Householding and social reproduction

Comment on Newberry and Rosen

in Focaal

The central premise of this article can hardly be questioned: that the theoretical discussion of reproductive labor is “unfinished.” Whether one calls it unpaid work, unfree labor, care, or social reproduction, the topic seems increasingly to demand (and increasingly receive) more attention. This seems to be ever more the case as we move ever further away from the decades when the postwar consensus, established especially in Northern European countries, held sway. The imposition, by various regimes, of harsh austerity measures on their populations also makes this a key scholarly concern. Jan Newberry and Rachel Rosen’s contention that much of the burden of such work is increasingly taken up by women also seems well taken, if uncontroversial. Their observations about “familialization” and the “re-traditionalizing” of certain aspects of reproduction squares with the claim by Wendy Brown that women’s work intensifies under neoliberal capitalism, as states withdraw the provision of facilities for those who “cannot be responsible for themselves”; and indeed that women—in the face of the disappearance of the necessary infrastructure—become that infrastructure (2015: 105). If we add financialized debt into the mix, such points also echo the findings of scholars in diverse settings who have shown that women are frequently prime targets for microfinance and other kinds of moneylending (Guérin 2019; Han 2012; Kar 2018). But it is at the point that children and issues of temporality are added into an already heady theoretical brew that I find myself parting company with the vision of the authors.

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