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Brooklyn Institute - Social Reproduction Theory

Brooklyn Institute - Social Reproduction Theory

Instructor: Alyssa Battistoni

In the 1970s, a group of Marxist-feminists demanded “wages for housework”: payment for the unpaid work done in the household and the family. The demand echoed a critique of political economy going all the way back to Adam Smith’s division of productive and “unproductive” labor and helped open up a series of new questions around what is today called “social reproduction.” What labor, exactly, counts as “productive” and why? Why is reproduction shunted off into the “private” world? Is household labor productive for capitalism? What is it worth? Would a wage for housework help capitalism to commodify more spheres of human life? Or would putting a price tag on unwaged reproductive work disrupt the systemic reproduction of capitalism? How exactly is capitalism continuously, daily reproduced?

In this class, students will address these questions through the lens of “social reproduction theory” — a body of critique developed by feminist thinkers to describe the labor required to reproduce waged workers and society as a whole. What is the meaning and value of healthcare, child care, elder care, food service, sex work, and other activities? Why, with the post-Fordist growth of waged care and service industry work, has socially reproductive work become a major sector of the U.S. economy? As we examine feminist theories of political economy, we’ll pay particular attention to the distinction between “production” and “reproduction,” debates over the status of unwaged work, the role of the family in capitalism and the role of the welfare state, the impact of gender and race on labor, and the dynamics of social reproduction on a global scale. Readings will include selections from works by Silvia Federici, Selma James, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Angela Davis, Christine Delphy, Lise Vogel, Kathi Weeks, Premilla Nadasen, Tithi Bhattacharya, Nancy Fraser, and Melinda Cooper, among others.

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