction.
  5. Working multiple contingent jobs — people manage to be employed in precarious conditions by working multiple contingent jobs; the cutting of benefits and the general movement of laborers from the formal wage economy to the informal economy decreases the social wage; the general shift to informal economies as jobs and wage labor becomes a less secure source of income.
  6. The dual spectrum of managing how children grow up as managing security within precarity — on one hand, the packing of resources into time (e.g. piano lessons, sports) with hopes of increasing life chances as life’s work value decreases; happens along a class spectrum; while on the other hand the carceral state’s criminalization of youth and children from expelled populations as “waste” thus prematurely dimming their future possibilities through unequal access to education, health care, and jobs, often tragically resulting in premature death or imprisonment, due to the policing and militarization of such communities.
  7. Managing who gets access to resources through borders and bureaucracy — producing and denying ‘illegal alien,’ undocumented populations. The sinister allegiance of detention centers with the carceral state to detain undocumented migrants; often resulting in extreme human rights violations such as sexual abuse, violence and torture occurring within the actual detention centers. The lack of access to the judicial system to review migrant cases; wherein they seek asylum from persecution from war, religious discrimination, extreme forms of gender and sexuality discrimination involving violence and community expulsion, dispossession, human trafficking, and indentured servitude in the form of sex work.

Katz asked us how we can think dialectically about questions of social reproduction so that we are not managing conditions of social death but instead mobilizing resources to prefigure a world we want to live in by engaging the sphere of social reproduction as a generative source of practical and pedagogical  alternatives to ¨capitalism´s¨ exclusions and violences. We would like to raise this question again here.

Finally, Katz discussed the environmental aspect of social reproduction and social reproduction as a materialist question. This entails thinking about the environment not as “free gifts of nature” but as resources mobilized and the physical setting for social reproduction. Katz discussed the degradation of the built environment as capital moves from one site of production to another (Katz described this as “vagabond capitalism”) and things like overfishing, water crises, and climate change as crises in social reproduction. We can think about how this degradation relates to the process of dispossession we discussed. Katz mentioned, for example, the appropriation of land from subsistence farmers and indigenous farmers that forces them into the cash economy. The arenas of social reproduction also include disinvestment in the environment and the mobility of labor.

Discussion questions:

  1. How is the theme of invisible labor in what Katz calls the hidden abode of capitalism, a source of convergence or divergence between feminist and Marxist concepts of space?
  2. How can we think dialectically about questions of social reproduction rather than “managing” excess populations? What are ways of making the expelling and disposal of excess populations visible?
  3. As Katz mentioned, Dalla Costa and James state that “Capitalism is the only system where the children of the working class are educated with the interest of the ruling class in mind.” How can we think of social reproduction (or Marx’s superstructure) as a site for the staging of subversions of the social order of capital?
  4. As our construction as “neoliberal” subjects occurs in the realm of social reproduction, how can the realm of social reproduction be used to dismantle and reimagine alternate possibilities for the political economy?  As the realm of social reproduction includes the affective and pedagogical labor to make all the normative codes of society sensible, how can this realm be reappropriated to make these norms insensible?
  5. How does thinking about social reproduction as a materialist question help to join together feminist, Marxist, and environmental justice politics? What are some examples of this kind of political action and what can they tell us about the challenges and potential of organizing around social reproduction?