Marxist Perspectives on the Global Enclosures of Social Reproduction
Women’s unpaid care and domestic work is gaining relevance in policy-making as well as in academia. Feminist scholars and activists have lobbied successfully for the integration of unpaid care and domestic work into the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 5.4) of the United Nations in the hope for greater recognition of women’s contribution to the economy. Policy documents about social reproduction highlight women’s disproportionate share of reproductive activities as an obstacle to women’s economic empowerment and as a relic of ‘traditional’ gender roles. Social reproduction is thereby not understood as a merit in itself, but as an obstacle to women’s participation in paid labour. Policy implications will enable certain empowerment effects for some women, but at the same time promote the increasing privatization and commodification of reproductive work across the globe. Rising inequalities between the Global North and South and between women along the categories of class and race will be one major result. To theoretically explain such contradictory effects of the recognition of social reproduction, I use the concept of ‘enclosures’ based on Marx’ ‘primitive accumulation’. Feminist scholars use the concept to explain how unpaid care and housework is commodified or de-commodified to integrate women into the paid labour force or to reduce the costs of social reproduction according to the needs of the economy. The sudden interest in unpaid care and domestic work e.g. in the Sustainable Development Goals can therefore be seen as process of double enclosure, which integrates women into the paid labour force, but also sets the grounds for the further commodification of domestic and care work. This paper aims to critically discuss the sudden interest in unpaid domestic and care work and its contradictory effects from a Marxist feminist perspective and reflects on feminist strategies and movements in global governance. After introducing Marxist perspectives on social reproduction, the question if and how feminist ideas and concepts have been appropriated, the effects and implications of global policies on social reproduction and global inequalities, as well as possible counter-strategies will be discussed.
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