Only from a capitalist viewpoint being productive is a moral virtue, if not a moral imperative. From the viewpoint of the working class being productive simply means being exploited… Ultimately when we say that we produce capital, we say that we can and want to destroy it, rather than engage in a losing battle to move from one form and degree of exploitation to another. Among the most important Marxist contributions to a theory of gendered exploitation, and also one of the most widely misunderstood, is a short text entitled The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital. Written in by Leopoldina Fortunati, this rigorous account of reproductive labor under capitalism has long been underappreciated within the larger Marxist tradition. In order to appreciate the intervention made by Fortunati — beginning over a quarter century ago, along with the other founding members of the group Lotta Femminista , including Mariarosa Dalla Costa — we must first jettison some of our Marxist baggage. This prioritization often leads to the conclusion that the point of production is the central locus of proletarian subjectivation, as well as the foreground of revolutionary struggle and the starting place of a positive communist project.
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This is important, and yet…. Ideas — ones that need to be chewed over, and sometime spat out in rejection. Arguments that snap together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, only to give a badly distorted image.
The realization that a few pieces of the puzzle were missing all along, are still missing. Because the issues, as i understand them, are very important. It has many specific characteristics that make the production of human beings different than the production of television sets, but both are forms of work determined by capitalism, in which indirectly or directly the capitalist class exploits the worker. In other words: housework is real work, not only in the way that all human activity is work, but more precisely is work within capitalism, under conditions and governed by rules specific to capitalism.
And yet there are serious problems here, which i will discuss a little later on…. While i know that there is an element of truth, a factual insight of sorts, in this way of seeing things [ 1 ], it begs as many questions as it answers, for instance there is no discussion of how this labour sex work is different than other activities that make people feel good or relieve their stress i.
While it is almost universally accepted that marriage is good for men, the conclusion that marriage has a negative impact on female life expectancy goes against current thought in most family studies related research fields. With a sample of 3, people, the Ehime study found that unmarried men were 1. But for those who need to see the obvious proven using the terminology and logic of Marxist theory, i imagine that this part of her book may be satisfying, or else may give something solid to disagree with… as for me i just tried re-reading it twice and then shook my head and moved on.
If you can get through Part One, Part Two seems to go a lot easier. It is all the more unfortunate, when i realized how the sudden use of concrete examples was helping bring the argument together in the last chapter, that concrete examples or historical evidence are absent from so much of the text.
The question must be asked at this point why i would stock this book — after all, i am not only reviewing it, i also distribute it. Why distribute a title with such weaknesses as this one has? Often intellectuals within this tradition insist that regardless of divisions within it, the working class is in fact unitary.
It may have cracks, but it is basically sticking together, this lumbering seamless working class, which is supposed to include everyone from airline pilots flying jumbo jets to teenage girls working in Third World sweatshops.
The implication, though rarely put to paper, is that intra-class struggles are all problematic, that there is one enemy and that enemy is always outside of the working class. Indeed, the only members of the working class most left communists will ever consider to be bought off by capital are those who belong to other left-wing sects! Fortunati does not explicitly deal with this question for entire chapters at a time, though she does do so implicitly.
But then in chapter 13 she makes it clear, and eloquently so:. Marx also never really understood the history of the liberation of labor-power. The proof of this lies in his assumption that the history of white male adult labor-power is synonymous with the the liberation of the entire working class, or, if not synonymous, at least representative of the main trend.
He did not understand the different proceses of liberation undergone by other sections of the labor force, nor did he see that the process of the liberation of white male labor-power went ahead at the cost of other sections. On the one side, there is the state, and on the other, the male worker. The working class has at times a capitalist face… and a state face, too. Most importantly, although i think Fortunati is wrong in some of her conclusions, the ground she is walking on is ground we should all be exploring.
That she manages to bring this hostile strand of academic marxian theory to bear on these questions, even if she may at times have to drag it kicking and screaming, is impressive. And the question she is grappling with — the role played by unwaged emotional nurturing and physical care in maintaining the economy — is vitally important. From the edges of her argument one can see new ways of integrating entire ranges of issues within an anti-capitalist perspective. Since the ratio of children raised in orphanages who became social delinquents was exceedingly high, the reformers wished the government to pay widowed and deserted mothers a pension so that they could stay home and look after their offspring.
The Ideas of the English-Canadian Suffragettes, Similarly, factory women were considered in need of special protection, not for their own sake primarily but for the good of the race. Indeed, the above are questions that i myself see as complex, not leading towards any automatic answers.
The point is that an understanding of housework, mothering, sex, emotional care and other traditionally female unwaged work as being integrated into capitalism, as being as vital to it as the production of planes or cars or guns or whatnot, provides a new way of looking at some old questions, one which hopefully may lead to a better integration of anti-patriarchal perspectives within anti-capitalist struggles, and vice versa.
Everyone cares about who controls our bodies, because women reproduce the most important thing in society. Women reproduce people, everyone else just produces things. Women reproduce the labor to keep society going, both biologically and socially.
This is unfortunate, because if it is meant to only be an examination of the western european experience it would be good to say so, especially given how Fortnati does explicitly acknowledge that different sections of the global?
As i admited before, as unfamiliar as i am with much of the terminology, i am not really a good judge of whether she succeeds or not, and this does not really concern me, as i already agreed with this position beforehand.
While perhaps groundbreaking from the vantage point of traditional Marxist theory, this position has been staked out and defended by feminists since god-knows-when. Again, Arcane of Reproduction is not that book. For that reason alone, this book has some value. Regardless of its shortcomings, it provides glimpses of a different vision of things, one which feels very necessary. It is worth repeating this in plain english, because it has important consequences. Oh yes, it takes a woman, a fragile woman, To bring you the sweet things in life.
Shitty encounters — between parents and children, between spouses, between friends — often leave all parties feeling burnt out. Not to the same degree, and not always, but often enough to be an important factor in how we all relate to each other.
Likewise, things can be created without requiring constant human labour, for instance when they are produced by machines [ 5 ]. So perhaps, taken further, Fortunati might consider mutually destructive encounters between family-members to be akin to warfare, and relationships which give us emotional sustenance with just occasional maintenace work as being machines?
Fortunati does not explore this possibility at all, but i think it is of more than passing interest, and is necessary in order for her argument to make sense.
Yet even assuming this is so, that Fortunati would agree with this extention of her argument, i still see problems on the horizon…. It is well known that extremely destructive relationships do create a cost for capitalism fucked up kids, police interventions, low-productivity, etc.
As surgeon general, C. Of course, this cost for capitalism is more than made up for by the incredible benefits it gets from the exploitation of women both in the family and in the lowest paying jobs, both of which come as part of the same big patriarchal package deal.
While this may sometimes be the case, as often as not there is no correlation between a mutually fulfilling relationship and greater productivity or conservative political positions. Indeed, the way in which we empathize with those we are closest to is more likely to lead to feelings of solidarity and a greater awareness of how other people are exploited or oppressed in ways that would otherwise be invisible to us.
I am thinking here of the houseworker who is angered by the exploitation their spouse experiences on the job, or the feelings of anger and distress that men can feel when they hear how their girlfriend, wife, mother or daughters are subjected to violence and harassment every day, or parents who are distressed and angered when they hear of how their children are dehumanized and brutalized at school.
Of course these feelings are often mixed with patriarchal feelings of family loyalty, control and posessiveness[ 6 ], but inconsistently, and they often retain and realize the potential to develop in a liberatory direction.
So in relationships which are either good i. While capitalism may impose a structurally unequal exchange between houseworker and waged worker, there is room for a lot of variation in how this plays out, and a lot of room to manoeuver. In Marxspeak, whether it is a horrible or ok relationship, there is usually no change in the amount of surplus value being expropriated.
The other side of the coin being that her argument also lets us off the hook for creating and maintaining bad relationships. And it can swing the other way, too…. Lest one be tempted to morph this analysis into a Marxist retelling of the lesbian separatist stategy of withdrawing all emotional and physical support from men, it should be noted that Fortunati is smart enough to see where this would lead, and explicitly acknowledges that reproductive labour is increasingly being carried out by same-sex partners and others in non-traditional arrangements.
In the way the term is used here, anything you do that gives someone else sustenance could be a part of the reproduction of labour-values. Whether capitalism could survive the absolute dehumanization of its subjects is of course another question… one that is irrelevant to us, for we know that we could not survive it.
Some examples of this: mothers spending more money on themselves than on their children, women and some men choosing to live without a spouse, refusal to do housework, separation from men, struggles for the right to abortion and contraception. All of these are essential parts of the anti-capitalist struggle within the family, and all of these are essential developments in a struggle against patriarchy, but they are just one side of struggle.
There is an overwhelming preferance for struggling with others, for living with others in new ways, for social experimentation, rather than for social abandonment, being alone, separating from everybody else.
This togetherness can be a communal household, an extended family, a lesbians-only homestead, a celibate religious community — while we may have problems with some aspects of these experiments, we can not fault people for overwhelmingly choosing to try and leave this society collectively. Indeed, it is not really a choice, as it is much easier when you find other people with similar ideas and in a similar situation of struggle that you can see the possibility of breaking from the capitalist routine.
Unfortunately, by starting from the position that emotional and physical nurturing is nothing but exploitation by capitalism, Fortunati puts herself in a position where it is difficult to evaluate or support some of the most important anti-patriarchal initiatives developed by women, queers, teenagers and others who are most oppressed by the traditional nuclear family.
While they may often be co-opted by the State and re-integrated within capitalism, this is neither automatic nor total, and we need more clarity not less in order to be able to struggle effectively on this terrain. Accurate useful concepts are not developed by just one person all of a sudden, but come out of an ongoing interplay between various factors and thinkers, and as such i consider this book to be a contribution to a theory that lets us see and explain the various struggles against capitalism and patriarchy, and how they are all related.
Without agreeing with all of her points, i appreciate the fact that Leopoldina Fortunati took the effort to map out this terrain. It is a rough map, drawn with old tools and written in a strange language, but it is a start — there is more good here than bad. We were discussing HIV transmission behind bars, and he told me how several transgendered prisoners whether male-to-female or drag queens i forget who worked as prostitutes while in prison had just been transferred to the prison he was being held at.
Like many leftists, i already consider them to be vitally important questions. Nor do i mean to suggest that the only way to solve these problems is by abolishing capitalism, nor that the abholition of capitalism will automatically solve them. Rather, by showing that capitalism is complicit in these problems, one explains part of what is happeneing at the moment, in this society, in this system which is both patriarchal is a very specific way and also capitalist in an equally specific way.
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Powered by Esplanade Theme and WordPress. The Arcane of Reproduction Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital by Leopoldina Fortunati Reviewed by Kersplebedeb This is important, and yet… Ideas — ones that need to be chewed over, and sometime spat out in rejection.
Some important realizations… The question must be asked at this point why i would stock this book — after all, i am not only reviewing it, i also distribute it.
But then in chapter 13 she makes it clear, and eloquently so: Marx also never really understood the history of the liberation of labor-power. Or even more clearly: On the one side, there is the state, and on the other, the male worker. Whether capitalism treats someone as a child up until the age of 8 or 18 has to do with how much care and training it predicts they will need as adult workers, which is also directly related to how valuable they will be, and how well or badly they will be treated.
But they can also represent a strategy of increasing their future value, and as such winning for them a better life, which while not anti-capitalist is not simply a cold calculated investment scheme. Which explains for instance why there is oftentimes grassroots working class opposition, especially amongst women, to child-marriage, child prostitution, the employment of children in sweatshops, child conscription, etc.
Yet even assuming this is so, that Fortunati would agree with this extention of her argument, i still see problems on the horizon… It is well known that extremely destructive relationships do create a cost for capitalism fucked up kids, police interventions, low-productivity, etc.
Footnotes 1 I am reminded, in this respect of somethng a friend in prison explained to me several years ago. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Your email address will not be published.
Chapter 3 p. Going beyond any historical judgement of what capitalism has represented, its continuing existence today means barbarism, not only because it represents the theft of non-waged work from women--who are obliged to live in isolation, semi-dependent on men--but also because it is the theft of non-waged work from the man. Women are forced to work for capital through the individuals they "love. Nowadays, the only possible way of reproducing oneself or others, as individuals and not as commodities, is to dam the stream of capitalist "love"--a "love" which masks the macabre face of exploitation--and transform relationships between men and women, destroying men's mediatory role as the representatives of state and capital in relation to women. The only realistic program for sex equality is one for the non-exploitation of both. On the one hand, many of today's prostitutes are also housewives and vice versa, to such a degree that passing between the housework and sexwork market--between one productive sector and another--has become very elastic. This elasticity has also come about in consequence of women making more cash-oriented as opposed to goods-oriented agreements with men.
The Arcane of Reproduction Then & Now, with Leopoldina Fortunati
Leopoldina Fortunati is an Italian feminist , theorist, and author. She is the author of The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital L'arcano della riproduzione: Casalinghe, prostitute, operai e capitale , a feminist critique of Marx. She has conducted extensive research in the field of gender studies , cultural processes and communication and information technologies. Katz and R.