February 24, 2021

Social Reproduction Theory

Summary: This range of readings covered a key precedent text, and contemporary theorizing around the tangle of social reproduction theory and (neo)liberal feminism in capitalist frameworks.


Key to social reproduction theory (SRT) is an understanding of the ‘production of goods and services and the production of life are part of one integrated process’, or in other words: acknowledging that race and gender oppression occur capitalistically. SRF (social reproduction feminism) explores the ways in which the daily and generational renewal of human life (and thus of human labour power) is absolutely essential to the decade-over-decade tenacity not merely of inequality, but of capitalism.

What is SRT? Tithi Bhattacharya Video link

Wages Against Housework, Sylvia Federici, 1974

“Every miscarriage is a work accident.”

It is not enough to view housework as a matter of wages. When you don’t consider housework as part of a systemic political perspective, you “miss its significance in demystifying and subverting the role to which women have traditionally been confined,” and in capitalist society, to simply talk about money for labor is not enough of a shift.

Housework: a given. naturalized. Part of a contract of subjugation. Not optional. My role, as “the wife” or feminized position in a relationship of dominance.

Hidden labor: “By denying housework a wage and transforming it into an act of love,” capital has collapsed many interdependencies into one neat bundle. The masculine position is also trapped as wage-earner, his working body belonging to the “external” (outside, “real-world”) forces of labor, churning out stuff to keep the gears of capital moving.

The “essence of our socialization” is contingent on the wageless condition of homeworkers. Federici argues (rightly IMO) that there’s no comparison between a man (legitimate worker) demanding higher wages, and a woman “(homeworker) demanding wages; the former is still within the systemic order of wage-earning and capital while the latter is “revolutionary” and threatens to upend the necessary conditions (free labor at home) that keep the capitalist system going.

For homeworkers (née homemakers) are a resource to be exploited, positioned to accept that, in order to lube the socioeconomic gears.

It goes beyond the home; it is the space of affective and emotional labor—caring for the emotional states of others, in part by anaging one’s own emotional states. Federici writes that, as in home-work, the jobs women were getting (and still are)—nursing, teaching, housekeeping, secretarial— produce the same “isolation, the fact that other people’s lives depend on us, or the impossibility to see where our work begins and ends, where our work ends and our desires begin.”

I (of course) keep jumping to the positions capital has schematized, in which black and brown and “third world” bodies are less-than white bodies. Slavery, were it still possible, would be a favorable condition along related (not the same) lines as “unliberated” women held in place in the home? And by this logic, how far could we extend our thinking, to consider exploited “resources” that are other species, or even forces in the world?

The struggles of others are OUR struggles.
We want and have to say that we are all housewives, we are all prostitutes and we are all gay, because until we recognize our slavery we cannot recognize our struggle against it, because as long as we think we are something better, something different than a housewife, we accept the logic of the master, which is a logic of division, and for us the logic of slavery.”

Crisis of Care? On the Social-Reproductive Contradictions of Contemporary Capitalism,
Nancy Fraser, 2016

video lecture here
“Crisis of care:” Time poverty, social depletion, work-life balance…
Crisis -tendency or contradiction in every form of capitalism,
the social-reproductive contradictions of financialized capitalism, as every form of capitalism tends to destabilize the very social-reproductive schema that is part of its foundation.
Care deficits: care is foundational (support), and also ignored. It is extra-market, and little of it takes wage labor, but it’s intrinsic to the functioning of economic productivity. Reproductive labor, whose “social importance was/is obscured,” is structurally subordinate, even though it’s a precondition to wage labor.

Summed up as a paradox:

In general, then, capitalist societies separate social reproduction from economic production, associating the first with women and obscuring its importance and value. Paradoxically, however, they make their official economies dependent on the very same processes of social reproduction whose value they disavow. This peculiar relation of separation-cum-dependence- cum-disavowal is a built-in source of potential instability. Capitalist economic production is not self-sustaining, but relies on social reproduction. However, its drive to unlimited accumulation threatens to destabilize the very reproductive processes and capacities that capital— and the rest of us—need.

From Social Reproduction Feminism to the Women’s Strike,
Cinzia Arruzza, 2018

How women’s strikes & marches internationally helped movements around abortion, male violence, wages.
Why USA liberal feminism fails to speak to the larger body of women: it is a “juridical and rights-based definition of feminism” that encompasses reproductive rights and gender discrimination, but leaves out class, race, and environmental inequality, which leave working women in the dust (“Equal pay and the end of gender discrimination in the workplace, for example, are certainly worthy causes, but…they have little tangible effect on the lives of working-class women if decoupled from demands for a minimum wage or for income redistribution.“)

Liberal feminism is corporate feminism.

Trump’s election win signaled “an impasse for liberal feminism” and opened a space for alternative feminist politics: “a class-based, antiracist feminism, inclusive of trans women and queer and nonbinary people

A strike call. For social reproduction and also inclusive of capitalist concepts of labor. As unionization halved in the last 30 years because of neo-liberal anti-union legislation etc.

Note that “Class struggle, however, should not be conflated with labor struggle in the workplacemanifestations of the class as a political actor and an agent of conflict often take place in the sphere of social reproduction, where these struggles have the potential to attack capitalist profitability” i.e mobilizing as Black Lives Matter, around US/Mex border issues, Muslim ban.

Women’s strike provided “visibility to labor organizations where the majority of workers are women, such as the ROC and the New York State Nurses Association, and to instances of local labor organizing and workplace struggles led by women and queer people