Shifting the attention from inside the family to outside, hence considering the matter merely from the point of view of capital results, as is to be expected, in the veiling of patriarchal relations.

The covid-19 pandemic has laid bare, besides other things, the vital importance of care. Once “life started to fit into homes”, the interior of homes gained visibility, the invisible/unpaid care labour of women became visible in all its vastness and was scattered all over the place in its various dimensions. This moment in history when life was hanging on by a thread, ironically made more visible the load women shouldered in the production and reproduction of life.  Doubtless, this visibility did not bring with it a decrease in the load of women, nor a sharing with men of the care of the sick/the elderly/the disabled/children or again did not result in men taking upon themselves their own care. On the contrary, the work that was expected of women increased exponentially. One of the reasons behind the increase in male violence against women in this period was the raised demands and expectations from women.

However, the pandemic not only shed light on the invisible and unpaid labour women spent in the homes, but also exposed the miserable state of the care services outside, at this specific stage patriarchal capitalism had attained: the inadequacy of privatised hospitals and of the whole health care system, or of care homes was laid bare virtually in the form of views from a dystopia.

On the other hand, various forms of mutual aid and solidarity oriented towards food and clothing needs, which developed spontaneously, signalled the building up of a wider care network. While Spain ventured on the nationalisation of private hospitals and other health care services, other states unrolled various aid packages. No doubt these were far from being adequate, but the pandemic at least insinuated how vital care needs are and how crucial it is to take measures pointing beyond the existing patriarchal capitalist system.

In this conjuncture which carried to the top of the agenda the vitalness of care in our lives, a group of writers in Britain who carried out research as The Care Collective, published a pamphlet/book called The Care Manifesto.[1] On the other hand, the efforts of a number of feminists who proceeded in the path opened up by Lise Vogel in the 1980s and constructed their theory around the concept of social reproduction were to converge with the wave of feminist strikes starting from the year 2016-2017 and  to become more and more popular with the strikes. In many countries now, and notably in Canada, US, Britain, Argentine and Spain, there are many feminists who call their theory ‘social reproduction feminism’ and there is quite a nonignorable bulk of literature produced by them.

In this article, I will try to engage in a critical dialogue both with the theses put forth in The Care Manifesto and with some of the representatives of the afore-mentioned feminist school. Whilst doing this, I will at the same time try to follow up an idea I put forward in The Body, Labour and History (2019): as I mentioned before, authors who highlight the concept of social reproduction start out from Vogel’s criticism of ‘dual system theories’ developed in the 1970s and 80s and which tried to theorise the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy or production and reproduction; a particularly important target in this context was Heidi Hartmann’s article “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism”. In her critique of this article, Vogel argued that dual system theories suffer from various contradictions and tensions, and she traces these theories historically to some of the theses in Engels’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State on the one hand, and in Marx-Engels’s German Ideology on the other. For Vogel, since then in the socialist tradition as a whole, oppressions based on class and gender are considered as autonomous phenomena. Yet, there is a concept in Marxism which allows for a more adequate theory of women’s oppression: according to Vogel, Marx’s concept of social reproduction can be developed, once its deficiencies are eliminated, to allow for a unitary theory which can explain women’s oppression on the basis of capitalism only. However, it seems to me that a dual system explanation and the concept of social reproduction are not necessarily conflicting frameworks. It is possible to constitute a synthesis by drawing on the advantages of both approaches and construe the unity of patriarchy and capitalism as a dialectical whole by using the possibilities offered by the concept and theory of social reproduction.

Caring for, caring about, caring with etc…

The authors of The Care Manifesto give a very broad definition of care. In this definition they take advantage of the broad conceptual field covered by the term “care” in English. According to the authors, care means both the physical aspects of hands-on care, that is caring for somebody in a practical sense and caring about somebody in an emotional sense; but care also means caring about the environment, the globe, and all living and non-living creatures… In its broadest sense, care implies all activity for the well-being and flourishing of life. It extends from domestic or family care to the care work of social workers in care homes, from the labour of workers in hospitals and schools to the activity of workers in various other essential areas where people’s basic needs are met. Also included in this broad definition are the activities carried out in various mutual help and solidarity networks, or the activities of animals’ rights and environment activists. “Care is our individual and common ability to provide the political, social, material, and emotional conditions that allow the vast majority of people and living creatures on this planet to thrive –along with the planet itself.” (p.6)

Having defined care in this broad manner, the authors then take up the task of developing a politics that has care as its focal point, that is a caring politics. In this effort of positioning care as the basis of a better society and a better world, the concepts of “universal care” on every level and scale, and of “promiscuous care” for everyone by everyone play a critical role. In order for care, even in its limited traditional sense, to be provided in an egalitarian and adequate manner, a notion of interdependence has to be adopted, as opposed to the individualism which has peaked with neoliberalism. Both those receiving and those giving care can only find the support they need in the context of such a notion of interdependence.

Yet the world we live in is one where lack of care and carelessness reign. And the lack of care in its restricted sense is closely related to people’s carelessness towards each other and towards the planet and the environment. Although it is true that the crisis of care has become blatantly manifest with the destruction of all public care services by neoliberal policies in the past few decades, the devaluation of and the disdain towards care and care work has a much longer history: It is closely related to the devaluation of women and of their labour. Consequently, the hegemonic neoliberal model has built on this devaluation, and has reshaped and deepened the inequality between men and women.

As examples of various scales and levels of carelessness that are situated between the crisis of care within families on the one hand, and the climate change and environmental crisis leading to the destruction of the planet on the other, the authors mention the refugees who get drowned in the Mediterranean, the armless black men and women who get killed in the US, and the femicide in Latin America and elsewhere; subsequently they reach out to extreme climate conditions and the environmental crisis. They expose how social carelessness has conquered various levels and scales of life, by starting out from the scale of the globe and passing through the scales of careless states and markets, and careless local communities and kinships. A crucial example is the unreliable and unjust nature of both the nuclear family and the marketization of care as regimes of care: they emphasise that in both cases it is a matter of women’s unpaid or low-paid work and they challenge the imposition of this load on women’s shoulders. I took up this specific example because the concept of “promiscuous care” which they then develop has its roots in their critique of the nuclear family.

In developing gradually their idea of a caring politics, this time they move from the scale of kinships and advance through states and the market to then widen out to the well-being of the environment and the planet. At every scale they build on relatively recent and past experiences for the alternatives they try to develop. For examples of alternative caring kinship ties, they turn on the one hand to the care chain of blood mothers and “other mothers” constituted by Afro-American women, and on the other, to the collective care organisations of the feminists of 1970s with or without men; and they adopt the term “families of choice” for these care arrangements, a term used by the LGBTİ+ movement for collective care arrangements and love relationships. As to the concepts of promiscuous sexual relations and promiscuous care, they are inspired by the experiences of the AIDS pandemic besides the examples I just mentioned. I want to cite at some length in order to clarify their notion of promiscuous care: “Promiscuous care recognises that not all women want to be mothers, whether they can be or not; and that caring for children who are not your own, caring for the community and caring for the environment are equally valuable tasks that must be adequately resourced and appreciated. Promiscuous care argues that caring for migrants and refugees should carry the same significance that our culture places on caring for our own…” (p.43) As a matter of fact, in an example they cite, the activists and residents of City Plaza hotel in Athens which was squatted from April 2016 to July 2019 refer to themselves as “an alternative family” and to the hotel as the home of the refugees and various Europeans who are in solidarity with them.

When we come to what sorts of alternatives can be organised at the scale of local communities, examples of radical municipalism occupy an important place. Furthermore, local libraries and various “stuff libraries” inspired by them come to the fore as forms of both sharing and collectivism, and of reuse and recirculation that care for the environment. The authors give numerous examples from various cities for the stuff libraries where one can borrow, gift and/or take all sorts of items.

As to caring states, they constitute a revised and rethought model of the Keynesian welfare state. States which are necessary for the organisation of the adequate provision of public services and resources and the regulation of the markets are at the same time instruments and mediations of democratic participation. A state which will generalize and extend care to all spheres is also bound to shorten the working day: to give care its due and to allocate the necessary time should be one of the priorities of a caring state.

In a caring economy, care services in the broad sense (i.e. including education and health care) should be demarketised, because care logics and market logics contradict one another. Furthermore, the market in general should be re-regulated. The crisis ridden and post-crisis Greece provides once more an important resource for examples of a caring economy. Between 2011-2014 market relations give way, to a large extent, to networks of care, mutuality and interdependence: in this period, Greece witnesses to forty-seven self-managed food banks, twenty-one solidarity kitchens, forty-five without-middleman distribution networks and around thirty solidarity education initiatives. The authors also give examples of legal arrangements geared to the re-regulation of markets and the defetishisation of commodities.

Finally, under the title of “Caring for the World”, issues such as the necessity of The Green New Deal, examples of progressive transnational organisations, the importance of the permeability/porousness of the borders and cosmopolitanism are treated.

To sum up: “The Care Manifesto offers a queer – feminist – anti-racist – eco-socialist political vision of universal care. Universal care means we are all jointly responsible for hands-on care work, as well as engaging with and caring about the flourishing of other people and the planet.” (p.96) The authors express more than once that this is largely an ethical vision. What needs to be done is to recognize our interdependencies and develop an ethics of care and solidarity in all our relationships: “… from our social movements, through relationships between nation states, to non-human life and the planet. Caring societies can only be built by overcoming careless nationalist imaginaries and fostering truly transnational outlooks among radically democratic cosmopolitan subjects, people who care across difference and distance.” (p.94-95)

However, although universal care or promiscuous care seem to be more tangible or possible targets at relatively small scales, at the level of the state, of markets and transnational organisations they become a mere wish or a desire. We may find the effort of the authors quite stimulating as a perspective or a vision, but the simple linear multiplication of the singular examples (which are mostly examples from periods of crisis) in the transformation process of a power-ridden world seems to me to be quite an impossible task. In this ethical vision, the concept of care is, so to say, situated at the position “labour” would occupy in a materialist analysis. So long as it is a matter of visualising the various contexts of hands-on care, the concepts of care and labour are quite close to one another. One of the changes targeted in the Manifesto is the re-valuation of care work and the radical transformation of the organisation of both the unpaid and paid work of women through a veritable sharing, starting with the domestic sphere. And consequently, the degendering of care… Yet, as I pointed out, at scales such as caring about people, caring about one another as citizens and finally caring about each other as cosmopolitan subjects, the merely ethical nature of the notion of care becomes quite apparent and turns into a problem. In the reconstruction of society, the state and the transnational world, we do not have anything concrete to hinge on except the singular historical examples.

The expanded concept of social reproduction

Lise Vogel broadens Marx’s concept of social reproduction and theorises the reproduction of actual and future labour power, besides that of capital, as different moments of total social reproduction. Social reproduction consists of both the reproduction of classes and a very specific moment in that process, i.e. that of the reproduction of labour power and “biological” reproduction. Social reproduction feminism[2] adopts this broad definition of Vogel as its starting point. It takes as its focal point the necessary condition of the continuous reproduction of capital, which is the reproduction of living workers both on a daily basis and inter-generationally. In this sense, it consists of a critique and a revision of the limited nature of Marxism’s focus on the relationship between social reproduction and wage labour. Within this framework, social reproduction feminists engage in a detailed analysis of the reproduction of labour power.

From this perspective, the starting point of The Care Manifesto and that of social reproduction feminism overlap: in both cases, it is a matter of an extremely diversified and wide-ranging notion of reproduction/care. We have already seen what a broad conceptual area care covers in The Care Manifesto. Likewise, in social reproduction feminism the notion comprises on the one hand the reproductive activities in the domestic sphere, that is the feeding, clothing, and the provision for the basic hygienic needs of the workers and their children and on the other, the transmission of knowledge and information, social values and cultural practices. More often than not, social reproduction attains a comprehensiveness which includes class attitudes, modes of behaviour and sentiments. This activity also involves the production and reproduction of individuals as subjects of capitalist society who are prepared to sell their labour power. Furthermore, the concept of social reproduction establishes a continuum between the domestic sphere and those activities of education and health care which are carried out in the public sphere: “… disciplinary policies and practices in workplaces… and in the schools… as well as the scientific and social norms informing parenting, education and health care…”[3]

Meg Luxton argues that the extent to which the concept of social reproduction is expanded in this and similar usages implies the reproduction not only of labour power but of the whole population and she objects to this broad usage. For her, domestic labour is thereby deprived of its analytical power.[4] As a matter of fact, Vogel sometimes does include the maintenance of the propertied class in social reproduction.

However, no matter how expanded the concept is, what is at stake in social reproduction feminism is the working-class family and household; and when it is a question of public reproduction processes, explicit reference is made, in general, to working class children. Laslett and Brenner seem to constitute an exception in this respect.[5] Although both Ferguson and Fraser also seem to be alluding to a concept of social reproduction which includes all classes, in referring to the constitution of the subjects in capitalism or to the “sustaining [of] the shared meanings, affective dispositions, and horizons of value that underpin social cooperation,”[6] right after this passage Fraser explicates what she means: it is a matter of the production of “new generations of workers” and the replenishment of existing ones…

As I said before, no matter how diversified and expanded the social reproductive activities become, the intended subject in social reproduction feminism is in general the working class, the owners of labour power. What is reproduced is a broad category of waged labour which includes the whole stratum of white-collar workers as well, sometimes also called the middle class. Likewise, women who spend unpaid labour in caring for their husbands and children (reproducing the present and future labour power) are either the wives of these blue/white collar workers who are full-time housewives, or are themselves wage labourers at the same time. However, it seems to me that it is useful to cling to the task of “maintenance” in Vogel’s theory, thereby expanding the concept of social reproduction to also include the albeit very limited number of women who are themselves property owners. This will allow us to work out the distinguishing traits of (unpaid) domestic labour: while the reproductive labour women spend in the domestic sphere of working class households reproduces labour power, within the propertied class and perhaps in the upper echelons of white collared workers who may in future become capital owners, it reproduces future generations of capital owners. This includes both the domestic labour of women in the upper echelons of white collar workers geared to raising their children as competitive, ambiguous, successful subjects, and the labour the wives of capital owners spend in transmitting the values and behavioural patterns of the capitalist class.

Additionally, those feminists among the writers who have recently been theorising the feminist strikes -notably the authors of Feminism for 99%: A Manifesto and the author of Feminist International: How to Change (Verso, 2020) Verὸnica Gago- broaden the concept of social reproduction by taking as their starting point the diversity of the fields of women’s struggles. The authors of the first book for example, rightly point out to the fact that in the mass struggles they wage in the field of reproduction, women go far beyond the limited framework of the reconciliation of work and family: included within the field of reproduction are struggles for housing, health care and food safety rights; those struggles waged by migrants, domestic workers and social service workers; and the demands for public services for the care of the elderly and children, parental leaves for both mothers and fathers and the shortening of the working week. Likewise, in referring to the diversity of women’s labour Gago mentions among others the territorial, domestic, neighbourhood, community labour of women, some of which may assume the form of corvee. She argues that all these categories of women are positioned against capital and consequently they are all part of the working-class.

As I implied above, there is no problem, in my view, in referring to the majority of women as workers or in defining the above-mentioned diversity of fields as social reproduction. However, these women enter into two distinct social relationships when, on the one hand they spend unpaid labour in the reproduction of the labour power of their husbands and of the future generations of workers in their families, and on the other do precarious, low-waged, flexible (over)work in various other areas. In considering women’s work in all its diversity and categorising it, what should be singled out and analysed is not the distinct nature or the quality of the task, but the social relationship within which the task is carried out. Behind these tasks and this diversity of labours lie distinct social relations. Consequently, it is necessary to look more closely at how social reproduction feminists, starting with Vogel, approach the specific domestic component of the reproduction process of labour power.

The unique form of the reproduction of the special commodity labour power

Battacharia argues that the only form of labour capitalism recognises is productive labour oriented to the market, and that it “naturalize[s] into non-existence” “the tremendous amount of familial as well as communitarian work that goes on to sustain or reproduce … her labour power…”[7] However, it is not only capitalism that does this; Marx also naturalises the domestic labour women spend in the reproduction of labour power.[8] Indeed Vogel and other social reproduction feminists express clearly that what they are up to, is developing Marx’s work in this respect and [re]constructing the totality of social production and social reproduction. Their own notion of social reproduction aims precisely to constitute this wholistic framework.

In the same manner, all social reproduction feminists agree on the unique, non-capitalist form of the production and reproduction of the domestic component, of this very specific moment, within the totality of the reproduction of labour power; they are also in consensus on labour power being the only commodity that bears this non-capitalist imprint. In completing its cycle of [re]production capital is dependent on a process that is external to it. As to the question of the nature of relations within which this form of labour ontologically distinct from capitalist labour is spent, this remains unanswered within the framework of this theory: “… possibly, domestic labour is its own mode of production, operating according to a pre- or non-capitalist logic.”[9] What are the conditions under which this very special commodity, labour power is produced? Within which social processes is this commodity produced? The response to this question, following Vogel, is that it is produced in a kin-based field of relations and more specifically in the family. Social production feminism is interested not so much in which production processes and social relations it is produced as it is interested in which social field or locus it is produced. As a matter of fact, Ferguson and McNally explicitly express this when they make the following statement: “Vogel shifts from an overriding preoccupation with the internal structure and dynamics of this family form to its structural relation to the reproduction of capital.”[10] Shifting the attention from inside the family to outside, hence considering the matter merely from the point of view of capital results, as is to be expected, in the veiling of patriarchal relations. According to the authors, the family may well be the basic structure in the oppression of women under capitalism; yet the root of this oppression does not lie in the domestic labour women spend for men and children: “…the fact that it is overwhelmingly a private, domestic affair undertaken according to the bio-physical fact that procreation and nursing require female sexed bodies, explains why the pressures on the household to conform to unequal gender-norms exist in the first place.”[11] In the evolved form of this rationalisation, women’s biological traits as well as the “private family  form” are taken as given; then it is argued that these facts are in contradiction with capital’s logic of accumulation, that is with the requirement of uninterrupted employment; and hence the oppression of women in capitalism.[12] Women’s oppression in capitalism is thus explained on the basis of the differential positioning of men and women vis-à-vis capital. As I pointed out above, the social reproduction school criticises Marx for not having analysed the reproduction of labour power and thereby the oppression of women.  Well then what precisely has Marx not explained? According to these writers, women’s special positioning vis-à-vis capital, the specific oppression they experience in capitalism which is different from what men experience. Conspicuous with its absence here is the benefit men procure from this differential positioning, that is patriarchal power.

Is patriarchy an ahistorical concept?

In the discourse of social reproduction theory, it is as if men experience their domination outside of their own will, despite themselves. Capitalism does not itself create the family or the private household form with a view to meeting its need for the reproduction of labour power; however, it takes over this form, shapes it to meet its need and consolidates its roots. The joint result of the biological determinations of women on the one hand, and the reproduction of labour power in the private sphere on the other, is the perpetuation of women’s oppression. Put differently, women’s oppression is a given situation, taken over from the pre-capitalist past, and which capitalism actively perpetuates; it is a presumed fact without any internal dynamics of its own. If any, the subject is capitalism: it is capitalism which separates reproduction from production, it is capitalism which possesses an unlimited drive to accumulation; furthermore, it is capitalist societies which “remunerate ‘reproductive’ activities in the coin of ‘love’ and ‘virtue’…”[13], and which turns these into the price paid for reproductive labour. According to Ferguson, the essential relationship between production and reproduction in a capitalist social formation is the condition which makes women’s oppression under capitalism possible and probable. However, we do not have any data on the dynamics of this oppression besides these structural conditions. Capitalism has not created women’s oppression but it is capitalism which provides us with the conditions and the logic of its survival and perpetuation.[14] In short, capitalism provides us with the logic of why women cannot earn a “breadwinner” wage, why they cannot get divorced, why they cannot control their fertility, why men will not have anything to do with proper mothering etc etc.!!!

This discourse on women’s oppression which is devoid of a subject and the explanation of the possibility and probability of this oppression by recourse to the structural traits of capitalism are both closely related to Vogel’s elimination of the concept of patriarchy from her theoretical horizon in her critique of dual system theories. Alongside this concept are also eliminated the power relations between men and women. Johanna Brenner criticises Vogel on that account: “… her social reproduction framework fails to adequately consider the conflicts of interest between men and women… why men almost universally exercise power over women within the family system.”[15] What the dual system theories try to explain is precisely this power relation which is articulated to capitalist exploitation. Indeed, as Hartmann shows in The Unhappy Marriage, that the breadwinner in capitalism should be the man is not only the imperative of capital but also of the working-class men. In her view, it is partly because working-class men did not want to give up their advantageous position in the family that they waged a struggle for the family wage. Ferguson and McNally for their part attribute this struggle to a very innocent cause: “… family forms which pre-existed capitalism were defended by working-class people anxious to preserve kinship ties … and they were also reinforced … by deliberate social policy…”[16] Social reproduction feminists who take refuge in the structural traits of capitalism and in biological determinations, try to avoid the concept of male domination as far as possible. At the point where they cannot refuse to accept that within the household relations between men and women reproduce (but merely reproduce) a male dominated gender regime, they state defensively that these relations do not constitute the totality of women’s oppression! Feminists who make reference to patriarchy or who try to develop a dual system theory never denied that women are also exploited by capital.

Vogel and many other feminists before or after her have rejected the concept of patriarchy on the grounds that feminist theory fails to analyse patriarchy as a system and also that it is an ahistorical concept. Many of these feminists prefer to read into the concept of patriarchy “an innate desire for power” on the part of men. As Melda rightly points out in her article, it is to say the least curious that feminists who direct this criticism to the concept of patriarchy should then turn around and explain the sexist division of labour on the basis of a joint effect of women’s biology and capital’s unlimited drive to accumulation!

Patriarchy is a system with its own internal connections and can well be historicised. There are also feminists who explain patriarchy on the basis of a mode of production. But this need not be so. Many others analyse patriarchy as a system which is not dependent on a specific mode of production but can be articulated to various modes of production and in which men have control over women’s labour and bodies; a system consisting of a division of labour based on gender, where sexuality and fertility are regulated in accordance with male interests, and where women are excluded from or do not have equal access to various social spheres; and last but not least, a system sustained by male violence. What stands out in this account is the recognition that it is possible to speak of a social system which is not necessarily characterised by a specific mode of production, as long as the system in question has its own inner dynamics and tendencies and can be explained in its relationship with diverse modes of production.

There are powerful reasons to insist on using the concept of patriarchy. In the first place, the concept of patriarchy allows us to show the deeply rooted and structural nature of male domination which is much more than a psychological, ideological, subjective phenomenon. Male domination can thus be analysed in its systemic and extensive dimensions. On the other hand, the notion of patriarchy makes it possible to establish connections between different manifestations of women’s oppression. Furthermore, on the basis of this notion it is possible to conceptualise the historical continuity of male domination and the different concrete forms this continuity assumes; in other words, it provides an instrument for the periodisation of male domination in a dialectic of continuity/rupture (change). For example, it is possible to trace the different perceptions of women’s bodies in history, say the changing mechanisms of control in pre-capitalist and capitalist patriarchies.

The sine qua non condition of the historicization and concretisation of the concept of patriarchy is to use it in connection with different modes of production, conceptualising the relationship between them. It is possible to argue that there are diverse forms of patriarchal relations in different periods corresponding to different modes of production on one hand, and within the same period under diverse modes of production on the other. The changes in modes of production, the transition from one mode to another cause variations in the form of patriarchy but does not suppress it. The inner dynamics and resilience of patriarchy allow it to survive.

The concept of social reproduction is extremely convenient in coming to grips with the perpetuation of the historical whole constituted by this historicized notion of patriarchy in its articulation with capitalism. However, in this notion of historical whole there is also room for the effectivity of patriarchy in shaping and causing convolutions in the process of reproduction.[17] Additionally, the reproduction of labour power is a condition of the reproduction of capitalism which is external to it both historically and ontologically; capitalism historically develops and reproduces itself on this historical foundation.

Is it families or women who are weighed down by the crises of reproduction?

In the discourse of social reproduction feminists, whilst the family is presupposed as the sphere where historically the reproduction of labour power materialises, the sexist division of labour within the family is presupposed as it were as the “damnation” of the cooperation between biology and capitalism. The family is an entity taken over from the past, which has proved to be the most convenient form for capitalism in comparison with other forms. It is a homogeneous entity with no inner conflicts and whose members are in solidarity against the reproductive crises of capitalism.

In this way, the crises of care are considered to be the structural consequences of the social reproductive contradiction of capitalism: it is a structural contradiction caused by capital’s unlimited drive for accumulation in its conjunction with the necessity of reproducing labour power outside capitalist relations. There is no room, in this account of the crises of care, for gendered individuals within the family whose practices and interests are in conflict, nor for men who refuse to spend care labour! Instead, it is emphasised in various contexts that what causes the crises of care to become totally depletory is the amount of time families need to spend in wage labour for their livelihood, even when care labour is equally shared. Yet we know very well that even in cases when men ‘help out’ with care work it is virtually impossible to speak of equal sharing. Such sharing has been rarely substantiated!

As a result of the destructive effect on the family of the need to spend in waged work long hours, care work is transmitted to others. These “others” are, in the discourse of social reproduction feminism in general, and in Nancy Fraser’s discourse in particular, not other women, but other families. In short, what many feminists refer to as the care chain of women becomes in this literature, the care chain of families: “Far from filling the care gap, the net effect is to displace it -from richer families to poorer families, from the Global North to the Global South.”[18]

However, The Care Manifesto tells us that, depending on where you look at it from, other solutions to the care crisis can be searched. That the actual arrangements of care produce the care crises, is also the starting point of The Care Manifesto. However, the root of the problem here is the fact that these arrangements are based on unreliable and unjust forms of relations. According to the Care Collective, the actual practices of care suffer from unequal gender relations and the solution lies in the transition to an egalitarian care regime. The nuclear family cannot be supposed to be the basic unit of care. Therefore, it is necessary to pull down the walls of this unit and make a transition into forms of “promiscuous care”. In a context where the sexist division of labour is ruled out and everybody cares for everybody, caring for and about others becomes a fulfilling practice.

Anti-capitalism but how?

It is possible to read both The Care Manifesto and social reproduction feminism as a call for anti-capitalism. At the very least in the face of the destruction caused at every scale by neoliberal capitalism, it is not possible to expect otherwise. As Brenner asserts, second wave feminism has made many gains in its struggle against discrimination and the exclusion of women, in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Yet largely for lack of meaningful transformations in the sphere of social reproduction, women continue to be oppressed. On the other hand, in order for reproduction to cease to be the sole responsibility of women, become socialised and be carried out in forms other than the nuclear family, at least social resources have to be redistributed. Furthermore, at this specific stage of capitalism, we have reached the end of anti-discriminatory and affirmative action policies; the conditions under which the past gains were made are over.[19] Consequently, although anti-capitalism has always been on the agenda for feminists who put forth an analysis of patriarchal capitalism and take as their focal point women’s labour, at this point in history it is of vital importance as is revealed also by The Care Manifesto.

Yet this anti-capitalism cannot be one which abstracts from the inner gender conflicts among wage workers or those between male workers –white and blue collar– and full-time housewives. As a matter of fact, feminist strikes in large part have gone beyond the framework of social reproduction feminism and have targeted, besides capitalism, the specific dynamics of patriarchy and men’s practices. In many countries, the strikes have turned into processes whereby women have refused to spend emotional and material labour for men, urged them to carry out their care responsibilities and exposed the collaboration of capitalism and patriarchy. In the disaster-ridden world in which we live, the most meaningful strategy for feminist struggles seems to be to go in the wake of those feminist strikes.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

[1] Andreas Chatzidakis, Jamie Hakim, Jo Littler, Catherine Rottenberg and Lynne Segal (2020), The Care Manifesto, Londra, Verso. To be published in Turkish in January 2021 by Dipnot Yayınları.

[2] In this article, I will try to relate social reproduction feminism with reference mainly to the works of Susan Ferguson, Tithi Bhattacharia, Nancy Fraser, Johanna Brenner and Meg Luxton, besides Lise Vogel. I fully agree with the theses put forth by Melda Yaman in her article titled “Social Reproduction: A Unified ‘Feminist’ Theory?” in Praksis 53 (2020-2). Here I will try, as far as possible, to take up only those manifestations of capital reductionism in social reproduction feminism which are not covered by Melda. It could prove useful to read this article, besides Melda’s, along with my Çatlak Zemin article titled “On Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto”.

[3] Ferguson, S (2017), “Children, Childhood and Capitalism”, in Social Reproduction Theory (ed. T. Bhattacharia), London, Pluto Press, p.121.

[4] Luxton, Meg (2006), “Feminist Political Economy in Canada and the Politics of Social Reproduction”, in Social Reproduction: Feminist Political Economy Challenges Neoliberalism, Montreal and London, McGill-Queen’s University.

[5]Laslett, Barbara and Brenner, Johanna (1989), “Gender and Social Reproduction: Historical Perspectives”, Annual Review of Sociology, 15.

[6] Fraser, Nancy (2017), “Crisis of Care? On the Social-Reproductive Contradictions of Contemporary Capitalism”, in Social Reproduction Theory, op.cit., p.23

[7] Bhattacharia, Tithi (2017), “Introduction: Mapping Social Reproduction Theory”, in Social Reproduction Theory, op.cit., p.2.

[8] Acar-Savran, Gülnur (2019), “Rendering Women’s Work Visible: A Horizon Scanning From Marx to Delphy”, in The Body, Labour and History, Ankara, Dipnot Yayınları.

[9] Ferguson, S. and McNally, D. (2013), “Capital, Labour Power and Gender Relations: Introduction”, L.Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women, The Historical Materialism Edition, p.XX.

[10] Ibid., p.XXIV.

[11] Ibid., p.XXV.

[12] See Yaman, Melda, op.cit., p.19.

[13] Fraser, Nancy, op.cit., p.23.

[14] Ferguson, Susan (2016), “Intersectionality and Social Reproduction Feminisms”, Historical Materialism, 24.2.

[15] Brenner, Johanna (1984), cited by Ferguson, S. And McNally, D., op.cit., p.XXXI-XXXII.

[16] Ferguson, S. And McNally, D., op.cit., p.XXV.

[17] See Kocabıçak, Ece (2018), “Patriarchal labor exploitation in agriculture and its implications for feminist politics”, Çatlak Zemin.

[18] Fraser, Nancy, op.cit., p.34.

[19] Brenner, Johanna (2000), “Intersections, Locations and Capitalist Class Relations: Intersectionality From a Marxist Perspective”, in Women and the Politics of Class, Monthly Review Press.


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