Women and Children in social reproduction and the global womb

Comment on Newberry and Rosen

in Focaal

Having worked on children’s labor of reproduction from the very beginning of my career as an anthropologist, Jan Newberry and Rachel Rosen’s piece, which engages with the complex and thorny issue of “women and children” from a feminist framework, intrigued me. The piece is interesting because it contributes to resuscitate social reproduction theory, a conceptual framework that has only recently been rescued from the academic limbo to which it had been relegated since the 1980s under the influence of postmodernist critique. This influence has resulted for children in an overstated focus on the individual child’s agency that evades altogether addressing children’s roles in the wider political economy. But can returning to the notion of social reproduction fill the gap? I suggest that, though Newberry and Rosen enrich the theory with such notions as “temporality” and “financialization,” the conceptual framework remains too abstract to account for children’s role. I begin describing my personal experience with social reproduction, which started in in the 1970s, to then discuss Newberry and Rosen’s proposal to revive the notion. I argue that the proposal overstates the role of women in social reproduction and suggest three lines of enquiry that may help better acknowledge what children, among others, contribute. I finally discuss why I feel social reproduction theorizing may benefit from thinking in terms of a “global womb” in which children and women find themselves, both socially and geographically, locked.

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