Austerity’s Specters and Failures of Social Reproduction

By Brian Whitener |

Austerity Vs. Reproduction

In late December rumors swirled that House Speaker Paul Ryan was considering retirement, but not before tackling his long-sought after goal of eliminating federal “entitlement programs” or dismantling the remaining pieces of the welfare state in the United States. Indeed, the passage of the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which will add 1.7 trillion to the national debt, can be read as a cynical move to—yet again—use the tactics of debt hysteria, government shutdown, and budget deadlines to impose an austerity agenda. Ryan himself made this connection explicit in an interview: “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.” Once again, it appears that in the coming year programs of austerity and attacks on social reproduction will be front and center in U.S. politics.

Since the appearance of the 2007-8 financial crisis, the specter of austerity has haunted the developed capitalist countries of the North Atlantic. Previously confined to the global South and the European periphery, particularly after 1989, crisis and austerity—which for so many years were exported and then held at bay with IMF and World Bank strategies—are firmly lodged in the center of the “developed” capitalist world. Structural adjustment was forced on the global South as a response to failing accumulation in the world economy, which began in the early 1970s as the long post-war boom burnt itself out. Structural adjustment programs were an attempt to restart a new cycle of capitalist accumulation but, despite enormous social costs, they failed. Today, that crisis of accumulation has become global.

Programs of austerity have historically been gendered and have, when implemented, created crises of social reproduction. If the experience of the global South during the 1980s and 90s is any indicator, programs of structural adjustment in the North will disproportionately affect individuals located in already precarious social positions, in particular women, women of color, and women without, or with precarious, citizenship status. [1] Austerity has always meant decisions about who—what groups and individuals—will or will not survive and thrive. One possible trajectory for anti-capitalist feminist politics in the coming years will be, then, the question of how to resist and refuse such determinations of who lives and who dies and how to restore, remake, or renew autonomous forms of social reproduction. [2]

Wages (for Housework) and Feminist Narratives

Accounts of U.S. left feminism in the 1970s have tended to conceptualize non-liberal feminism as falling along a spectrum or continuum of positions. Often these narratives originated with writers associated with or formed in socialist feminist traditions, and frequently in such narratives one finds three (or perhaps four) variants of left feminism: Marxist feminism, which prioritized structural links between capitalist social relations and women’s oppression; radical feminism, which gave priority to patriarchy in women’s oppression; socialist feminism (in its U.S. formation), which frequently used some form of a dual oppression model that analyzed capitalist exploitation and patriarchal oppression; and finally some narratives will include the French materialist feminists (usually represented by Christine Delphy, who saw women’s oppression arising from a dual mode of production, the capitalist and the domestic). While no account is this schematic, there are many instances in the literature where 1970s left feminism is thought through the figure of a continuum, with one pole represented by Marxist Feminists (who emphasize the importance of political economy) and at the other, radical feminists (interested primarily in patriarchy), and, often, with social feminist authors in the middle, mediating helpfully between these two extremes. [3]

The continuum narrative has devalorized and contributed to the forgetting of the theoretical contribution of Wages for Housework (despite such recent discussions of it as Kathi Weeks’ The Problem With Work). The writing of Wages for Housework presented a challenge to more orthodox Marxist and socialist feminists—a challenge that was most frequently and inadequately met with either misreading (socialist feminists read them as “Marxists,” as having no place for social relations of gender oppression) or orthodox dismissal (by male “Marxists” who criticized their reading of Marx). These are debates that culminate, at least for the field of U.S. academic feminism as it comes to be constituted in the 1980s, in Heidi Hartmann’s landmark 1979 essay, “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism” (written during 1975 but first published in Capital & Class in 1979 and then widely anthologized) which declares that Wages for Housework makes an “incalculable advance” by placing domestic labor at the center of feminist discussions. Hartmann, however, then dismisses Wage for Housework as not feminist and too focused on capitalism. [4]

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Wages for Housework, however, made a unique contribution to anti-capitalist feminist thought: unlike attempts to either make women’s oppression fit traditional Marxist accounts of capitalism or attempts to argue that Marxism could not account for the specificity of women’s oppression, Wages for Housework demonstrated how gender structured a particular moment of capitalist production and accumulation (i.e., Fordism). In doing so, Wages for Housework rethought Marx in order to give an account of gender oppression and to use this analysis to generate an anti-capitalist feminist politics. [5]

Accumulation’s Lynchpin: Gender

While today it has perhaps become well-worn ground, it is worth tarrying for a moment with the uniqueness of this intervention, if only to remind ourselves of its form. The Wages for Housework movement was launched in 1972 with the publication of Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James’ “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community.” Emerging out of the complex political situation of Italian autonomia, Wages for Housework formed part of a theoretical milieu which was focused on re-reading Marx in order to interpret how capitalism was restructuring during the Fordist boom. The Italian autonomist tendency was highly critical of party-based revolutionary organizations and traditional unions, arguing that capitalist restructuring had displaced the working-class as the privileged political subject, which led to a search for new political subjects. While the mainstream autonomia groups focused on combative younger factory workers who, rather than celebrating work, refused it, Wages for Housework focused on women and their unwaged, hidden labor in the home.

Reykjavik for Women's Day Off. Icelandic Women's History Archive (1)

The theoretical perspective of Wages for Housework advanced in “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community” was motivated by a two-fold critique of orthodox historical materialism or socialist versions of Marxism. First, Dalla Costa and James build on Marx’s insight concerning how the wage appears as a real figuration of the productivity of labor power but is, in fact, a means for hiding the surplus value extracted from the worker. Dalla Costa and James’ innovation is to see that the wage actually organizes not just the exploitation of the worker, but the exploitation of the non-wage laborer as well. They write:

What has been neither clear nor assumed by the organizations of the working class movement is that precisely through the wage has the exploitation of the non-wage laborer been organized. This exploitation has been even more effective because the lack of a wage hid it. That is, the wage commanded a larger amount of labor than appeared in factory bargaining. Where women are concerned, their labor appears to be a personal service outside of capital. The woman seemed only to be suffering from male chauvinism, being pushed around because capitalism meant general “injustice” and “bad and unreasonable behavior”; the few (men) who noticed convinced us that this was “oppression” but not exploitation. But “oppression” hid another and more pervasive aspect of capitalist society. [6]

This insight then opens onto a more general critique of Marx—that Marx did not adequately think through the importance of the realm of social reproduction. Silvia Federici has noted how the famous passage of Volume 1 of Capital—where Marx discusses what the laborer needs to reproduce their labor power “so that he can renew his life process”—mentions only the basket of commodities (food, clothing, housing), thereby overlooking all of the work of preparing the food, cleaning the house, and caring for the emotional and physical health of the laborer. The Wages for Housework analysis reveals the dark matter of the universe of social reproduction—the unwaged domestic and care labor of women in the home, completing all the tasks necessary for the supposedly male laborer to exit the house, enter the factory and earn the wage. [7] As such, by focusing on reproduction, their critique opens onto an analysis of gender and of the material instantiation of gender in the family and an account of accumulation in Fordist capitalism. At the same time, it falls short of a full accounting of how this waged or unwaged relationship differs along the lines of race and citizenship. [8]

Wages for Housework’s analysis offers a two-part political model: first, they developed a heterodox Marxist analysis of the then-current system of capital accumulation and the role of women and gender within it. From this analysis, they unfold a political intervention that can potentially interrupt this process of accumulation. The political logic of Wages for Housework asks: how does accumulation happen, what is the position of women in this process, and how can it be disrupted? While there was organizing by women of color and immigrant women within the Wages for Housework movement (in particular in the International Wages for Housework Campaign and by the International Black Women for Wages for Housework groups), the political theory of the movement tended to not center those experiences or the differentiations in experience produced by shifts in social location.

Wages for Housework focused on the unwaged, unseen labor of social reproduction as the Achilles heel of Fordist capitalism. Their profound theoretical intuition was seeing how production and social reproduction were organized by and through the family wage. However, as Nancy Fraser and Federici have both noted, it was precisely at this moment that capitalism began to restructure once again. The Fordist system which depended upon the labor of large numbers of women in the home was coming to an end. My belief is that there is still something useful in the Wages for Housework perspective for helping us think a response to austerity in the present, but to explain how and why that is, we will first have trace and traverse this restructuring.

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The Great Restructuring

There is a consensus amongst heterodox Marxist thinkers that beginning in the 1970s the economies of the developed capitalist world entered a prolonged period of malaise. Of course, amongst these thinkers there is much debate as to the cause, nature, and severity of this “secular stagnation” or “long downturn,” but the general outlines of an end to a post-war boom and the struggle to restart accumulation in the 1970s are widely accepted. The work of Marxist economists and historians, such as Robert Brenner and David Harvey, have examined the multiple strategies employed by states and capitalists to restart a cycle of accumulation in the 1980s and 90s. The rise of neoliberal economics and policy, the redistribution of manufacturing across the globe, and ongoing attacks on workers’ wages and benefits are all examples of capitalist restructuring in the face of this crisis in accumulation. As part of this restructuring, forms of social reproduction or the sphere of domestic and care work were also importantly transformed as well.

Traditionally, Marxists have used the term reproduction to name the processes in a society necessary for the renewal of the labor force, which applies equally to physical and mental conditions, to training both bodies and minds. Because of this, the school as an institution where this mental and physical training takes place has been an important site of study when analyzing how capitalism reproduces a labor force for itself. However, as Evelyn Nakano Glenn writes, social reproduction is a term employed by feminists “to refer to the array of activities and relationships involved in maintaining people both on a daily basis and intergenerationally. Reproductive labor includes activities such as purchasing household goods, preparing and serving food, laundering and repairing clothing, maintaining furnishings and appliances, socializing children, providing care and emotional support for adults, and maintaining kin and community ties.” [9]

My usage of the term social reproduction invokes both these understandings of reproduction, which obviously already substantially overlap. When I speak below about a widening crisis of social reproduction in the present period of austerity, I mean this in the sense of the failure of sectors of the population to successfully complete (either wholly or partially) some of the activities necessary for their reproduction (be those eating or education) or being forced to choose between completing one activity versus another (say maintaining one family member versus another member or educating one family member versus partially or fully educating another).

Within the sphere of social reproduction, in the period after the beginning of the long downturn in the 1970s, there have been two key vectors of transformation: the marketization or commodification of domestic and care work and the imposition of a new gendered international division of labor. In the 1980s, partly under pressure from the women’s movement and partly as an attempt to restart a successful cycle of accumulation, the global North witnessed a massive restructuring of the field of social reproduction. As women, in particular white women, entered the workforce in large numbers, there was turn towards the commodification of care and domestic work. Between 1950 and 2007, the number of “nurturant” care workers (workers’ whose work involves some form of emotional relationship) increased 6 times to over 20 million, coming to represent 13% of the total work force, with much of this growth occurring after 1980. [10] Moreover, the care work labor sector is highly gendered; in 2007 over 80% of all care workers were women.

The second shift in the restructuring of the work of social reproduction that occurs in the 1980s and 90s was in who did this labor. As early as the late 1970s, feminist sociologists of labor, such as Patricia Fernandez Kelly and Aihwa Ong, realized that in global periphery—with the rise of global processing zones and the turn to export oriented economies—factory work was becoming feminized. These trends became identified as part of a new international division of labor, which included not just the feminiziation of factory work in the global South but also the (induced) migration of women to work in the care and domestic industries in the global North. By the turn of the century, works like Rhacel Salazar Parreñas’ Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration and Domestic Work were tracking the massive global migration of women from the South into domestic and care work in the North and researchers began to speak of “global care chains” stretching from poorly renumerated, benefit-less domestic care jobs in U.S. metropoli to communities across the global South. [11]

ILO 1 in 5

In the post-war period, there was, predominantly amongst white sectors of the labor force, an institutionalization of family and gender relations that trapped women in the home and made unwaged domestic labor a significant part of their everyday experience. This family and gender system underpinned a regime of accumulation that structured capitalism in the post-war period. In the 1970s, the rate of profit declined critically and capitalism faced a crisis of accumulation, which it attempted to solve, in part, through a global restructuring of social reproduction. In the United States, the family wage was attacked and more families became dual income. Parts of the care and domestic work women once provided for free were commodified and some areas of this work were “outsourced” via a new international division of labor. As we can see today, both in the ongoing crisis in the United States and in Europe, this restructuring has not been successful in restarting a virtuous cycle of accumulation.

However, what is clear is that the system of social reproduction in the United States, the domestic labor of cleaning and caring, has been massively restructured. On the whole, it is still women who perform these tasks but both who performs them and under what conditions has changed dramatically since the end of the 1970s. But what has happened in the years since? In the period since the 2007-8 financial crisis, and during the turn to austerity politics in the United States, I believe we are witnessing the beginning of a new restructuring in the United States, one centered not on marketizing or commodifying care work, but on forcing more and more individuals, especially women, women of color, and/or women without citizenship or in legally precious situations, outside the wage or into what I have been calling failing reproduction.

On Failing Reproduction and Its Refusal

Recent sociological data demonstrate that the United States is entering an extended period of crisis in its systems of social reproduction, but one that is unfolding in complicated and uneven ways. While the official unemployment rate has dropped from a post-crisis high of 10.0% in October of 2009, there is another measure, the workforce participation rate, which is more indicative of the actual state of employment. The workforce participation rate measures the number of people working or actively looking for work and, conversely, can be read as an indirect measure of the number of people who have stopped looking for work and are suffering long-term exclusion from the labor market. From January 2008 to May 2017, this figure declined from 66.2% to 62.7%, meaning an additional 4% of individuals are now neither employed nor looking for work.

As a result, policy makers and progressive labor organizations have begun to use the term “scarring” to discuss the long-term effects of structural unemployment on certain sectors of workers. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics U-6 numbers (measuring the number of unemployed and “marginally attached workers”) have declined from 16.7% in 2010 to 9.6% in 2016, in the Supplemental Poverty Measure 14% of the population (roughly 45 million) are living in poverty and close to 45% have incomes at or below 200% of the poverty line. If the 1980s and 1990s were a moment of attack on the family wage, forcing additional women into the workforce and commodifying areas of domestic and care labor, the current moment appears to be the creation of a new division between those in the formal and informal economies and those with access to a wage allowing for “full” reproduction and those struggling to reproduce themselves on a day-to-day basis.

As in previous rounds of structural adjustment in Latin America and elsewhere, women in the United States have been disproportionately forced into the informal labor market and forced to deal with the consequences of a crisis in social reproduction in their families and communities. [12] For example, in 2016 the poverty rate for families was 9.8% but for families with a female head of household the rate was 26.6%. The numbers are even worse when broken down along racial lines (using 2015 numbers): of African American female head of household families 39.9% lived in poverty; Hispanic female head of household, 41.9%; and Native American female head of household 48.4%. There are other disturbing trends as well: a 2012 study conducted by the New York Times of U.S. census data revealed “that from 2000 to 2010, occupations that are more than 70 percent female accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the previous decade.” This means that the overall share of full-time jobs with benefits available to women has begun to decline, which will only further exacerbate the trends toward failing reproduction.

Moreover, as attacks on the remnants of the welfare state intensify, the care deficit identified by feminist scholars in the 1990s and early 2000s will only deepen. Cuts to (or work requirements for) Medicaid will push the poor and families of color into even more precarious positions in terms of health and health-related expenses. Cuts to social security and Medicare will also impact the elderly and families or individuals caring for an elderly friend, family, or community member. [13] In addition, as heavily feminized public sector jobs are cut, more and more women will be forced outside the wage. As additional pieces of the social welfare and education systems are dismantled and as the number of elderly housed in tragic institutional conditions and the number of children who go without basic medical treatment or who are forced directly from an educational institution into an carcel institution rise, so too will the number of individuals who have direct experience with the breakdown in the system of social reproduction.

Neither the family wage, nor the nuclear family structure is as prevalent as it once was (particularly for working class women), which means that as women are forced outside the wage, they will be recuperated not into a system where their unwaged labor of social reproduction is being exploited via a family wage but rather pushed into the vicinity of the carcel state and all its punitive technologies and violence. Moreover, for many women, women of color, and women without access to citizenship, wages have been driven so low that entry-level positions do not (if they ever did) support them.

If the body of work of Wages of Housework did not adequately account for differences along lines of race and citizenship, the present requires it, as it is a present marked by a new set of gendered splits across the wage continuum: between a wage that pays enough to reproduce one’s self and chosen community, a wage that does not or does so only selectively, and no wage. A growing number of women are forced into the latter two categories, and it is these articulations across what we might call “conditions of wagedness” that are key to think in the present moment. [14]

Given these new fault lines in social reproduction and the new splits they have introduced amongst the fully waged, marginally waged, and unwaged, where is the weak link between capitalism and gender now? The Wages for Housework analysis identified the weak point as the labor of social reproduction hidden by the wage and their program was to attack this weak point through a series of demands and escalations. But what happens when women are pushed to the other side of the wage or their chosen families and communities are spatialized across the globe? With no access to the wage, access to only a marginal wage, or having been forced to migrate to attempt to find a wage, where do we now find the weak point in the process of accumulation?

If we are looking for a contemporary weak point, the generalization of the failure or precarious realization of social reproduction itself should be our target. In the coming years, as long as accumulation itself is in crisis, there will be a crisis of social reproduction that can serve as the basis for an anti-capitalist feminist politics.

Thus, instead of a politics directed at domestic and care labor as a hidden lynchpin of accumulation, today we have to recognize that the terrain of struggle has changed dramatically. The most important change is from the fading robustness of post-WWII developed economies to a crisis of accumulation across the North Atlantic. In the period after the 1970s a number of tactics were used to attempt to restart accumulation—the pushing of 2 billion individuals into the global labor market, spatial and logistical restructuring of commodity production, financialization—but none were successful. Attacks on wages failed to restart accumulation and the latest tactic is simply to push people outside the wage or into a wage situation where they have to make critical decisions about what parts of their social reproduction to realize. This is an opening for an anti-capitalist feminist politics because women are frequently most vulnerable to being stripped of waged work and, second, because the labor of social reproduction is still highly gendered. What we are witnessing in the present moment is an opening onto death and privation for many women which has certainly existed in the United States in certain rural areas (in particular on reservations) and urban core geographies, but which will continue to spread in the coming years.

There is no easy political solution to this complicated, uneven restructuring. A pessimism of the intellect would advise us that, historically, the decline of waged work and crises in social reproduction has not led automatically to an anti-capitalist political subjectivization. If anything, the opposite has tended to be the case. However, it is my belief that a feminist politics that wants to address this situation will have to think through these two moments of post-1970s restructuring of the gendered nature of capitalist accumulation. The analytical tool of the wage as deployed by Wages for Housework will be one, but surely not the only, device for tracking capitalism’s restructuring, gender as a vector for its implementation, its deleterious effects on women, and, hopefully, a politics that could serve as their counter.

[1] Thoughout this essay when I use the term “women” I mean it capaciously to include anyone who identifies with or occupies this social location.

[2] Thanks to Lisa Disch for her comments on a very early version of this essay when it was still a paper written for a school. Thanks as well to participants, including Maya Gonzalez and Amanda Armstrong, in the Marxist-Feminist stream at the 9th annual Historical Materialism conference (2012) in London for some discussion. Thanks to Zhivka Valiavicharska for commenting on two different versions of this piece. I also want to note at the outset that the line of political thinking pursued in this piece is, of course, not the only possible one emerging out of the present, nor one that can address all the forms of domination and oppression created through gendered difference.

[3] There is no single volume U.S. history of the groups and individuals associated with Marxist, socialist, and anti-imperialist feminist political and theoretical formations. In single volume narratives of the U.S. women’s movement, such as Ruth Rosen’s The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America (2000), these groups typically play little role, though individuals such as Roxanne Dunbar or Ti-Grace Atkinson will make appearances. When I refer to standard narratives I have in mind essays, especially introductions to anthologies of Left feminist writing from the 60s and 70s or encyclopedia entries on the domestic labor debate, that attempt to trace the differences between these groups. One such example is Rosemary Hennessy and Chrys Ingraham’s introduction to the 1997 Routledge volume Materialist Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women’s Lives. While the anthology does include Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James’ “Women and the Subversion of Community,” [sic] their introduction does not present Wages for Housework as its own form of Left feminism; rather they utilize a tripartite division (Marxist, socialist, and materialist feminism) and subsume Dalla Costa and James’ article into a debate on housework amongst Marxist feminists.

[4] Hartmann writes: “The rhetoric of feminism is present in Dalla Costa’s writing (the oppression of women, struggle with men) but the focus of feminism is not” (6). Hartmann’s essay, as will the work of many socialist feminist in the 1980s, argues that feminists should adopt a “dual systems” (patriarchy and capitalist) approach, using a Marxist lens for economics and an anti-patriarchal feminist lens for social relations of gender. Hartmann’s narrative—where dual-mode socialist feminism resolves the crisis or “unhappy marriage” between Marxism and feminism—has become a dominant non-liberal narrative of this period. While there is (still) much to be learned from Hartmann’s essay, I want to push back against this narrative in order to recoup feminist experiences that engage with non-party or heterodox forms of Marxism, of which Wages for Housework is one, and which have been obscured because the continuum narrative has made their theoretical contribution difficult to see. Thus, among the many reasons that Wages for Housework is an interesting feminist political experience and body of theoretical work is that it does not fit neatly into the above continuum and demonstrates that another relation between feminism and Marxism, in particular between heterodox Marxism and anti-capitalist feminism, is possible.

[5] Unfortunately, the history of Wages for Housework as a theoretical and political adventure remains to be written. In lieu of the availability of a more detailed history, I focus below on the first published text from the movement. In so doing, it is important to note that the movement itself represents more than a decade of work and experiences, with divergent positions amongst even just the most visible members of the movement. For some background on Italian autonomist feminism (Lotta Feminista and Wages for Housework) see Patrick Cuninghame’s “Italian Feminism, Workerism and Autonomy in the 1970s: The Struggle Against Unpaid Reproductive Labour and Violence.”

[6] Silvia Federici, “The Reproduction of Labor Power in the Global Economy and the Unfinished Feminist Revolution” in Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. Oakland: PM Press 2012. 94

[7] There is a long debate from the 1960s and into the early 1980s that turns on the question of whether housework is itself productive of value or if it is merely a precondition (however necessary) for the reproduction of labor power (meaning that it plays no direct role in the generation of surplus value). It is not my intent here to take up a position in these debates. My aim, rather, is to focus on the form of the argument advanced by Dalla Costa and James. It is also important to note that Wages for Housework were not the first left feminists to focus on household or domestic labor. While there is a long tradition of writing stretching back into the nineteenth century (Bebel, Kollontai, Gilman), works that form part of the background for some of the debates (in the United States) include Mary Inman’s In Woman’s Defense (1940) and The Two Forms of Production under Capitalism (1964); Claudia Jones’s “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of Negro Women” (1949); Ella Baker and Marvel Cook’s “The Bronx Slave Market” (1950); and Selma James’ “On the Woman Question: An Orientation” (1951).

[8] See for example Angela Davis’ critique in Women, Race, and Class (1981).

[9] Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “From Servitude to Service Work: Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of Paid Reproductive Labor,” Signs 18 (1992): 1.

[10] Mignon Duffy, Making Care Count: A Century of Gender, Race, and Paid Care Work. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011. 78

[11] See for example, Bridget Anderson, Doing the Dirty Work? The Global Politics of Domestic Labor (Zed Books, 2000); Grace Chang, Disposable Domestics: Immigrant Women Workers in the Global Economy (South End Press, 2000); Jane L. Collins and Martha Gimenez (eds.), Work Without Wages: Domestic Labor and Self-Employment within Capitalism (SUNY UP, 1990); Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild (eds.), Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, Sex Workers in the New Economy (Metropolitan Books, 2002); and Mary Romero, Maid in the USA (Routledge, 1992).

[12] See for example, Pamela Sparr Mortgaging Women’s Lives: Feminist Critiques of Structural Adjustment (1994) or Gloria Thomas-Emeagwali Women Pay the Price: Structural Adjustment in Africa and the Caribbean (1995).

[13] Multi-generational households are on the rise as well, see

[14] The importance of paying close attention to this perspective on the wage continuum that we can derive from Wages for Housework can be seen if we turn to other current political theorizations of care work and social reproduction. In the existing field of feminist political thought on care and domestic work there is an inability to address those women who have fallen outside the wage, either fully or partially. For example, Eileen Boris and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas’ Intimate Labors (2010) gives the final word to feminist labor historian Dorothy Sue Cobble who tracks the recent gains domestic and various feminized service sector workers (nail workers for example) have made in unionization. Tithi Bhattacharya’s recent work, which forms a part of a contemporary turn or return to social reproduction, seems to harken back to the social feminist dual oppression model, imagining two organizing spaces, one of labor and one of sexism and racism: “This is why in the organizations where we fight for wages (e.g., our labor unions), we need to raise the question of reproductive justice; and in our organizations where we fight against sexism and racism, we need to raise the question of wages” (“What is Social Reproduction Theory?”). Neither perspective, to my mind, is adequate to the conditions we now face, as both focus on the sphere of waged work and the women working those kinds of jobs. Thus, neither is able to grasp both the changing conditions of wagedness and the expansion of failing reproduction.


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