Matthew Carlin - An Interview with Silvia Federici, Jan., 2013 (excerpt).

2:50 PM

On October 23, 2012, the Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies was pleased to host a talk by Silvia Federici on "Witch-hunting past and present in the global political economy.”  The following is an excerpt from an interview with Prof. Federici with Matthew Carlin.  Prof. Carlin is an Assistant Professor in our department and one of the organizers of the Speakers Series.

Interview with Silvia Federici 
January, 2013
Matthew Carlin and Silvia Federici

Q1. Much of your work has centered around clarifying the link between the establishment and subsequent expansion of capitalism, and the degradation of women-specifically how the reproduction of labor inherently depends on the exploitation of women's bodies. In spite of your work on this topic in the books Caliban and the Witch, as well as your collection of essays in Revolution at Point Zero, the issue pertaining to the relationship between capitalism and the exploitation of women has (at best) remained ancillary, and (at worst) been completely neglected within the vast majority of contemporary analyses of global capitalism.
First, how might you explain this omission? Secondly, why do you think it is imperative for any effective resistance to global capitalism to understand the gendered dynamics of the accumulation of capital and the reproduction of labor today?
A. There are several feminists writers who have analyzed the relationship between capitalism and the exploitation of women. Think of Maria Mies, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Ariel Salleh, and many others including many eco-feminists who have shown that there is a connection between the way women has freely appropriated women’s labor and the way in which it has appropriated the wealth of nature, lands, seas, forests==all treated as free resources to be used, destroyed, even exhausted without any thought of the social and ecological cost involved.
It is important to bring special attention to the exploitation of women in capitalism because women still are the main subjects of the reproduction of the work-force. This means that by analyzing how capitalism exploits women we gain insights concerning the changes in the reproduction of the work-force, the needs of the labor market, the models of family and femininity this (re)production requires, and the struggles that women are making on this terrain. Looking at capitalism from the viewpoint of ‘women’ we can see the profound crisis of social reproduction which is confronting us, in every part of the world, how important it still is for capital and the state to control women’s sexuality and reproductive capacity; why the state needs to regulate women’s bodies. We also understand the relation between women’s resistance to procreation (in some countries) and the politics of immigration. Most important, perhaps, is that by looking at the exploitation of women we can see (a) the political meaning of the neo-liberal program—its destruction of the means of livelihood of millions which is immediately reflected in the pauperization of women, especially in Third World countries, its attempt to create populations without rights providing labor-power at a minimal cost, its relentless destruction of people’s lives and the environment, the sense of hopeless and rage these politics generates—hopelessness and rage that translate into more violence against women and against children. (for example The second cause of death for unborn children is violence against their mothers). (b) by the same token, it is women today who are best responding to these new forms of primitive accumulation.
Precisely because their means of reproduction are being destroyed and because they are those most responsible for the reproduction of their communities women are leading in the effort to create new communal form of life. Cooperative forms of reproduction, enabling them to survive despite their very limited access to monetary income. I am not alone recognizing that women are leading the way in the construction of the commons and the transformation of daily life starting from the terrain of reproduction.

Q2: In your answer you refer to reproduction. In fact, reproduction is a theme that runs throughout your work, and serves as the point around which you analyze both the history of capitalism and its current neo-liberal form. In your answer above you seem to pose two forms of reproduction against one another: the capitalist reproduction of the workforce and the concomitant exploitation of women's bodies, and women's reproduction in terms of the workforce and communal forms of socio-cultural life.
Can you explain exactly what you mean by "reproduction" and how it relates to capitalism and the exploitation of women?

A. By “reproduction” or better by reproductive work I refer to the complex of activities, relations, and institutions that in capitalism produce and reproduce labor-power, that is people capacity to work, and in particular procreation, domestic work, and sex work. However, labor power does not have an independent existence. It subsists in living individuals. Therefore reproductive work has a double character; it is at the same time the reproduction of the individual and the reproduction of labor-power and this duality is often the site of a conflict, which has been very important for women to recognize. As I have often pointed out, it was important to recognize that in capitalism the reproduction of individuals has been subsumed (though never completely) to the production of workers for the labor market. This has enable us to disentangle activities that are necessary for the development of our capacities from activities that are instrumental to the preparation of workers for exploitation. This distinction, this disentanglement has allowed women to see that they can refuse “housework” without necessarily undermining the well-being of the people they care for, because much domestic work is the work of being a disciplinarian, the work of reducing expectations. From this point of view the challenge is to transform reproductive work, from work that reproduces people for the market to work that reproduces them for the struggle.
Recognizing that reproductive work in capitalism is work that reproduces labor-power also enables us to see that domestic/ family/sexual/ relations are ‘relations of production.’ That is, they are shaped by the logic of capitalist production, which means that a particular type of worker requires a particular type of family etc. This recognition too has had a liberatory effect, as it has enabled us to understand that much of the misery of family life is generated by the constraints under which it operates, its function in the social assembly line.

*The complete interview will be published in the coming months and made available to Critical and Visual Studies students upon its completion.

Silvia Federici
Professor Emerita and Teaching Fellow at Hofstra University 
Silvia Federici is a long time feminist activist, teacher and writer.
 In 1972s she was a co-founder of the International Feminist Collective, the organization that launched the international campaign for wages for housework in the United States and Internationally. In 1990 she was a co-founder of the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa and from 1991 to 2003 she was one of the editors of the CAFA newsletter. In 1995 she helped found the Radical Philosophy Association Anti-Death Penalty Project.
She has taught at the University of Port Harcourt (Nigeria) and she is now Emerita Professor at Hofstra University (Hempstead, New York).
Federici has authored many essays on feminist theory, women’s history, political philosophy and education. Her published books include: Revolution at Point Zero. Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle; Caliban and the Witch. Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation; Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and its Others (editor); Thousand Flowers: Social Struggles Against Structural Adjustment in African Universities (co-editor).

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