Collective Spaces


I would like to use some infor­mal notes to cre­ate a con­nec­tion between the neces­sity to rethink and clar­ify the con­cept of social repro­duc­tion, and the need to cre­ate col­lec­tive spaces in our cities.

It is nec­es­sary to think about these spaces as truly pub­lic and rela­tional, putting together the­o­ries and prac­tices of resis­tance exper­i­mented with dur­ing the cri­sis.

1. What do we mean by “social reproduction”? The reproduction of individuals is social in the sense of being controlled or manipulated, in a constant shift between public and private.

My inten­tion is to talk about social repro­duc­tion in the con­text of a speci­fic social envi­ron­ment. Social repro­duc­tion ver­sus the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als, pub­lic ver­sus pri­vate, manip­u­lated and reg­u­lated ver­sus free and autonomous, frus­tra­tion and soli­tude ver­sus joy­ous coop­er­a­tion.

In Europe the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als is sub­ject to a con­tin­u­ous fluc­tu­a­tion between “social” and “pri­vate.”1 The social is the space of direct manip­u­la­tion, orga­nized by laws, pub­lic expen­di­tures, cus­toms, and moral rules that crush the individual’s abil­ity to desire. The pri­vate is coarsely ide­al­ized as the space of free­dom, but in most cases it reveals itself as the domin­ion of neglect, mis­ery, frus­tra­tion, pow­er­less­ness, and lone­li­ness.

The social forms of the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als do not coin­cide only with wel­fare (which, dur­ing Fordism func­tioned as a con­trol mech­a­nism for the repro­duc­tion of the labor force, while today it’s only a shadow of an expense on the pub­lic bud­get, reduced to insignif­i­cance). It is also the entirety of the ways in which a speci­fic soci­ety views the rela­tion­ship between sexes, as well as the devel­op­ment, growth, and for­ma­tion of indi­vid­u­als.

Inside the nar­ra­tive pro­posed by neolib­er­al­ism, indi­vid­u­als are por­trayed as free of com­mit­ments and inter­de­pen­den­cies, free to choose their own life, able to dis­cover by them­selves a repro­duc­tive bal­ance, even if lim­ited by the con­straints of rigid norms.

Of course all of this pro­duces a process of retreat into the pri­vate sphere, with the estab­lish­ment of new hier­ar­chies between gen­ders, but also between cit­i­zens and migrants, beside the usual class divi­sions.

Accord­ing to my point of view, a fem­i­nist point of view, the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als is entirely social, because it is always reg­u­lated and manip­u­lated by the soci­ety and the state, even if it doesn’t always appear to be so. This con­trol and manip­u­la­tion is exerted upon the work that has his­tor­i­cally been assigned to women, paid labor in the case of ser­vice work or free in the case of the “work of love.”2

In this moment of cri­sis that we are expe­ri­enc­ing in Europe, the actual model of social repro­duc­tion is no longer sus­tain­able and needs the push of strong and cre­ative forms of exper­i­men­ta­tion, even when they might seem prob­lem­atic.

If we start from re-defin­ing repro­duc­tion as “entirely social” and per­formed by every­body, then it is pos­si­ble to imag­ine new forms of col­lab­o­ra­tion, inter­con­nec­tions between the free­dom of choice and the com­fort of com­mon­al­ity, and projects of resis­tance on the issue of wel­fare and social activ­ity, at least regard­ing the sphere of mate­rial repro­duc­tion.

2. Biological reproduction is social reproduction

The repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als can be described in var­i­ous ways: bio­log­i­cal, mate­rial, emo­tional, cul­tural, rela­tional. Obvi­ously these var­i­ous char­ac­ter­is­tics are pro­duced by a soci­ety that is his­tor­i­cally deter­mined and in turn defined by them.

The pri­mary trait, the one that has to do with the repro­duc­tion of the species, with the mate­rial actions of hav­ing chil­dren, with the phys­i­cal repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als – because it is merely rooted in biol­ogy, seems to be dis­so­ci­ated from the “social” and remain a pri­vate affair, a choice founded on love and free­dom, more than ever today, when women in many coun­tries have gained access to con­tra­cep­tive and abortive choices.

Nonethe­less, these choices are exactly what deter­mi­nes the social char­ac­ter of bio­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion, which has been made “free” by laws that are some­times lim­it­ing, some­times badly enforced, and which often con­tain many restric­tive clauses. The choices that are ascribed to the will of indi­vid­u­als are indeed con­di­tioned more than what we think. Let’s take into con­sid­er­a­tion, for instance, the his­tory of women’s strug­gles dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 1900s.

Even though incen­tives used to affect demo­graphic changes in coun­tries with a strong con­ser­v­a­tive regime, keen on pro­tect­ing the “race” (such as Italy and Ger­many but also France dur­ing the 1930s), have very lit­tle if any impact at all, there are more sub­tle restric­tions in sit­u­a­tions where the free­dom of choice of women might seem an accom­plished fact: laws on abor­tion can be dis­re­garded by doc­tors and health­care pro­fes­sion­als on the basis of con­sci­en­tious objec­tion, abor­tion clin­ics might close, cul­tural pres­sures from reli­gious insti­tu­tions in favor of a generic defense of life can cre­ate obsta­cles to informed choices, work and life con­di­tions can be unfa­vor­able to repro­duc­tive choices, and a gen­eral reduc­tion in pub­lic expen­di­tures and in social ser­vices can strongly affect the deci­sion to have chil­dren. It is not a coin­ci­dence that the recog­ni­tion of non-tra­di­tional fam­i­lies, from fam­i­lies recre­ated after a divorce to homo­sex­ual fam­i­lies, is more and more estab­lished and wide­spread. These fam­i­lies guar­an­tee a model for bio-social repro­duc­tion that is mod­ern but still inside the frame of the rec­og­nized and respected par­a­digm of the “fam­ily,” so that bio­log­i­cal and non-bio­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion can still be reg­u­lated by a set of socially deter­mined norms.

Abortive and con­tra­cep­tive prac­tices, viewed as able to guar­an­tee free­dom to the female body, free­dom regard­ing life choices as well as the times and modes of repro­duc­tion are, on the con­trary, con­trolled and often sub­jected to strong legit­i­macy chal­lenges.

The imple­men­ta­tion of prac­tices of con­trol upon the sex­u­al­ity of women, which has been wide­spread through his­tory, has recently caused strong clashes at the inter­na­tional level and often led to judi­cial sen­tences con­demn­ing the “sex­ual free­dom” of women in the case of rape and vio­lence.3

This is how bio­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion is con­di­tioned and ends depend­ing on social struc­tures. It is very dif­fi­cult then to sep­a­rate it from what we usu­ally call social repro­duc­tion and from the pol­i­tics and power of the rul­ing classes.

3. The material aspect of reproduction, the historically unpaid work of women, which had been partially socialized by the Fordist welfare system, is again privatized and retreats into the realm of the single household during the crises.

Cap­i­tal­ism has always treated the work of care as labor. In fact, cap­i­tal­ists have always com­pen­sated it (bon­nes, house­maids, wet nurses, but­lers, ser­vants, etc.), even while under­pay­ing that labor and mak­ing it struc­tural by insert­ing it in rela­tion­ships of depen­dency, attach­ment, and belong­ing.4

Con­sid­ered nat­u­ral inside the frame­work of the gen­der based divi­sion of labor and the finan­cial and domes­tic sub­mis­sion of women, not only by the mid­dle classes but also by large stratas of the Fordist work­ing class, care work has strongly influ­enced the stren­u­ous strug­gles for eman­ci­pa­tion led by the fem­i­nist move­ments of the 20th cen­tury.

Marx­ist fem­i­nism dur­ing the 1970s, in clas­si­fy­ing domes­tic work as labor, has sim­ply unveiled its mys­ti­cal aspects – mys­ti­fied by attach­ment, love, sta­tus and by the search for a socially cod­i­fied and pre­de­fined role – includ­ing it among the basic com­po­nents of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion.5

Cer­tain sec­tors of this work had been social­ized by a form of wel­fare that was strictly con­nected to full employ­ment, but with the cri­sis those expenses in the pub­lic bud­get that were des­tined to the assis­tance of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple have been dras­ti­cally cut in Europe, and con­se­quently we are mov­ing towards more and more aggres­sive forms of pri­va­ti­za­tion. The social orga­ni­za­tion based on the fam­ily struc­ture, with inad­e­quate and min­i­mal pub­lic ser­vices, has been del­e­gated to women, who have become unpaid ser­vice providers, so that all the work of care, of chil­dren, elderly and infirmed, has been charged on their shoul­ders.

Assum­ing then that the major­ity of repro­duc­tive work, unpaid or under­paid, has been and still is at the foun­da­tion of the process of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, today, beside the rise in unpaid work – pushed back inside the house­hold – a new orga­ni­za­tion of repro­duc­tion is being orches­trated, with min­i­mum wages and total exploita­tion, through selec­tive and divi­sive lines, between the cit­i­zen-mis­tress and the migrant worker. With the wel­fare sys­tem no longer func­tion­ing, it is the pri­va­ti­za­tion that affects the poorest sec­tors of the pop­u­la­tion, because the needs of those who are not self-suf­fi­cient are absolute and can’t be put aside.

Women rep­re­sent roughly 50 per­cent of the inter­na­tional migra­tory flux, accord­ing to the report com­piled in 2013 by the United Nation Pop­u­la­tion Divi­sion.6 They are sought after for speci­fic kinds of work: babysit­ter, house­keeper, care­giver, nurse or sex-worker; all kinds of work that have to do with the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als.

Even when pro­fes­sion­ally qual­i­fied, they are deemed fit only for care and domes­tic work, as those are con­sid­ered typ­i­cally fem­i­nine, so they are under­paid and iso­lated, con­fined to the house of their mas­ter or mis­tress.

To this pic­ture it is nec­es­sary to add an addi­tional fac­tor, at least in the case of Europe, regard­ing the fam­i­lies of origin of the Euro­pean migrant women, usu­ally from Roma­nia or Moldova: these are women who left behind at home a fam­ily in which the mother was absent and other work­ers, from Ukraine or Bielorus­sia, would some­time assist them in the work of care of chil­dren and elderly, thus cre­at­ing an inter­na­tional migra­tory chain inside the mar­ket of repro­duc­tion. In addi­tion, this aspect has to do with the mate­rial repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als that, even if pri­va­tized, still presents strong social con­no­ta­tions related to the domin­ion and the exploita­tion of poverty.

4. Politics of economic reconciliation and cooperation do not address men and women equally and, in any case, do not offer real solutions because they are directed only to those who are fully employed. The crisis produces scarcity of goods and social relations but engenders also forms of cooperation that are independent from the state.

Fem­i­nist move­ments are still demand­ing that a por­tion of the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als (such as the care of chil­dren and elderly) be social­ized. On the other hand, increas­ing the expen­di­ture for social ser­vices or the orga­ni­za­tion of the work of care is not on the agenda in any of the states. In the Euro­pean Union the gen­eral ten­dency is rather that of assign­ing the respon­si­bil­i­ties of the work of care to the sin­gle house­hold, through the use of a sys­tem of paid leave, even though this only applies to those who are fully employed.

The sys­tem of paid leave is tra­di­tion­ally viewed through a per­spec­tive that sees women as the main care­givers, while lit­tle atten­tion is paid to the fathers or the grown chil­dren of depen­dent seniors. The most pro­gres­sive approaches, like that of the leg­is­la­tion 2010/18/UE of the Euro­pean Union, pro­pose a gen­der neu­tral take on care work, where, when it comes to the care of chil­dren – but not to that of adults or elderly in need of assis­tance – both par­ents, if fully employed, can take paid time off (even though in prac­tice it is mostly the moth­ers who take advan­tage of these oppor­tu­ni­ties, since their salary is usu­ally lower than that of the fathers and it is thus com­pat­i­ble with the per­centual reduc­tions set up at state level. In the south of Europe there’s also a cul­tural stigma that works against the idea of fathers engag­ing in care work). Less pop­u­lar, if more inter­est­ing, is the prac­tice of manda­tory pater­nity leave, par­al­lel to the manda­tory mater­nity leave for moth­ers, even though in many states it is only a few days’ time off. In any case, it is worth repeat­ing that all these inter­ven­tions are directed exclu­sively at those who are employed full time.

This is what the pic­ture looks like today: waged labor, as depen­dent in its tra­di­tional forms on the pro­tec­tion guar­an­teed by pub­lic expen­di­tures (and for which T.H. Marshall’s project of a social cit­i­zen­ship, con­structed around the idea of full employ­ment, should have allowed con­stant state fund­ing) is dis­ap­pear­ing.7 The pro­gres­sive impov­er­ish­ment of a large sec­tor of the Euro­pean pop­u­la­tion through unem­ploy­ment (esti­mated at 28 mil­lion of unem­ployed in Europe, espe­cially among the younger pop­u­la­tion), leaves a large num­ber of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple with­out any social sup­port. There is more suf­fer­ing and the con­se­quence is a con­sid­er­able increase in the expenses of the sin­gle house­holds – for instance to pay for health care or for pro­fes­sional care­tak­ers (there are an esti­mated 700,000 pri­vate care­tak­ers in Italy, and the aver­age expen­di­ture for their salary is 920 euro a month: almost 10 per­cent of the entire health care bud­get!) –- but espe­cially increased hours of work for fam­i­lies (which means essen­tially for daugh­ters, moth­ers, and grand­moth­ers) who are tak­ing care of the elderly and the dis­abled, the chil­dren, and all those who need it, includ­ing those same youths who are unem­ployed or have unsta­ble jobs.8

The ide­ol­ogy of neolib­er­al­ism puts a lot of empha­sis on the respon­si­bil­ity of the indi­vid­ual towards the choices and the risks of life. Today the good cit­i­zen is the self-made one (this goes together with the pri­va­ti­za­tion of ser­vices and resources that used to be pub­lic). The achieve­ments of the indi­vid­ual are put above any form of social aggre­ga­tion. What so called neolib­er­al­ism really wants is to “lib­er­ate” cap­i­tal from any respon­si­bil­ity towards the repro­duc­tion of the labor force; it wants to erase the last residues of those Key­ne­sian poli­cies that, to this day, still force the state to guar­an­tee (even though less and less) cer­tain lev­els of repro­duc­tion.

Women know from expe­ri­ence that nobody is ever self-suf­fi­cient in life, not in youth or in old age, not when infirm, not as male or female, worker or unem­ployed. In fact, the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als is at the foun­da­tion of social, eco­nomic, and polit­i­cal rela­tion­ships and rep­re­sents the only mean­ing­ful frame­work for coex­is­tence.

The con­crete base from which to start is then the abil­ity to think of indi­vid­u­als as peo­ple with bod­ies, think­ing of our­selves as inter­de­pen­dent, thus escap­ing the lib­eral abstrac­tion of the self-suf­fi­cient indi­vid­ual (indi­vid­ual and not sub­ject).

In these times of cri­sis, the scarcity of resources has as a con­se­quence the cre­ation of inno­v­a­tive forms of coop­er­a­tive repro­duc­tion, mostly vol­un­teer based, which nonethe­less tend to con­sti­tute a free alter­na­tive to the defi­cien­cies of wel­fare, social­iz­ing the costs of repro­duc­tion.

In addi­tion, the mate­rial aspects of repro­duc­tion, weak­ened by the cri­sis, are being re-orga­nized in col­lab­o­ra­tive forms – such as buy­ing clubs, co-hous­ing, car-shar­ing, flea mar­kets, time banks, com­mu­nal gar­dens, care­givers co-ops, and com­mu­nity clin­ics.

Two emblem­atic exam­ples of this process in Europe are Spain and Greece, where it is pos­si­ble to find forms of resis­tance to the cri­sis at the level of social repro­duc­tion, such as health care ser­vices offered by vol­un­teer doc­tors, phar­ma­cies that dis­trib­ute drugs free of charge to those in need, or the PAH (Plataforma d’Afectats per la Hipoteca, or the Plat­form for Peo­ple Affected by Mort­gages, started in 2009 in Cat­alo­nia) which was able to spread its expe­ri­ences and trans­for­ma­tive momen­tum beyond the mere net­work of activists. Within the PAH, we face issues of hous­ing, habi­tat, sur­vival, and the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the body.

The PAH was able to orga­nize vul­ner­a­bil­ity and turn it into polit­i­cal action. In Greece and Spain they were able to mobi­lize the impov­er­ished mid­dle class, which the cri­sis of 2008 had put in a sit­u­a­tion of pre­car­i­ous­ness. Bod­ies came out into the streets, and whole cities were turned into polit­i­cal spaces by their pres­ence.

Forms of repro­duc­tion alter­na­tive to the mar­ket sys­tem or to the van­ish­ing pub­lic ser­vices man­aged by the state, often can respond to imme­di­ate needs. The ques­tion is, are these inter­ven­tions able to pro­duce forms of social aggre­ga­tion on a larger scale?

5. Can these forms of socialization substitute for the welfare system? Undoubtedly there are grey zones: often they are not transferable or cover small geographical and social areas; often they are utilized to make up for the deficiencies of the public sector. Nonetheless, many innovative projects are emerging.

It is inter­est­ing to see how the auton­omy and the pro­duc­tive and coop­er­a­tive abil­i­ties of the social fab­ric are often exalted as able to make up for the defi­cien­cies of pub­lic ser­vices. In fact a strong ambiva­lence can be found both in forms of vol­un­tary social work and in non­profit orga­ni­za­tions that oper­ate within the area of the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als.

If on the one hand they rep­re­sent extra­or­di­nary mech­a­nisms of con­scious­ness rais­ing, on the other they are per­fectly com­pat­i­ble with aus­ter­ity poli­cies, since they are means to social­ize the costs of repro­duc­tion.

It’s not a coin­ci­dence that local gov­ern­ments are rely­ing more and more, in the face of emer­gen­cies, on vol­un­tary social work and non­profit orga­ni­za­tions. There is a con­crete risk that the col­lec­tiviza­tion of the activ­i­ties of repro­duc­tion could become just a way to man­age poverty rather than a mech­a­nism to reap­pro­pri­ate wealth.

There is evi­dence that protest move­ments, even the most rad­i­cal of them, are not express­ing them­selves just with refusal, indig­na­tion, and attacks any­more. On the con­trary, they are becom­ing more and more able to offer alter­na­tive solu­tions.9 They seem to be tak­ing the form of an orga­ni­za­tion of the com­mon, of forms of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of life alter­na­tive to the mar­ket econ­omy and to the state. Often they offer hybrid solu­tions, mid­way between the state and the mar­ket, with inno­v­a­tive con­tents.

The devel­op­ment of new means for the social­iza­tion of the costs of repro­duc­tion cre­ates a space that can be imag­ined as exist­ing between pub­lic and pri­vate, able to rein­te­grate bod­ies and their needs – those same bod­ies that are usu­ally excluded from pol­i­tics and for­mal democ­racy.

When it comes to the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als, the “com­mon” is a real­ity mostly in fieri, of which we can fore­see just a few aspects, and its projects unfold on a lim­ited scale, often prompted by the neces­sity of sur­vival. One of our most impor­tant goals is that of break­ing the iso­la­tion in which the work of repro­duc­tion is today orga­nized, iso­la­tion that affects mostly women and that becomes dra­matic when they are tak­ing care of those who are not self-suf­fi­cient, such as chil­dren, elderly, and the infirm.

Avoid­ing the empha­sis on the fea­si­bil­ity of expand­ing these new forms of social­iza­tion, and even tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the dif­fi­cul­ties of rein­vent­ing forms of rela­tions inside the sphere of repro­duc­tion, it is pos­si­ble to observe how these first exper­i­ments express a desire for com­mu­nity and a renewed pos­si­bil­ity for the cre­ation of social rela­tion­ships and change.

Nancy Fraser claims that the polit­i­cal per­spec­tive that was orig­i­nally meant for the democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the state and the empow­er­ing of its cit­i­zens is today used to legit­imize the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the social state. On the other hand, the out­look offered by a sol­i­dar­ity-based fem­i­nism could still be use­ful. The cur­rent cri­sis offers the pos­si­bil­ity to expand that per­spec­tive, con­nect­ing the dream of the lib­er­a­tion of women with that of a soci­ety founded on sol­i­dar­ity:

First, we might break the spu­ri­ous link between our cri­tique of the fam­ily wage and flex­i­ble cap­i­tal­ism by mil­i­tat­ing for a form of life that de-cen­tres waged work and val­orises unwaged activ­i­ties, includ­ing – but not only – care work.10

Sec­ondly, it is impor­tant to sep­a­rate labor from any notion of a well lived life, declar­ing the end of the model of Work­fare, as it was already pre­fig­ured by some of the wom­ens’ move­ments.

Actu­ally, both lib­eral and social­ist fem­i­nists sub­scribed to the typ­i­cal cap­i­tal­ist deval­u­a­tion of the work of repro­duc­tion, embrac­ing, as the only path to eman­ci­pa­tion, waged labor and the inte­gra­tion of women into the pub­lic sphere, exactly at the moment when it was the tar­get of a seri­ous attack by work­ers, both male and female, all over the world. Fem­i­nists aban­doned any strug­gle inside the sphere of repro­duc­tion, think­ing that, once fully inte­grated into the labor mar­ket, women would gain more social power.11

At the same time, what can be called “dif­fer­ence fem­i­nism” con­sid­ered repro­duc­tion work as if it were ingrained in the nature of women, for­get­ting the con­di­tions of exploita­tion in which it happens,turning it into an essen­tial­ist notion.

Defin­ing repro­duc­tion as the fun­da­men­tal source of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, Marx­ist fem­i­nism made it pos­si­ble to con­ceive of the pos­si­bil­ity of an over­turn towards a process of social­iza­tion that can rev­o­lu­tion­ize the actual con­di­tions of neolib­eral exploita­tion and empha­size the mate­ri­al­ity of self-sus­te­nance.

Sex­ual bod­ies, in order to sur­vive and repro­duce, need to be con­nected to one another. Indi­vid­u­als are not able to develop, live, or pro­duce in soli­tude.

Com­pul­sory rela­tion­ships, typ­i­cal of those unyield­ing struc­tures of inter­con­nec­tion that were rev­o­lu­tion­ized by anti-author­i­tar­ian move­ments dur­ing the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, cor­re­sponded to the fac­tory model, with its rigid and pyra­mi­dal orga­ni­za­tion. The dif­fuse design fac­tory, the idea of work as incor­po­rated into the fab­ric of our life, are con­cepts able to extract free­dom from con­trol, sub­sum­ing it into a supe­rior instance. Rela­tion­ships develop remotely, become ethe­real, incor­po­real; our com­mu­ni­ca­tion, even when voice and facial expres­sions are included, doesn’t include the body, it’s bidi­men­sional. It is then nec­es­sary to reestab­lish ele­ments of mate­ri­al­ity also in the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als.

6. It is possible to reinvent new parameters for the reproduction of individuals, intrinsic to its own transformation and with a radical innovation of its contents. On the other hand, if we fail to consider the needs of those who are not self-sufficient and the work necessary for the care of bodies and relationships, we will continue producing forms of socialization tragically characterized by inequality.

The repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als is not just mate­rial repro­duc­tion. There is a nec­es­sary “work of love,” a work to be done for the care of rela­tion­ships, which was anni­hi­lated by the process of indi­vid­u­al­iza­tion pro­moted by neolib­er­al­ism.

I won­der if it’s pos­si­ble to grasp, in the gen­eral ten­dency that pro­motes the defense of the com­mon and the col­lec­tiviza­tion of mate­rial repro­duc­tion, pos­si­bil­i­ties that go beyond its mere value for resis­tance, enrich­ing it with poten­tials for the cre­ation of new forms of rela­tion­ships. This would make the prac­tices of social repro­duc­tion more open to ques­tion and less mechanic. Most impor­tantly, it would require a sub­stan­tial mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the the­o­ries sur­round­ing the process of trans­for­ma­tion, the rela­tion­ship with pol­i­tics, and the enun­ci­a­tion of prac­tices.

The main focus should be directed at those who are not self-suf­fi­cient, that is, chil­dren, the elderly, infirm, the poor: these peo­ple depend on rela­tion­ships that can­not be man­aged on an emer­gency basis or only rely on the good­will of vol­un­teers. If we take the needs of these sub­jects as a start­ing point, a real change in the social repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als becomes more prac­ti­cal.

It is nec­es­sary to come up with ambi­tious projects, mak­ing the­o­ries avail­able to those who need to put them into prac­tice, in order to cre­ate real change. A change in the dynamic of rela­tion­ships but also a change in the con­nec­tions between knowl­edge and power.

There are the­o­ries and pro­pos­als able to for­mu­late projects for new forms of social repro­duc­tion, respect­ful of the rela­tion­ship between gen­ders, of the phys­i­cal pres­ence of weak and vul­ner­a­ble bod­ies, of the con­junc­tion between the­o­ret­i­cal knowl­edge and the needs of indi­vid­u­als: these are the­o­ries sur­round­ing the notions of home, the city (the urban space), the com­mon, the health care sys­tem.

It is nec­es­sary to make an effort, both on the the­o­ret­i­cal and the prac­ti­cal level, to think and then actu­al­ize forms of col­lec­tive wel­fare, tak­ing into account the pos­si­bil­i­ties implied in the pro­mo­tion of a social recom­po­si­tion, the increase in sol­i­dar­ity based exchanges and, most impor­tantly, beyond just want­ing to re-appro­pri­ate our wealth, the need for sol­i­dar­ity towards vul­ner­a­ble sub­jects. It is nec­es­sary to try and estab­lish an alliance between juridi­cal cul­ture and social move­ments, between prac­tices of self-care and the med­ical pro­fes­sion, between liv­ing in urban spaces and dream­ing of a city meant for liv­ing bod­ies.

We could ask our­selves if it’s pos­si­ble to cre­ate a con­nec­tion between pub­lic and col­lec­tive, mate­rial repro­duc­tion and rela­tion­ships of attach­ment, inter­de­pen­dency and the free expres­sion of sub­jec­tiv­ity, acknowl­edge­ment of dif­fer­ences and the ten­sion towards equal­ity.

A first exam­ple of a pos­si­ble restruc­tura­tion of the dynam­ics of social repro­duc­tion is in the area of health care, where the pri­mary fil­ter is that of the work of care. But that needs to over­come the prej­u­dices of a nor­ma­tive notion of well being, depen­dent from the pro­to­cols and the dik­tats of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try, cre­at­ing inter­ac­tions between patients and health­care providers founded on a notion of health that is not med­ical­ized, depen­dent on drugs, rou­tinized, pathol­o­gized, treated as an emer­gency, but rather as a place of resis­tance and trans­for­ma­tion of the con­di­tions of our exis­tence.12

Women have already opened a crit­i­cal dis­course around health and the use and con­fig­u­ra­tion of pub­lic health care infra­struc­tures. On the issue of abor­tion, Euro­pean move­ments recently uni­fied under the slo­gan “I decide,” which implies the right of self-deter­mi­na­tion and the access to a sec­u­lar notion of repro­duc­tive health. Female doc­tors started focus­ing on sex­u­al­ized bod­ies, launch­ing a prac­tice of med­ical care based on gen­der, with speci­fic atten­tion to dif­fer­ences. Even though the rela­tion­ship between pro­fes­sion­als, ser­vices, and social move­ments reveals the exis­tence of insti­tu­tional and prac­ti­cal lim­i­ta­tions that are hard to recom­pose, this seems to be a pos­si­ble open path for the trans­for­ma­tion of social repro­duc­tion.

A sec­ond exam­ple could be that of the city, the metrop­o­lis. In a recent inter­view, Toni Negri describes the metrop­o­lis as equiv­a­lent to what the fac­tory was for older gen­er­a­tions, and the home as a res­i­den­tial machine for liv­ing and work­ing inside a dig­i­tized city, in which exist­ing and pro­duc­ing are inex­tri­ca­bly inter­con­nected.13 Life and sur­vival are thus tied together, even though it is pos­si­ble to iden­tify some areas of dis­en­fran­chise­ment if com­pared to the total con­trol of fac­tory work. In this home-machine, exploita­tion coex­ists with a few pos­si­bil­i­ties for liberation/emancipation both for men and women, who could reclaim a base income as a form of com­pen­sa­tion for the pro­duc­tive but espe­cially for the domes­tic aspects of their work.

The spa­tial con­fig­u­ra­tion of the city around work, pro­duc­tion, and the place­ment of the bod­ies of the work­ers is now dif­fer­ent from the model described in Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Road, in which mono­func­tional con­glom­er­ates defined the places of repro­duc­tion, while pro­duc­tion hap­pened in places iso­lated and sep­a­rated along class and gen­der lines.14

If it’s true that this sep­a­ra­tion (a speci­fic space for men at work and one for repro­duc­tion reserved for women) has dis­ap­peared today, accord­ing to Negri – in the process that sees the mech­a­niza­tion of the home for pro­duc­tive pur­poses and the eman­ci­pa­tion of women from domes­tic work, made pos­si­ble by the pro­gress in new tech­nolo­gies (even though he fails to demon­strate this point. The only thing he proves is that domes­tic work,the basic work of reproduction,has changed) – what hap­pened to the spaces of the com­mon, the spaces for the repro­duc­tion of social rela­tions?

The most preva­lent archi­tec­ture in a city should be the one that includes health care struc­tures, libraries, pre-schools, schools, pub­lic art gal­leries, muse­ums, and recre­ational facil­i­ties – all build­ings and spaces where the exchanges are not mon­e­tary and where, at the moment, the major­ity of peo­ple work­ing are women. The urban pub­lic sphere is the place par excel­lence, where non-mar­ket medi­ated exchanges can take place; a safe place for explo­ration, edu­ca­tion, and rest. It is the place where it’s pos­si­ble to exper­i­ment with democ­racy.

It is nec­es­sary to cre­ate spaces in which the most vul­ner­a­ble sub­jects can coex­ist; spaces that are truly pub­lic, where it would be pos­si­ble to spend time with­out hav­ing to buy any­thing; spaces for play­ing that are not sport fields, where there would be room for dream­ing and explor­ing.

The city is a com­mon, a place where social repro­duc­tion hap­pens. The urban­ized space reflects the lifestyle of its inhab­i­tants and it is at the same time the con­tainer for the forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion rec­og­nized and accepted by the com­mu­nity. Pub­lic squares and recre­ational spaces instead of res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods, social ser­vices that are effec­tive and acces­si­ble, the cre­ation of new forms of aggre­ga­tion, the con­struc­tion of a soci­ety where self-sus­te­nance hap­pens in a col­lec­tive space.

In pub­lic spaces bod­ies can meet, with their lim­i­ta­tions, their dif­fer­ent needs; in pub­lic spaces it is pos­si­ble to cre­ate inter­de­pen­dent forms of life, rein­vent a coop­er­a­tive sort of repro­duc­tion.

Cre­at­ing an urban col­lec­tive space can open the pos­si­bil­ity for find­ing alter­na­tives to the notion of neolib­eral indi­vid­u­al­ism, start­ing from the free expres­sion of diverse sub­jec­tiv­i­ties, and from an aware­ness of mutual inter­de­pen­den­cies.

The sex­ual body rep­re­sents a cri­tique of the stan­dard sub­ject of the social con­tract, sub­ject of rights and pol­i­tics, inside the frame of lib­er­al­ism (a sub­ject sup­posed neu­tral, self-suf­fi­cient, free of com­mit­ments and rela­tion­ships, sig­ni­fied only by its capac­ity to choose ratio­nally, on the basis of a util­i­tar­ian cal­cu­la­tion of costs and ben­e­fits), and opens up a path for the pos­si­bil­ity to rec­og­nize sex­u­al­ized sin­gu­lar­i­ties, lim­ited bod­ies, and the need for rela­tion­ships and col­lab­o­ra­tion. If this nar­ra­tive has to become a form of social­iza­tion, since it is about the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als, it can­not be lim­ited to the abstrac­tion of the­o­ries, it must find spaces where it would be pos­si­ble to prac­tice and rein­vent new forms of social repro­duc­tion. This is about a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of our lifestyle, it is about con­quer­ing spaces of free­dom and prac­tices of equal­ity that include the expres­sion of diverse forms of sub­jec­tiv­ity and the acknowl­edge­ment of dif­fer­ent and uni­ver­sal forms of inter­de­pen­dency.

– Trans­lated by Ful­via Serra

  1. My analy­sis is based on Euro­pean data, both at the level of the Euro­pean Union in gen­eral, and at the level of sin­gle Euro­pean states. 

  2. For an analy­sis of the struc­ture of the repro­duc­tion of indi­vid­u­als, Alise Del Re, “Work­ers’ Inquiry and Repro­duc­tive Labor,” View­point Mag­a­zine 3 (Sep­tem­ber 2013); Alise Del Re, “Care and Com­mon,” in Genre 46 no. 2, “Homo Liber: Essays in Honor of Anto­nio Negri,” Tim­o­thy S. Murph, ed. (Sum­mer 2013): 123-35. 

  3. In Sep­tem­ber 1994, the Inter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Pop­u­la­tion and Devel­op­ment, orga­nized by the UN in Cairo, pointed to a strong clash between reli­gious insti­tu­tions and sec­u­lar states around the issue of con­trol­ling the sex­u­al­ity and the body of women. On the issue of abor­tion we are wit­ness­ing, in recent years, an upsurge of pro-life move­ments. See, Jacque­line Heinen, “Onslaughts on the Right to Choose: A Transcon­ti­nen­tal Panorama,” AG About Gen­der 3, no. 5 (2014); Yas­min Nair, “Omo­nor­ma­tiv­ità,” Queer Up! Mil­i­tant trans­la­tions and notes on gen­der and queer, June 26, 2015. 

  4. The British tele­vi­sion drama Down­town Abbey is a good exam­ple of these kinds of rela­tion­ships. 

  5. Mari­arosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, The Power of Women and the Sub­ver­sion of the Com­mu­nity (Bris­tol: Falling Wall Press, 1975); Lucia Chisté, Alisa Del Re, and Edvige Forti, Oltre il lavoro domes­tic (Milano: Fel­trinelli, 1978); Mari­arosa Dalla Costa, Famiglia, wel­fare e Stato tra pro­gres­sismo e Newdeal (Milan: F. Angeli, 1983). 

  6. United Nations Depart­ment of Eco­nomic and Social Affairs, Pop­u­la­tion Divi­sion, “Inter­na­tional Migra­tion Report,” 2013. 

  7. Franco Berardi Bifo, “Di lavoro non ce n’è più bisogno,” Com­mon­ware, July 16, 2015. 

  8. Ibid. Unem­ploy­ment is increas­ing today in every coun­try in Europe. Half of the young Euro­pean peo­ple do not have a pay­check, or if they do, it is mea­ger and irreg­u­lar. 

  9. Exam­ples of a propos­i­tive strug­gle are the ZAD – zone à défendre - which can some­times express itself vio­lently, or the NO-TAV in Italy, which offers alter­na­tive solu­tions to the prob­lem of high speed trains. Recently in Milan, new forms and options for crit­i­cal work are being exper­i­mented, address­ing the prob­lem of pre­car­ity, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and self-man­age­ment, with the col­lab­o­ra­tion, not always easy, of plu­ral sub­jects, who were able any­way to par­tic­i­pate in the same net­work (NO Expo protest against pre­car­i­ous and unpaid labor). 

  10. Nancy Fraser, “How fem­i­nism became capitalism’s hand­maiden – and how to reclaim it,” The Guardian, Octo­ber 14, 2013. This arti­cle crit­i­cizes, maybe unfairly, the neolib­eral devi­a­tion of cer­tain fem­i­nist move­ments and affirms that the ambiva­lence of fem­i­nism was resolved in favor of a (neo)liberal indi­vid­u­al­ism. Nancy Fraser, For­tunes of Fem­i­nism from State Man­aged Cap­i­tal­ism to Neolib­eral Cri­sis (New York: Verso, 2013). 

  11. Anto­nio Alia, “Tra crisi della ripro­duzione sociale e wel­fare comune. Inter­vista a Sil­via Fed­erici,” Decem­ber 31, 2013. 

  12. Fuxia Block, “Qeer­sul­to­ria: esper­i­menti di wel­fare dal basso per un nuovo diritto alla salute e alla vivi­bil­ità,” Tutta salute! Resistenze (trans) fem­min­iste e queer, nos. 3-4, (July-Decem­ber 2014): 37-49. 

  13. Toni Negri, “L’abitazione del gen­eral intel­lect. Dial­ogo di Fed­erico Tom­masello con Toni Negri sull’abitare nella metropoli con­tem­po­ranea,” EuroNo­made, June 2015. 

  14. The sit­u­a­tion described in Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Road, the novel writ­ten by Richard Yates in 1961, shows a spa­tial strat­egy meant to con­fine women in the sub­ur­ban space and in a per­ma­nent domes­tic dimen­sion. 

Author of the article

is associate professor at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Padova.