Social Reproduction, But Not As We Know It

Internet station at Occupy Wall Street.
Inter­net sta­tion at Occupy Wall Street.

How should we look at social reproduction?

It has been about 35 years since the pub­li­ca­tion of The Arcane of Repro­duc­tion: House­work, Pros­ti­tu­tion, Labor and Cap­i­tal, and the world has rad­i­cally changed since then.1 Soci­ety has changed faster than our capac­ity to re-forge the the­o­ret­i­cal and method­olog­i­cal tool­box at our dis­posal. It is time to ask: what is hap­pen­ing to the repro­duc­tive sphere on a struc­tural level? A tsunami is over­turn­ing every­thing. While it is not yet pos­si­ble to provide a com­pre­hen­sive pic­ture of all the changes that are tak­ing place here, nor to take full stock of their struc­tural, polit­i­cal, and social mean­ing, I would at least like to call the reader’s atten­tion to some impor­tant points.

We can approach the sphere of social repro­duc­tion from at least two per­spec­tives. We can focus on the dark side of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, con­sid­er­ing the ter­ri­ble vio­lence, exploita­tion, inequal­ity, and poverty that affect women all over the world in vary­ing degrees. Many women of my gen­er­a­tion are tempted to look at the present con­di­tion of the sphere of social repro­duc­tion with sad­ness and dis­cour­age­ment. Women con­tinue to serve as the pil­lar of the domes­tic care of chil­dren, adults, and the elderly, even though, as a result of wide­spread unem­ploy­ment, a gen­er­a­tion of young men are now avail­able to shoul­der a bit more of the domes­tic bur­den. Vio­lence against women is a global affair and a wide bat­tle is being car­ried out against women’s bod­ies through media-imposed body images, the sym­bol­ism of the fash­ion and beauty indus­tries, as signs of sub­mis­sion to cap­i­tal and male cul­ture. In the global South, fam­i­lies are lac­er­ated by female migra­tion, war, reli­gious con­flicts, famine, and frag­ile eco­nomic sys­tems. Women con­tinue to be paid less over­all than men, and con­tinue to have chil­dren and take care of them, men, the elderly, the ill, and the dis­abled with­out any social recog­ni­tion of their work.

But we can also focus on the trends that show how women have improved their con­di­tions of life every­where com­pared to the past, and exam­ine the main social changes they have put in motion. I choose to pur­sue this sec­ond strat­egy, and I invite women to look with me at the con­tem­po­rary repro­duc­tive sphere with imag­i­na­tion. The fem­i­nist wave of the six­ties and sev­en­ties has helped the women of my gen­er­a­tion and those that fol­lowed to win greater power in the fam­ily and in soci­ety, which has also meant achiev­ing more civil rights, a stronger sense of cit­i­zen­ship, and a greater capac­ity to move between spaces alone, espe­cially in the old indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries. Of course, this empow­er­ment has also been accom­pa­nied by par­tial vic­to­ries and even burn­ing defeats. How­ever, it is impor­tant to see the main trend: a gen­eral increase in well-being.

Reversing the Spheres

Up until the 1980s, the dri­ving force of the polit­i­cal, orga­ni­za­tional, and tech­no­log­i­cal ini­tia­tives in soci­ety was the sphere of com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion, under­stood not only as the pro­duc­tion of goods, but also increas­ingly of ser­vices. From here, var­i­ous processes and behav­iors passed to the sphere of social repro­duc­tion, which pre­vi­ously had the task of func­tion­ing and pro­duc­ing in a depen­dent and sup­port­ive man­ner. In fact, the gen­eral mech­a­nism was for ini­tia­tives, prac­tices, and goods to trickle down from the pro­duc­tive to the repro­duc­tive sphere. But today the entire rela­tion­ship between these two spheres has been reversed, at least in the highly indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries, as the repro­duc­tive sphere has become the dri­ving force of the entire sys­tem.

Arlie Hochschild was cor­rect in argu­ing that the logic of the work­place was exported to homes and, vice versa, that the logic of the domes­tic sphere was being exported to the sphere of pro­duc­tion.2 For instance, the fun­da­men­tal fea­tures of house­work, such as gra­tu­itous­ness, pre­car­i­ous­ness, irreg­u­lar­ity, and the absence of col­lec­tive nego­ti­a­tion by unions and par­ties, have been exported to the sphere of pro­duc­tion, where they have become more com­mon than in the past. Those forms of reg­u­lat­ing social rela­tion­ships, con­sid­ered sec­ondary or periph­eral until recent decades, and only tol­er­ated in the the sphere of repro­duc­tion, have now entered into com­pe­ti­tion with more union­ized forms of employ­ment.

How­ever, it wasn’t just the weak­nesses that were exported from the sphere of social repro­duc­tion. So too were the strug­gles. The var­i­ous nego­ti­a­tion processes that devel­oped inside fam­i­lies, between men and women and the var­i­ous gen­er­a­tions, have also been implic­itly imported. For exam­ple, the strug­gles against par­ents’ author­i­tar­i­an­ism that devel­oped inside fam­i­lies have inevitably reshaped the way new gen­er­a­tions of work­ers, tech­ni­cians, or employ­ees now have to be addressed in the work­place.3 As the author­i­tar­ian behav­ior of par­ents has begun to dis­ap­pear in the fam­ily, new work­ers have striven to be treated in the work­place in a dif­fer­ent man­ner. Today, they are very often asked to per­form a task with a sen­tence like, “could you please do this?,” rather than as an impe­ri­ous com­mand.

Indeed, social repro­duc­tion can now be said to emerge as an immense lab­o­ra­tory of social and polit­i­cal exper­i­men­ta­tions, haz­ards, dreams, ini­tia­tives, and visions. The repro­duc­tive sphere is where the most rel­e­vant polit­i­cal and social move­ments – such as the Arab upris­ings, the Indig­na­dos move­ment in Spain, or Occupy Wall Street in the United States – and the most impor­tant col­lec­tive actions, such as Urban Knit­ting ini­tia­tives,4 have devel­oped in the last decades. The sphere of social repro­duc­tion has com­pletely changed its iden­tity: once con­sid­ered by tra­di­tional polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions as a place of polit­i­cal back­ward­ness, it has now become the pul­sat­ing heart of the entire cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, at both the social and polit­i­cal lev­els. Social and indi­vid­ual repro­duc­tion is now the sphere where the future is woven, dis­cussed, and elab­o­rated in the long run and in a real, sus­tain­able, way. In the old indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries, women, men, chil­dren, youth, adults, and the elderly are expe­ri­enc­ing many forms of gen­der and gen­er­a­tional iden­tity, in order to deal with their own paths of auton­omy and self-deter­mi­na­tion. The old gen­dered divi­sion of labor and the con­se­quent dif­fer­ences between men and women, based on the cor­re­spon­dence between women and pre­vail­ing fem­i­nine fea­tures, as well as between men and pre­vail­ing mas­cu­line fea­tures, have been invested by many social and polit­i­cal changes.

A new gen­dered divi­sion of labor has taken hold: women have learned to deal with the “mas­cu­line cul­ture” – based on logos, that is, ratio­nal think­ing – and men to deal with the “fem­i­nine cul­ture” based on metis, empa­thy and intu­ition. Women are cur­rently receiv­ing higher lev­els of edu­ca­tion than men, and they earn bet­ter grades. This means not only that women are bet­ter edu­cated than men, but that they have learned to deal with the logos. On the other hand, men are expe­ri­enc­ing a closer rela­tion­ship with inti­macy, affec­tion, and emo­tion. As con­se­quence, not only have men learned to develop more of their emo­tional side, they have also learned to have a closer rela­tion­ship with the body. Men have begun to invest energy in tak­ing care of their body, by shav­ing, embell­ish­ing it with neck­laces, ear­rings, and bracelets, keep­ing in shape with diets and phys­i­cal exer­cises, dress­ing with much more atten­tion than in the past. In sum, women have become more “mas­cu­line” and men more “fem­i­nine,” although the appa­ra­tuses of media, adver­tis­ing, and edu­ca­tion still con­vey over­all rigid and seg­re­gat­ing mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine images, fig­ures, and roles.

Other old struc­tures of soci­ety, such as the nuclear fam­ily, have lost their unique­ness. Under the ini­tia­tive and the pres­sure of (espe­cially) women and youth, peo­ple are liv­ing together in dif­fer­ent ways, expe­ri­enc­ing many dis­tinct fam­ily forms, and even liv­ing and stay­ing alone. The fam­ily, based on a cou­ple with chil­dren, has been com­ple­mented by other types of fam­i­lies such as those made of cou­ples with­out chil­dren, peo­ple liv­ing alone, sin­gle par­ent fam­i­lies, mixed fam­i­lies, recom­bined fam­i­lies in which mem­bers belong­ing to dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies live together. The rigid dis­ci­pline and nor­ma­tiv­ity that had in the past reg­u­lated the fam­ily as the basic cell of soci­ety has become more diverse and flex­i­ble.

In this con­text, the reg­u­la­tion of social dis­tance from oth­ers in terms of both fam­ily and friend­ship have changed and diver­si­fied, also thanks to the avail­abil­ity and spread of the new media and their prac­tices of use. The behav­iors and social prac­tices con­nected to pri­vate and pub­lic dimen­sions of infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion have high­lighted many forms of resis­tance and mass ini­tia­tives from the bot­tom. At a polit­i­cal level, the reg­u­la­tion of social dis­tance among the dif­fer­ent classes has been com­pletely re-nego­ti­ated: the awe towards the rul­ing classes and the sub­tle forms of social dis­tinc­tion that have been pow­er­ful instru­ments to main­tain the power struc­ture in soci­ety have weak­ened. In the streets today walk women and men belong­ing to the var­i­ous social classes with a greater degree of social equal­ity than in the past. Last, but not the least, the forms of polit­i­cal engage­ment and mobi­liza­tion have been put under scrutiny and been trans­formed by the social sub­jects who are in search of their empow­er­ment.

At first glance, all these fronts may seem to describe a phe­nom­e­nol­ogy of a fluid soci­ety, but in real­ity they recount how house­work, both at mate­rial and imma­te­rial lev­els, is being trans­formed. The fact that social rela­tion­ships as well as the rit­u­als and prac­tices of social life have changed means that imma­te­rial and mate­rial care work and house­work have been sub­jected to an intense wave of nego­ti­a­tion among women and men, as well as among gen­er­a­tions, and to an intense wave of mass behav­iors. To this end, there is no peace in the repro­duc­tive sphere, since an unequal divi­sion of house­work and care work between men and women con­tin­ues to per­sist, although in a more atten­u­ated way than in the past. Many other ele­ments deserve to be con­sid­ered, such as the fact, for exam­ple, that fam­i­lies and the state need to invest con­sid­er­ably to house­work. As a response to local women’s resis­tance against house­work and to the dou­ble work they per­form, the care of chil­dren, elderly, ill, and dis­abled is attract­ing a con­sid­er­able amount of migrant women’s house­work and care work. On the other hand, house­work indi­rectly dia­logues with the state by draw­ing the major part of the state bud­get towards invest­ments for main­tain­ing high lev­els of social repro­duc­tion of the labor force in the spheres of edu­ca­tion, health, and retire­ment.

At the same time, many aspects of house­work are out­sourced (peo­ple eat in restau­rants, cafe­te­rias, or bars, send dresses to dry clean­ing, etc.), and other aspects inter­sect with new ways of con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing house­work. Mas­sive processes of sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, stan­dard­iza­tion, and automa­tion inside the house, in addi­tion to house­work out­sourcing, affect many tasks, both at the mate­rial and imma­te­rial level: edu­ca­tion, affects, enter­tain­ment, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and infor­ma­tion. Cook­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, exem­pli­fies the trend towards out­sourcing, but is also being trans­formed in many dif­fer­ent direc­tions: from dis­ap­pear­ing from the house to earn­ing a new vis­i­bil­ity in tele­vi­sion pro­grams. Cook­ing is no longer an invis­i­ble task car­ried out at home by women or other fam­ily mem­bers in the shad­ows, and it is becom­ing a form of work where new and old exper­tise com­bine. Thus, the repro­duc­tive sphere now proac­tively expresses social, polit­i­cal, and media ini­tia­tives as women espe­cially request the imple­men­ta­tion of new tech­nolo­gies, as the Euro­barom­e­ter sur­vey (2012) shows.5

What makes this sphere par­tic­u­larly well equipped to func­tion as space for social change is a par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion of three forces at work within it: first, the “sci­ence of the con­crete,” to bor­row Lévi-Strauss’s expres­sion; sec­ond, the metis, as a par­tic­u­lar form of fem­i­nine intel­li­gence; and lastly, “affects,” which enhance both.6 Lévi-Strauss, in The Sav­age Mind, pro­posed the exis­tence of another mode of thought, dis­tinct from the more mod­ern “sci­en­tific” one we take as dom­i­nant. This other “sci­ence of the con­crete,” as he called it, is struc­tured by sys­tem­at­i­cally labelling and clas­si­fy­ing the world through per­cep­tions and emo­tions. The sci­ence of the con­crete orga­nizes a sys­tem of think­ing which rec­og­nizes the law of cause and effect and the pos­si­bil­i­ties and oppor­tu­ni­ties to com­bine, recom­bine, and reme­di­ate things. The orga­ni­za­tion of thoughts deriv­ing from this sys­tem­atic work has been able to gen­er­ate active and method­i­cal obser­va­tions and con­trols, hypothe­ses to dis­card or val­i­date, expla­na­tions, new ques­tions, ideas and new con­cepts, and finally myths.

The sci­ence of the con­crete has brought extra­or­di­nary gains, such as pot­tery, weav­ing, agri­cul­ture, knowl­edge of herbs and min­er­als, med­i­ci­nes, and the domes­ti­ca­tion of ani­mals. Lévi-Strauss dis­cusses the Neolithic para­dox, argu­ing that these inno­va­tions would have been impos­si­ble with­out a very effec­tive and pow­er­ful sci­ence.7 Lewis Mum­ford also inter­ve­nes on this topic, rais­ing the ques­tion of the qual­ity of these inno­va­tions. In effect, he claims that the qual­ity of the Neolithic inno­va­tions and of the sci­ence of the con­crete is pecu­liar, since he defines these as bio-tech­nics or demo­c­ra­tic and life-exalt­ing tech­nolo­gies.8 By con­trast, Mum­ford points out, the tech­nolo­gies pro­duced by the sci­ence of the abstract – the sci­ence of engi­neers, infor­ma­tion sci­en­tists, etc. – are life-deny­ing tech­nolo­gies.

The other force at work in the repro­duc­tive sphere is the metis, a speci­fic way of think­ing, cul­ti­vated espe­cially by women, based on empa­thy and intu­ition.9 It is a form of pru­dence and cun­ning intel­li­gence, refer­ring to the intel­lec­tual capac­ity to over­come obsta­cles by find­ing ways around them. The ancient Greeks asso­ci­ated this with Metis, daugh­ter of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys, who was impreg­nated by Zeus and then devoured. The intel­lec­tual force of Metis serves to explain a resource and a capac­ity present or cul­tivable in all of us. Even if present as a dis­tinc­tive fea­ture in some of the mas­cu­line heroes such as Odysseus, she is still gen­er­ally con­sid­ered an “unmanly deity,” as metis is said to have more the force of water than of iron, of per­va­sive­ness more than pen­e­tra­tion, of tenac­ity and patience more than that of dom­i­na­tion. A man or woman (and for the woman it is more cul­tur­ally instinc­tive) who pos­sesses this force of the mind is shel­tered from a series of errors. These indi­vid­u­als are atten­tive to com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies and fil­ter what to say and what to lis­ten to. More­over, they know how to veil them­selves and how to come out of the closet: in other words, they know the impor­tance of the mask, which allows them to decide what to hide and what, instead, to dis­play, in order to make their mes­sage really inci­sive. It is through han­dling the metis that women were able to build a psy­chic power stronger than that pos­sessed by men.

The third force is the capac­ity, the expe­ri­ence, and the com­pe­tence to deal with and man­age affects, emo­tions, and pas­sions as a fun­da­men­tal dimen­sion of care work. Over time, in the sphere of social repro­duc­tion, women learned to develop a par­tic­u­lar sen­si­bil­ity toward the emo­tional well­be­ing of indi­vid­u­als and to sense its impact on the emo­tional heart of the soci­ety. Already Adam Smith had under­stood that emo­tions are the glue that keeps together the fab­ric of soci­ety.10 Indeed, no social or polit­i­cal sci­ence might work with­out address­ing the rea­sons of the heart, of which rea­son, accord­ing to the famous quote of Blaise Pas­cal, knows noth­ing.11 If social inter­ac­tions are a blend of emo­tion and rea­son, then com­mu­ni­ca­tion should also be con­sid­ered in the same way. “Words, most com­monly used for inter­ac­tion, are also part emo­tion and part rea­son and this means that one can talk not only of emo­tional intel­li­gence as pro­posed by Salovey and Mayer and Gole­man,”12 but also of “emo­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”13 As women show every day, emo­tions work like mul­ti­pli­ers of energy.

In sum, the sphere of social repro­duc­tion is par­tic­u­larly equipped to func­tion as a space of social change because it com­bi­nes the three very strong forces I have intro­duced so far: the sci­ence of the con­crete, the metis, and the affects.

The Movement of the Concrete

Women have only par­tially won the strug­gle over tech­nol­ogy. Women pos­sess and use many tech­nolo­gies right now – for exam­ple, the net­work of per­sonal tech­nolo­gies or domes­tic appli­ances – but per­haps these are not exactly what women need and would like to have. On this topic, it is worth reflect­ing fur­ther. Accord­ing to Sherry Turkle,14 the mind­set that char­ac­ter­izes the dig­i­tal era is sim­i­lar to Lévi-Strauss’s “sav­age mind” or the sci­ence of the con­crete.15 Another char­ac­ter­is­tic of the dig­i­tal era is play­ful­ness. As Valerie Fris­sen argues, “dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies are not only play­ful tech­nolo­gies but also the results of play­ful prac­tices.” “Play­ing with tech­nolo­gies,” she con­tin­ues, “has always been an impor­tant dri­ving force behind tech­no­log­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion.”16 Excit­ing inno­va­tions, con­tin­ues Fris­sen, are more fre­quently emerg­ing from net­works of exper­i­ment­ing ama­teurs or so-called “pro-am” (pro­fes­sional ama­teur) par­tic­i­pants (e.g. Linux, Arduino, P2P tech­nol­ogy).17 In addi­tion, Fris­sen claims, dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies are a way of intel­lec­tu­ally tin­ker­ing; para­dox­i­cally, since they are not pri­mar­ily geared to inno­vate, the prim­i­tive, untamed and play­ful way of think­ing by mak­ers has his­tor­i­cally led to many rad­i­cal inno­va­tions.18

In the lab­o­ra­tory of exper­i­men­ta­tions and move­ments that is the sphere of repro­duc­tion today, let me focus on a par­a­dig­matic move­ment that helps us to explain well the poten­tial­ity of this sphere. This move­ment is what I call the Move­ment of the Con­crete, a polit­i­cal move­ment that is open­ing a new stage in human evo­lu­tion. It has a large social com­po­si­tion and is con­sti­tuted by women who bring with them the fem­i­nist and post-fem­i­nist expe­ri­ence: care­givers, women as well as men who are crafters, mak­ers, new and old peas­ants, ecol­o­gists, vol­un­teers, and all those who want to build a new world, imme­di­ately, with­out wait­ing on the fall of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem or with­out focus­ing only on the way to destroy it. On a prac­ti­cal level, this move­ment has a speci­fic tra­jec­tory of devel­op­ment, if com­pared to the old and new polit­i­cal move­ments that gen­er­ally express their polit­i­cal force with pre­cip­i­tate actions (pub­lic demon­stra­tions, flash mobs, strikes, and so on). To under­stand the dynam­ics of the Move­ment of the Con­crete we should refer to the pow­er­ful image of yeast, which is at the basis of any good process of bread-mak­ing. To have the power to leaven the dough, the yeast needs to rest in a closed space. Not so much spec­tac­u­lar ini­tia­tives in open pub­lic spaces (streets, squares), but a daily work that fills spaces polit­i­cally, such as homes, garages, work­shops, and lab­o­ra­to­ries.

This large move­ment aspires to intro­duce play­ful­ness and to exer­cise a coun­ter-pro­duc­tion, a coun­ter-con­sump­tion, and a coun­ter-repro­duc­tion, begin­ning now, dur­ing the empire of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, not after. Its polit­i­cal pro­gram is to lib­er­ate the work­ing class, start­ing with the lib­er­a­tion of labor-power from its oblig­at­ory sale on the labor mar­ket and from its over­all dis­ci­pline, con­trol, and exploita­tion by the cap­i­tal­ist regime. The strat­egy advanced by the activists of the Move­ment of the Con­crete incor­po­rates and metab­o­lizes the polit­i­cally resid­ual fig­ures of the bricoleur and vol­un­teer, and trans­forms them into polit­i­cally antag­o­nis­tic and pow­er­ful fig­ures. The first, cru­cial site of con­fronta­tion with the cap­i­tal­ist process has changed: it is now the home, but a home (and an earth) inhab­ited by women and men, youth, chil­dren, the elderly, ill, and dis­abled, where all of these live as polit­i­cal sub­jects.

The Move­ment of the Con­crete has also encom­passed emo­tions, pas­sions, and affects in its devel­op­ment and polit­i­cal cul­ture. It is from the polit­i­cally resid­ual fig­ure of the ama­teur, the vol­un­teer, and the care­taker that the activists of the Move­ment of the Con­crete have recu­per­ated the role of emo­tions and self-expres­sion and cre­ativ­ity in their work, in what they pro­duce. Not by chance, if we come back again to the fig­ure of bricoleurs, it is worth recall­ing that in the past they were called “ama­teurs.” The label indi­cates how these peo­ple were and are moved by a pas­sion, and thus plea­sure and play­ful­ness were and are the moti­vat­ing dimen­sions of their work. After all, the place where ama­teurs have tra­di­tion­ally worked is the house or the garage, trans­formed into a small, per­sonal work­shop.

Another social fig­ure moved by emo­tion, and in this case, com­pas­sion, is that of the vol­un­teer. In this con­text, the engine is the com­pas­sion and the will­ing­ness to offer help to those in need. Of course, the fig­ures of the ama­teur and the vol­un­teer have a close rela­tion­ship with the fig­ure of the care­taker, whose labor was seen as a work of love and affects. House­work has always been moti­vated by sen­ti­ments and emo­tions; it has always rep­re­sented the emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal man­age­ment of the affects and the sup­ply of com­fort, sup­port, and well­be­ing to all the mem­bers of the fam­ily. The alien­ation in these types of work was not pro­voked by the under­de­vel­op­ment of emo­tions and affects but rather by their com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion through the sub­or­di­na­tion of women as care­tak­ers and through their func­tion in the enter­tain­ment indus­try and the media.

In their polit­i­cal per­spec­tive, lib­er­at­ing work from the yoke of cap­i­tal also requires lib­er­at­ing it from alien­ation under­stood as a de-emo­tion and dis­em­bod­i­ment that is de-human­iz­ing. Bit by bit these peo­ple show that it is pos­si­ble to pro­duce by them­selves, in col­lab­o­ra­tion and in sol­i­dar­ity with oth­ers, with­out alien­ation and self-exploita­tion. Hence, the activists of The Move­ment of the Con­crete are very far from being only mak­ers, or only con­crete thinkers. Now, they have the pos­si­bil­ity to draw from not only the sci­ence of the con­crete, but also the sci­ence of the abstract (i.e. the con­tri­bu­tion of engi­neers and infor­ma­tion sci­en­tists), merg­ing these two dif­fer­ent approaches together and mak­ing them oper­ate and sup­port each other.

What is inter­est­ing in the polit­i­cal strat­egy of this move­ment is its dis­tance from the Marx­ist tra­di­tion. In The Ger­man Ide­ol­ogy, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in their attempt to fig­ure out what a soci­ety could be after its lib­er­a­tion from the chains of cap­i­tal­ism, advanced the idea that with the end of the slav­ery of waged labor, peo­ple would be free to go fish­ing or con­tem­plate nature. Thus, he could imag­ine, in a soci­ety with­out cap­i­tal, only activ­i­ties of relax­ation and amuse­ment. Play­ful­ness was seen by him as a kind of com­pen­sa­tion for the fatigue of the lib­er­a­tion of the soci­ety from cap­i­tal­ism. One of the lim­its of the tra­di­tional work­ing-class strug­gle was to con­sider the strug­gle against the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem until its total destruc­tion the only solu­tion. The goal was to estab­lish a dif­fer­ent social sys­tem, the com­mu­nist one, but com­mu­nism had to wait until the end of the cap­i­tal­ism. This polit­i­cal approach offers a total­iz­ing vision of the power of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and has led peo­ple to believe that it is sim­ply impos­si­ble to build any­thing out­side the con­trol of cap­i­tal until its desired end. Every new ini­tia­tive and dif­fer­ence in logic would end up inevitably being traced back to the logic of cap­i­tal­ism. This vision, while able to mul­ti­ply activists’ forces in view of the rev­o­lu­tion, para­dox­i­cally also brought a cer­tain impo­tence to the ruled classes. It’s pos­si­ble that the con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of cap­i­tal as a Moloch, res­onat­ing even in the title of Michael Hardt and Anto­nio Negri’s Empire, has had the effect of strength­en­ing the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem: the more we attrib­ute power to an entity, the more it acquires power.19

On the con­trary, the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem cov­ers a very lim­ited part of human his­tory and its logic is his­tor­i­cally deter­mined. The Neolithic period, for exam­ple, was much longer and more impor­tant than what we call “moder­nity.” The tech­nolo­gies and inno­va­tions invented and imple­mented in this period have been incred­i­bly impor­tant for humankind. Thus it does not make sense to con­sider the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem as inevitable, or to see it as impos­si­ble to change or to even defeat. More­over, the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem has so many con­tra­dic­tions in its func­tion­ing, that even with­out the strong resis­tance and antag­o­nism of a bil­lion peo­ple it pos­sesses many forces of poten­tial self-destruc­tion. After the col­lapse of the com­mu­nist regimes and the evi­dence of too many flaws in the orga­ni­za­tion of their soci­eties, peo­ple are refus­ing to strug­gle against cap­i­tal­ism in a dialec­ti­cal way – to accept the same fun­da­men­tal val­ues, although pushed in the oppo­site direc­tion – and have begun to prac­tice dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal approaches and per­spec­tives instead.

The need to sell labor to some cap­i­tal­ist is less and less per­ceived as the only pos­si­bil­ity in light of other alter­na­tives. From the per­spec­tive of mil­lions of peo­ple, the shift from work­ing to mak­ing is a very cru­cial point. Appar­ently, it seems a kind of loss of the social and polit­i­cal part of “labor” and a shift toward its mere seman­tic con­tent. In real­ity, this shift is a very polit­i­cal one, because it goes to the root of the social rela­tion­ships at an eco­nomic level by start­ing from the per­spec­tive of a “renais­sance based on the end of the Regime of Waged Labor.”20 In the last 250 years, peo­ple have lost any con­trol over and any knowl­edge about their work, and in gen­eral about the over­all orga­ni­za­tion of work. This knowl­edge and know-how have become a hostage to the rul­ing classes. Peo­ple con­se­quently have been expro­pri­ated and have hence lost any sense of what they con­sume, how the goods they con­sume have been fab­ri­cated, the effects of con­sump­tion on their bod­ies as well as on the earth, the air, and the water. Hence, the own­er­ship of means of pro­duc­tion by the rul­ing class has meant the loss of the own­er­ship not only of the means of pro­duc­tion, but in gen­eral also of the knowl­edge and con­trol over work processes, the orga­ni­za­tion of work, con­sump­tion, and the nat­u­ral forces of social labor such as the envi­ron­ment. Hav­ing left to the rul­ing classes the unchecked use of nat­u­ral resources, the rest of the earth suf­fers from their avid­ity and short-term vision. With­out coun­ter-forces by pro­gres­sive actors and oth­ers, the rul­ing classes will not limit their exploita­tion of nat­u­ral resources and are unable to express a sus­tain­able vision for the use of such resources.

The lat­est devel­op­ments of imma­te­rial labor and IT tech­nolo­gies, which have brought the dema­te­ri­al­iza­tion and automa­tion of many processes in soci­ety, have fur­ther exac­er­bated the deval­oriza­tion and deval­u­a­tion of mate­rial labor and the human body. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, edu­ca­tion, affec­tion, emo­tion, and socia­bil­ity – the areas where women have always excelled – have been medi­ated by an extra­or­di­nary flux of tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion, giv­ing to men more capa­bil­ity and hence the pre­em­i­nence also in some of these sec­tors. How­ever, these tech­nolo­gies are still life-deny­ing and thus they have intro­duced the inor­ganic into the liv­ing heart of soci­ety.

The Move­ment of the Con­crete is pro­duc­ing a re-eval­u­a­tion of mate­rial and con­crete work, by appro­pri­at­ing the process of mak­ing and, hence, con­sum­ing goods, and dis­cov­er­ing the poten­tial­i­ties of work­ing with one’s own hands. Humankind, through guar­an­tee­ing to every­one the open access to knowl­edge and pro­mot­ing processes such as shar­ing, col­lab­o­rat­ing and coop­er­at­ing together, is return­ing to the sci­ence of the con­crete and to the pos­si­bil­ity of build­ing life-exalt­ing tech­nolo­gies. In the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of this move­ment, men and women are not yet dis­trib­uted equally. For instance, mak­ers are still more males than females, while women are more involved in hand­craft.21 How­ever, I pre­dict that they will not stay seg­re­gated by gen­der for long. In the near future, the sci­ence of the con­crete will be able to cap­ture all the good that there is in the sci­ence of the abstract as it has been devel­oped so far. For exam­ple, social robot­ics and 3D print­ers can become pre­cious tools, pro­duced by peo­ple for their well­be­ing. Work­ing at home has now become an even more com­plex kind of abor. Peo­ple have more pos­si­bil­i­ties to design and thus to under­stand what they eat, how things are pro­duced, con­served, and com­mer­cial­ized. As con­se­quence, the rev­o­lu­tion entailed by the Move­ment of the Con­crete con­cerns not only the field of pro­duc­tion con­sid­ered in all its phases, but also that of con­sump­tion and all that takes place in the social repro­duc­tive sphere.22

The pro­pri­etary and com­pet­i­tive log­ics which jeal­ously guarded not only the own­er­ship of the means of pro­duc­tion, but also sci­en­tific knowl­edge and the prac­ti­cal knowl­edge con­nected to them, have given way to three major strate­gies of demo­li­tion of cap­i­tal­is­tic logic: open access, com­mu­nity build­ing and mutual sup­port, and sol­i­dar­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tion. With an Inter­net con­nec­tion and willpower, peo­ple at home or any­where else can eas­ily con­nect with other fel­low mak­ers or com­mu­ni­ties across the world and learn how to do things by them­selves.23 These new processes of pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion are sup­ported by speci­fic web ser­vices such as Tum­blr, Word­Press and YouTube that have col­lected and put at the dis­posal of the pub­lic mil­lions of tuto­ri­als sub­mit­ted by users. This immense pat­ri­mony of “how to do” every type of thing can be under­stood as a pow­er­ful process of rec­i­p­ro­cal social teach­ing and learn­ing. Today peo­ple are expe­ri­enc­ing the abil­ity to make almost any­thing, from a cake to a pil­low cover, to a toy, by them­selves, using tech­nol­ogy, cre­ative recy­cling, or inno­vat­ing mate­ri­als and processes.24 They are also trans­form­ing stan­dard­ized prod­ucts into per­son­al­ized goods (see, for exam­ple, the online com­mu­nity of What women have done tra­di­tion­ally in iso­la­tion in the man­age­ment of their houses and fam­i­lies, like cook­ing for exam­ple, has now become a shared and socially rec­og­nized strat­egy.

The Move­ment of the Con­crete pro­vides var­i­ous venues in which to learn and find orig­i­nal, unusual, and inspir­ing ideas by putting together dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal expe­ri­ences with a com­mon goal: cre­at­ing the com­mons in the heart of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. Blogs and forums offer online spaces to get infor­ma­tion and dis­cuss com­po­nents, tools, soft­ware, hard­ware, 3D print­ers, etc., shar­ing dif­fer­ent knowl­edges with the online pub­lic and pub­lish­ing pho­tos of hand­made cre­ations. In par­tic­u­lar, blogs on tech­no­log­i­cal arti­facts have con­sid­er­ably con­tributed to the increase in the pop­u­lar­ity of arti­facts and to the imple­men­ta­tion of indie sub­cul­ture.25 The devel­op­ment of skills through coop­er­a­tion with other “mak­ers” brings not only the cre­ation and strength­en­ing of social inter­ac­tions and social inno­va­tion, but above all brings an aware­ness that we no longer need cap­i­tal­ism. The com­mu­ni­ties of “mak­ers” con­sti­tute a wide social lab­o­ra­tory that exper­i­ments with the mak­ing of per­son­al­ized mass goods, by mod­i­fy­ing the pro­duc­tion mech­a­nisms and com­po­nents by which they can be made. They are reshap­ing eco­nomic mod­els and hous­ing solu­tions, they are chang­ing how sci­ence is taught and learned; they provide the boost that pre­pares for a post-cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, as Cory Doc­torow explains in his book Mak­ers.26

Reflect­ing on the Move­ment of the Con­crete is a good exer­cise not only for polit­i­cal sci­en­tists but also for soci­ol­o­gists. While at the end of the six­ties a “Soci­ol­ogy of the Future” emerged within the field of futur­is­tic stud­ies (inves­ti­gat­ing prob­a­ble, pos­si­ble, and prefer­able futures), more recently the future as a cul­tural fact has gar­nered atten­tion. From this per­spec­tive, new soci­olo­gies of the future chal­lenge the supremacy of pre­dic­tions (mostly for­mu­lated in terms of eco­nomic issues) by explor­ing the plau­si­bil­ity of “what might be” within the frame­work of an “ethic of pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

  1. Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, The Arcane of Repro­duc­tion: House­work, Pros­ti­tu­tion, Labor and Cap­i­tal (New York: Autono­me­dia, 1995). Orig­i­nally pub­lished as L’arcano della ripro­duzione. Casal­inghe, pros­ti­tute, operaie e cap­i­tale (Venice: Mar­silio, 1981). 

  2. Arlie Rus­sell Hochschild, The time bind: when work becomes home and home becomes work (New York: Met­ro­pol­i­tan Books, 1997). 

  3. Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, “Media Between Power and Empow­er­ment: Can We Resolve This Dilemma?” The Infor­ma­tion Soci­ety: An Inter­na­tional Jour­nal 30, no. 3 (2014): 169-183; Sakari Taipale, Mauro Sar­rica, Fed­erico de Luca and Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, “Euro­peans’ Per­cep­tion of Robots: Impli­ca­tions for Social Poli­cies,” in Social Robots from a Human Per­spec­tive, eds. Jane Vin­cent, Sakari Taipale, Bar­tolomeo Sapio, Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, and Giuseppe Lugano (Berlin: Springer, 2015), 11-24; Jo Water­house, Indie Craft (Lon­don: Lau­rence King Pub­lish­ing, 2010). 

  4. Manuela Fari­nosi and Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, “A New Fash­ion: Dress­ing the Cities Up,” Tex­tile 11, no. 3 (2013): 282-299. 

  5. Sakari Taipale et al., “Euro­peans’ Per­cep­tions”; Jo Water­house, Indie Craft

  6. Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Sav­age Mind (Chicago: Chicago Uni­ver­sity Press, 1966 [1962]); Mat­teo Nucci, Le lacrime degli eroi (Torino: Ein­audi, 2013); Leopold­ina For­tu­nati and Jane Vin­cent, “Intro­duc­tion,” in Elec­tronic Emo­tion: The Medi­a­tion of Emo­tion via Infor­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nolo­gies, eds. Leopold­ina For­tu­nati and Jane Vin­cent (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009), 1-31. 

  7. Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Sav­age Mind

  8. Lewis Mum­ford, “Tech­nics and the nature of man,” Tech­nol­ogy and Cul­ture 7 (1996): 310-311. 

  9. Mat­teo Nucci, Le lacrime degli eroi

  10. Adam Smith, The The­ory of Moral Sen­ti­ments, ed. Knud Haakon­ssen (New York: Cam­bridge, 2002). 

  11. Mar­vin R. O’Connell, Blaise Pas­cal: Rea­sons of the Heart (Grand Rapids: Eerd­mans, 1997). 

  12. Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, ”Emo­tional Intel­li­gence,” Imag­i­na­tion, Cog­ni­tion and Per­son­al­ity 9 (1990): 185-211; Daniel P. Gole­man. Emo­tional Intel­li­gence (New York: Ban­tam Books, 1995). 

  13. Leopold­ina For­tu­nati and Jane Vin­cent, intro­duc­tion to Elec­tronic Emo­tion: The Medi­a­tion of Emo­tion via Infor­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nolo­gies, eds. Leopold­ina For­tu­nati and Jane Vin­cent (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009), 1. 

  14. Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen: Iden­tity in the Age of the Inter­net (New York: Simon & Schus­ter, 1997 [1995]). 

  15. Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Sav­age Mind

  16. Valerie Fris­sen, “Play­ing with Bits and Bytes: The Sav­age Mind in the Dig­i­tal Age” in Play­ful Iden­ti­ties. The Lud­i­fi­ca­tion of Dig­i­tal Media Cul­tures, eds. Valerie Fris­sen et al.( Ams­ter­dam: Ams­ter­dam Uni­ver­sity Press, 2015), 149. 

  17. Charles Lead­beater and Paul Miller, The Pro-Am Rev­o­lu­tion: How Enthu­si­asts are Chang­ing our Soci­ety and Econ­omy (Demos, 2004),; Eric von Hip­pel, Democ­ra­tiz­ing Inno­va­tion (Cam­bridge: MIT Press, 2005); Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Ama­teur (Lon­don: Nicholas Brealey, 2008). 

  18. For instance, with­out radio ama­teurs, the radio would not have become the pop­u­lar medium it even­tu­ally did. See Shaun Moores, Media and Every­day Life in Mod­ern Soci­eties (Edin­burgh: Edin­burgh Uni­ver­sity Press, 2000). Von Hip­pel, op. cit., dis­cusses the huge boost given to pro­fes­sional wind­surf­ing by a group of fanat­i­cal surfers in Hawaii that came up with an exper­i­men­tal design for a surf­board with foot straps. Sev­eral exam­ples from the his­tory of music can be found in Dick Heb­dige, Sub­cul­ture: The Mean­ing of Style (Lon­don: Methuen and Co., 1979). 

  19. Michael Hardt and Anto­nio Negri, Empire (Cam­bridge: Har­vard Uni­ver­sity Press, 2000). 

  20. Franco Bifo Berardi, “Colpo di stato in Gre­cia,” Comune-Info Newslet­ter, posted June 25, 2015, 

  21. Red Chidgey, “DIY Fem­i­nist Net­works in Europe: Per­sonal and Col­lec­tive Acts of Resis­tance,” Trans­form! Euro­pean Jour­nal of Alter­na­tive Think­ing and Polit­i­cal Dia­logue 5 (2009): 159-165; Elke Zobl, “From DIY to Col­lab­o­ra­tive Fields of Exper­i­men­ta­tion: Fem­i­nist Media and Cul­tural Pro­duc­tion towards Social Change - A Visual Con­tri­bu­tion,” in Fem­i­nist Media: Par­tic­i­pa­tory Spaces, Net­works and Cul­tural Cit­i­zen­ship, eds. Elke Zobl and Ricarda Drüeke (Biele­feld: Tran­script Ver­lag, 2012), 265-269. 

  22. Yochai Ben­kler, The Wealth of Net­works: How Social Pro­duc­tion Trans­forms Mar­kets and Free­dom (New Haven: Yale Uni­ver­sity Press, 2006). 

  23. David Gauntlett, Mak­ing is Con­nect­ing: The Social Mean­ing of Cre­ativ­ity, from DIY and Knit­ting to YouTube and Web 2.0 (Cam­bridge: Polity Press, 2011). 

  24. Carla Sin­clair, “The Craft­ing of Craft. Wel­come to the new mag­a­zine for the new craft move­ment,” Craft: Trans­form­ing Tra­di­tional Crafts 1, no. 1 (2006): 7. 

  25. Kaya Oakes, Slanted and Enchanted: The Evo­lu­tion of Indie Cul­ture (New York: Henry Holt and Com­pany, 2009). 

  26. Cory Doc­torow, Mak­ers (New York: Tor Books, 2009). 

Author of the article

is Professor of Sociology of Communication and Sociology of Cultural Processes at the Faculty of Education of the University of Udine, Italy.