Home > histories, labor and capital, reproduction > Valerie Bryson, “Production and reproduction”

Valerie Bryson, “Production and reproduction”

“Production and Reproduction”
Valerie Bryson

Chapter Eight, Marx and Other Four-Letter Words (2005)

My starting point in this chapter is the classic Marxist theory of
historical materialism: the idea that the basis of human society,
the key to understanding its history and future potential, lies in
the production and reproduction of material life. While accepting
the value of this approach, I also use feminist theory to argue that
‘malestream’ theorists have interpreted production and reproduction
in unhelpfully narrow ways to produce an analysis which is not only
male based but also male biased. I argue in favour of an expanded
notion of (re)production that includes the socially necessary work
disproportionately performed by women; I conclude that without
such an expansion we can neither understand existing society nor

develop effective strategies for changing it. BACK TO BASICS
According to the classic Marxist position, the fi rst cooperative act
of production formed the basis of the earliest primitive society and
the beginnings of human history: ‘life involves before everything
else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other
things. The first historical act is thus the production of the means
to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself’ (Marx
and Engels 1982:48). Unlike the instinctive activity of animals, such
production is conscious and planned, and it changes over time,
setting in motion the complex processes of economic, social, political
and ideological development that constitute human history. The
extent to which Marx’s materialist conception of history implies a
particular anthropological view of man and a theory of technological
or econ omic determinism was and is a matter of intense political
and scholarly debate. However, at a general level, it seems clear
that Marx believed that social and political analysis must start by
looking at how people produce rather than at their laws or beliefs – an
approach which Tom Rockmore has recently summarised as: ‘It’s the
economy, stupid’ (Rockmore 2002:116). This materialist perspective
also means that any possibility of changing society is always limited
by existing socio-economic conditions, so that radicals cannot always
change society as they would like: ‘Men make their own history,
but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it
under circumstances chosen by them selves, but under circumstances
directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past’ (Marx
and Engels 1968:97).

As long as this perspective is not accepted too rigidly or simplistically,
it seems to provide a sensible starting point for understanding how
societies have evolved and how they might develop in the future.
However, its potential insights have been limited by a very narrow
understanding of what we mean by the production and reproduction
of material life. Marxists have largely ignored the ways in which
biological reproduction, domestic work, sexuality and caring activities
have been organised, treating these either as ‘natural’ and outside of
human history, or as by-products of productive activity which have
no dynamic of their own. This means that mainstream Marxism
has told only half the story of human development, and that it has
effectively replicated the public/private distinction of liberal thought,
with its exclusion or marginalisation of activities predominantly
associated with women. As a result, its understanding of human
history and potential has been seriously flawed. This chapter argues
that the Marxist concepts of production and reproduction should be
extended to allow for a more comprehensive analysis.

TERMINOLOGY
An initial problem stems from the range of ways in which both
Marx and later Marxist writers have used the terms production and
reproduction. ‘Production’ is sometimes treated quite loosely, to refer
to any purposeful activity which contributes to the satisfaction of
human needs. However, this has not normally been interpreted to
include the work involved in reproducing the species:
All the labour that goes into the production of life, including
the labour of giving birth to a child, is not seen as the conscious
interaction of a human being with nature, that is, a truly human
activity, but rather as an activity of nature, which produces plants
and animals unconsciously and has no control over this process.
(Mies 1998:45)

Production and Reproduction
The exclusion from analysis of much ‘women’s work’ is reinforced
when ‘production’ is given a more precise economic meaning.
Marxist economic theory argues that, under the historically specifi c
conditions of capitalism, the only form of work that is technically
‘productive’ is paid work exchanged in the labour market for money
and from which surplus value1 is extracted. From this perspective,
unpaid work done in the home is not productive and it does not
have a value (see Himmelweit 1991; Jackson 1999; Grant 1993). This
does not mean that such work is unimportant, for the ‘productive’
label is not inherent in the activity, only in its relationship to the
money economy. Although in principle Marxist economic analysis
makes this clear, there may be a subconscious equation of ‘productive’
with ‘important’ and of monetary value with human value; certainly,
mainstream Marxists have shown little interest in analysing the
changing nature of the unpaid work that is largely done by women
or its complex relationship with the money economy.

At first sight, the concept of reproduction, which also has origins in
original Marxism, seems more fruitful. In The German Ideology, Marx
and Engels included biological reproduction as part of the material
basis of society, referring to ‘The production of life, both of one’s own
in labour and of fresh life in procreation’ (Marx and Engels 1982:50).
Although Marx never explored the implications of this, Engels did
so in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State:
According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in
history is, in the fi nal instance, the production and reproduction
of immediate life. This, again, is of a twofold character. On the
one side, the production of the means of subsistence, of food,
clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production;
on the other side, the production of human beings themselves,
the propagation of the species. The social institutions under which
the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country
live are conditioned by both kinds of production: by the stage of
development of labour on the one hand and of the family on the
other. (Engels 1978:4)

This implies that the way in which biological reproduction is
organised may be independent of production in the wider sense,
and indeed Engels argued that in the earliest stages of human society
sexual relationships had evolved from unregulated promiscuity
to the egalitarian ‘pairing family’. However, he believed that the
independent evolution of the family ceased at this early stage,
when it became entirely dependent on conditions of production,
narrowly understood. More specifi cally, he argued that in Europe
the introduction of private property gave men a motive to dominate
women (because they wanted to pass property to their known heirs),
and that this ‘world historical defeat of the female sex’ would only be
overcome in a future socialist society, as sexual relationships would
then be free from notions of ownership and domestic work would
be collectivised. From this perspective, conditions of reproduction
had no independent dynamic, the oppression of women was a byproduct
of class society that would disappear with it, working women
had no separate interests, and they should therefore join with men
in the struggle against capitalism. Indeed, Engels argued that, unlike
bourgeois women, working-class women were no longer oppressed as
women, as they were in paid employment and their marriage did not
involve property ownership. This left no way of recognising, let alone
contesting, women’s sex-specifi c exploitation in the workplace and
the exploitation of their labour in the home, while Engels dismissed
the problem of domestic violence in half a sentence as a ‘left-over’
from the introduction of monogamy (Engels 1978:65, 83).

Such an analysis is clearly inadequate. As with the concept of
‘production’, problems also arise from the confusing range of ways in
which ‘reproduction’ is used in Marxist theory. Although sometimes
equated with the biological processes of procreation, the term is also
used by Marxists to refer to the broader reproduction of the labour
force on a daily as well as a generational basis, by meeting a range of
material and emotional needs (Mandel 1983). It is also used of the
processes through which the economy ‘reproduces itself’, yielding
inputs for future production and consumption. Social relations too
have to be ‘reproduced’. Such shifting meanings make it difficult to
maintain a distinction between production and reproduction, and
there is a danger that different levels of analysis become conflated
and confused (see Jackson 1999 and Elster 1986).

In this chapter, I will attempt to bypass such confusions by using
the term ‘(re)production’ to refer to the work (physical and emotional)
which is more or less directly linked to the generational reproduction
and maintenance of the population and the care of those unable to
look after themselves. Such work includes biological reproduction
but is not confined to it; it is very disproportionately performed by
women. Treating this (re)production as part of the material basis of
society allows us to see it as part of economic life and human history
rather than as simply ‘natural’ or a by-product of production. We can
then see that particular conditions of (re)production may facilitate or
restrict opportunities for creating a more equitable society; they may
also be sites of economic, political and ideological struggle. This does
not mean that we can make a universal and clear distinction between
productive and (re)productive labour; rather, the shifting boundaries
between productive and (re)productive work is one variable to
explore. Other variables include developments in contraception and
reproductive technology, the availability of labour-saving devices,
the extent to which (re)productive work is shared with men, and
whether it is provided collectively or by private individuals. Such
an expanded notion of the material basis of society is important
if we are to understand how society functions and how to develop
effective strategies for change.

(RE)PRODUCTION AND EARLY MARXIST THOUGHT
As discussed above, Marx and Engels failed to acknowledge the
importance of (re)productive work and oppression in the home. By
the end of the nineteenth century, however, influential European
Marxists such as August Bebel and Clara Zetkin in Germany and Lenin
and Trotsky in Russia were writing about oppression in personal life
and the ‘double burden’ of paid and domestic work experienced by
many women. However, their orthodox Marxist approach provided
no scope for analysing rather than documenting women’s situation;
they assumed that oppression would be ended in a socialist society
and failed to explore the possibility that it might have its own
dynamic, based in conditions of (re)productive life.

Ideas about the importance of the family and personal relationships
were developed considerably further by Alexandra Kollontai, a
leading Bolshevik and member of Lenin’s first cabinet (Holt 1977;
Stites 1981). Kollontai insisted that the transformation of family
and personal life was central to creating both equality between
the sexes and the preconditions for socialism. She argued that the
collectivisation of domestic work and childcare and the liberation
of sexuality from ideas of ownership facilitated the development of
the kind of collectivist morality needed for a socialist economy to
flourish. As such, they were an integral part of the process of creating
good socialist men and women, involving both real, material changes
and ideological transformation: ‘The new morality is created by a new
economy, but we will not build a new economy without the support
of a new morality’ (quoted in Holt 1977:270).

The idea that changes in the material conditions of (re)production
are a precondition for building socialism had clear implications for
political practice and priorities, and Kollontai had a remarkable
degree of success in forcing the party to take them seriously during
her brief period in political office, when she attempted to mobilise
and consult ‘ordinary’ women and to treat (re)productive work as a
collective responsibility. However, in 1923 her ideas on the family
were officially declared erroneous. Some of her ideas survived in
a distorted form throughout the years of Stalinist dictatorship, as
labour shortages meant that women were needed both as producers
and reproducers, and were enabled to combine these roles through
(poor quality) state childcare provision. However, women still faced
tremendous burdens in combining paid and domestic work in a
society in which even a tap in the kitchen was a luxury and men
still refused to accept domestic responsibilities. By the 1980s, official
policy increasingly stressed women’s ‘natural’ role in the home and
the need to liberate them from paid employment, and the collapse
of communism saw a full-scale retreat from any notion of collective
support for (re)productive work (Buckley 1989; Rosenberg 1989).
Kollontai’s loose form of Marxism was very different from the
simplistic determinism that dominated Marxist politics for the
first half of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, debates around
women’s oppression also surfaced in the small American Communist
Party during the 1930s, producing some sophisticated analyses of
the politics of personal life and the role of domestic labour in the
capitalist economy (Weigland 2001; Shaffer 1979). However, as with
the contributions of Kollontai, this analysis had little impact on
mainstream Marxist thought, and it is only recently that such radical
ideas have been rediscovered. This meant that when the women’s
liberation movement erupted in the west in the 1960s, women who
wanted to use Marxist theory to understand their own situation
could fi nd little guidance.

DEVELOPMENTS AND DEBATES SINCE THE 1960s
The impact of radical feminism
Although the writers discussed in the previous section differed in
their priorities, they generally agreed that the achievement of both a
socialist society and equality between the sexes would require changes
in what I have called the social relations of (re)production. However,
they did not question the sexual division of labour that underlay these
relations, and seemed to have assumed that collectivised childcare
and housework would still be the responsibility of women. Nor did
they explore in any detail the implications of changes in medical and
contraceptive knowledge, or in the technology of housework, which
could potentially change the conditions of biological reproduction
and domestic labour.

These Marxist writers were attempting to extend man-made theory
to the understanding of women’s situation. As such, their approach
was very different from the radical feminist theory which developed
from the 1960s, partly in response to women’s bad experiences in leftwing
organisations, in which men’s idea of an equitable division of
labour was all too often ‘you make the tea while I make the revolution’,
and in which ‘women’s issues’ were treated as at best trivial and at
worst a bourgeois distraction, designed to divide the working class.
Radical feminists claimed that women’s own experiences should be
the starting point for theory, that these experiences showed that the
fundamental power structure in society was the oppression of women
by men, and that this oppression was not confined to economic or
political life. Many such feminists claimed that male power both
stemmed from and was maintained by ‘private’ family and sexual
relationships, and by the ever-present threat of sexual violence and
men’s control over women’s reproductive capacities. The radical
feminist concept of patriarchy became central to such analysis. This
claimed that men’s patriarchal power over women is so universal, so
complete and so all-pervasive that it is accepted as ‘natural’. However,
once it is labelled, we can see its recurrent and patterned nature,
and the ways in which its apparently unrelated manifestations in
public and private life are in fact interconnected, reinforcing each
other to produce a cumulative and ubiquitous system of domination
and oppression (for the classic discussion of this concept, see Millett
1985, first published 1970).

Marxist feminist responses
Although some Marxist women have been very critical of the
concept of patriarchy and the sometimes inflated and simplistic
claims that have been made in its name, radical feminism was clearly
putting new issues on the agenda which many women felt to be
important, but which had not been seriously addressed by Marxist
theory. For many such women, the task was therefore to ‘ask the
feminist questions, but try to come up with some Marxist answers’
(Mitchell 1971:99), and the last 30 years have seen the growth of
a rich and rapidly evolving body of thought that has attempted to
blend Marxist and feminist methods and concerns. However, few
male Marxists have participated in these debates or considered the
implications for their own theory.

A pioneering and influential attempt at using Marxist theory to
address feminist concerns was made by Juliet Mitchell (Mitchell
1966, 1971, 1974). Rejecting crude economic determinism, she drew
on developments in western Marxism which stressed the ‘relative
autonomy’ of political and ideological struggle; she also built on
attempts by writers such as Herbert Marcuse to synthesise Marxism
and psychoanalysis, and to explore the role of sexuality and the
workings of the unconscious in understanding social processes and
change. Mitchell argued that women’s situation was determined by
four structures: not only the structure of production, traditionally
analysed by Marxist theory, but also the interconnected and familybased
structures of reproduction, sexuality and the socialisation of
children. Although she said that these were ultimately determined by
production, she argued that they also had a degree of independence.
This meant that they could be addressed directly, and that each might
at times play a leading political role. Mitchell therefore advocated
autonomous women’s organisations, as there would be no automatic
dissolution of patriarchy without feminist struggle.

A problem with Mitchell’s approach is that it seems to be based
on an artificial distinction between economic and ideological
struggles, so that the family and (re)productive work are not fully
part of a materialist analysis (Wilson 1980). Similar problems arise
from the related arguments about the importance of ideology that
were developed by Michelle Barrett (Barrett [1980] 1988; Barrett and
McIntosh 1982).

While the above analyses effectively counterposed economics and
the family, other writers attempted to use orthodox Marxist economic
concepts to analyse the importance of women’s domestic work. The
ensuing ‘domestic labour debate’ usefully drew attention to the
economic importance of women’s work in the home; it also helped
show that other forms of unpaid work, particularly by Third World
peasants and homeworkers, are an integral part of the international
economy, central to the processes of capital accumulation (Mies 1998;
for recent overviews of the debate, see Gardiner 1997 and Bubeck
1995). However, in seeking to reduce women’s oppression to the
needs of the capitalist economy the debate failed to ask why it is
that domestic labour is overwhelmingly performed by women, or to
consider whether men as well as capitalism might benefit from the
unequal division of domestic labour. For some feminists, Marxism
seemed to be setting the terms of the debate in a form that failed
to address the issue of male power, and many therefore agreed with
Heidi Hartmann’s assessment of the ‘unhappy marriage’ of Marxism
and feminism that ‘either we need a healthier marriage or we need
a divorce’ (Hartmann 1986:2).

Hartmann argued that, far from all social arrangements being a
product of class struggle and relations of production, there are two
dynamic forces in history, which must be understood in terms of
patriarchy as well as class. She claimed that, because men benefit
from traditional arrangements, which provide them with ‘a higher
standard of living than women in terms of luxury consumption,
leisure time and personalised services’, men of all classes have at least
a short-term material interest in maintaining women’s oppression
(Hartmann 1986:9). This interest predates capitalism and, although
it is often reinforced by capitalism, it can sometimes also come into
conflict with it, as men’s interests lie in keeping women in the home
but capitalism at times needs them in the workplace. This means that
patriarchy cannot be reduced to the needs of capitalist class society,
and that it could continue beyond it.

A problem with this ‘dual systems’ approach is that, although
Hartmann claimed to have discovered the material basis of women’s
oppression in men’s control over their labour power, this does not
make patriarchy a system in the same sense as capitalism, as it does
not have its equivalent of the drive to profit (see Pollert 1996). This
means that, while it is logically necessary for capitalists to exploit
their workforce (if they do not, they will go out of business), it is
in principle at least possible for relationships between women and
men to be non-oppressive. Iris Young has, however, argued that this
possibility cannot be realised in capitalist society which, she says,
is based upon an oppressive gender division of labour. From this
perspective, patriarchy is built into the whole system of production,
so that what we have is not two separate systems, but a unified
system of capitalist patriarchy. Young does concede that it is logically
possible for capitalism to function without patriarchy. However, she
argued that if we treat the gender division of labour as part of the
material basis of society, and analyse its changing nature in relation
to production, we can see that ‘… a patriarchal capitalism in which
women function as a secondary labour force is the only historical
possibility’ (Young 1986:62).

Young’s analysis followed orthodox Marxism in seeing relations of
production as the sources of women’s oppression, but reconceptualised
these to include the gender division of labour, which she insisted
was central to the understanding of any economic system and hence
basic to the whole of society. This approach informs Maria Mies’
more recent analysis of ‘capitalist-patriarchy’ as ‘an intrinsically
interconnected system’ in which the gender division of labour and
exploitation of women’s labour are central to the never-ending,
worldwide process of capital accumulation (Mies 1998:38). Both
she and Young identify pre-capitalist forms of patriarchy but, rather
than seeing patriarchy as unchanging and autonomous, they see it
as evolving with changes in production and class relations. Anna
Pollert similarly argues that there is a ‘fused system of gender and
class relations’ which can be analysed through the development of a
feminist historical materialism, although she dislikes any use of the
term ‘patriarchy’, which she says implies inappropriate theoretical
claims (Pollert 1996:647; for related arguments see Ebert 1996).
The ideas discussed in this section represent important steps towards
recognising both that ‘women’s work’ is economically important and
that women’s oppression is central to the maintenance of capitalism,
rather than a by-product of class society, as most earlier Marxists
had concluded. From this reformulated perspective, the analysis of
gender inequalities must understand that these are bound up with
the economic system, and feminist politics cannot be separated from
anti-capitalist struggle. At the same time, any economic analysis that
ignores gender issues will be partial and flawed. For some writers,
this means that we must look much more closely at conditions of
(re)productive life.

The analysis of (re)production
An important early contribution in this area was made by Lise
Vogel, who argued that the key to women’s oppression lay in what
she termed ‘social reproduction’, by which she understood the
generational reproduction of the workforce and the way in which
this was organised. She argued that capitalism had resolved the
potential conflict between its drive to extract the maximum profit
from women’s labour and its need for a continuing supply of healthy
workers by institutionalising women’s financial dependency on men.
This oppressive dependency would, she said, only be resolved in
a socialist society in which, because production would be for use
rather than profit, the imperative to exploit women’s labour would
no longer be operative and childcare and domestic labour would be
socialised (Vogel 1983).

A problem with this analysis is that women’s oppression is again
seen as a simple product of class society, and the possibility that
it might also benefit men is ignored. The conventional Marxist
framework which Vogel attempted to develop can also be criticised
for seeing the biological processes of reproduction as an unchanging,
natural, animal-like activity. In contrast, some recent writers have
argued both that reproduction has a history and that this must be
central to our understanding of human society.

Most notoriously, Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex ([1970]
1979) claimed to have rewritten Marx’s materialist conception of
history by substituting ‘reproduction’ for ‘production’, so that the
‘sexual-reproductive organisation of society’ was the key to economic,
legal and political institutions and dominant belief systems. She
also claimed both that women’s oppression was rooted in their
childbearing role and that modern reproductive technology had the
potential to liberate them from this, by allowing babies to be grown to
term outside of the womb. Firestone’s analysis was clearly simplistic,
and has found little support from either Marxists or feminists. A
more sophisticated attempt to conceptualise human reproduction
as a social process related to human consciousness was provided by
Mary O’Brien, who argued that two key moments of human history
were the first early discovery of paternity, and the development of
modern contraceptive technology (O’Brien 1981).

Accepting the importance of such developments need not mean
that wider social changes can be simply ‘read off’ from developments
in reproductive knowledge and technology, for the impact of these
is mediated in complex ways by their wider economic context and
dominant beliefs (including religious beliefs), and also by existing
inequalities between women and men. However, recent rapid
developments in reproductive technology (such as the now well-established
use of in-vitro fertilisation, developments in genetics
which make it possible to select the characteristics of an unborn child,
and the increasingly likely possibility of human cloning) throw into
stark relief the importance of reproductive issues not only for the
situation of women and the nature of family life, but for the very
meaning of what it is to be human. Although they have not been
explored by mainstream Marxists, these developments must be a
central part of any materialist analysis of society.

Biological reproduction is, however, only one part of the
socially necessary domestic and caring work that I have labelled
‘(re)production’ but which some other writers refer to as ‘social
reproduction’. Here, Johanna Brenner has done some important
work in extending Marxist methods to explore the complex and
historically specific ways in which such work has been organised.
For example, she argues that the nineteenth-century ‘breadwinner
settlement’, through which working men were widely expected to be
financially responsible for maintaining their wives at home, cannot
be understood simply as a response to the needs of either capitalism
or patriarchy. Rather, it represented a response to the practical needs
of working people at a time when the physical maintenance of a
family involved ceaseless toil. As such, it was both fought for by
many male trade unionists and welcomed by many working-class
women. Since then, changes in the material conditions of domestic
work in the west have made it much easier for women to combine
(re)productive work in the home with at least some paid employment.
This means that the material basis for the settlement is no longer
relevant, and fewer women are totally economically dependent on
their husbands. However, as Brenner also says, the full and equal
participation of women in the workplace would require a degree
of capital outlay on parental leave and childcare provision that is
unlikely to be forthcoming. She therefore argues both that social
reproduction should become a more collective responsibility and
that, because this would require a ‘serious redistribution of wealth’,
we will only achieve this as part of a more general anti-capitalist
struggle (Brenner 2000:309).

The physical and emotional care of others is another aspect of
(re)productive work which is usually unrecognised by economists.
Like housework, this is frequently provided without a wage by
women in the home, although ‘emotional housekeeping’ often
performs an important function in the workplace, and carework
can be paid for as part of the money economy. Unlike housework,
much of this work can never be automated, for it is inherently
dependent on social interaction. As Diemut Bubeck has argued,
this raises problems for Marx’s vision of communism as a society
of abundance, in which necessary work will be kept to a minimum
(Bubeck 1995). If we are to set realistic goals for a society in which
human needs are met, we must therefore include an assessment of
how caring work is to be organised.

CONCLUSION
In 1903, Clara Zetkin wrote: ‘[Marx’s] materialist concept of history
has not supplied us with any ready-made formulas concerning the
women’s question, yet it has done something much more important:
it has given us the correct unerring method to comprehend that
question’ (quoted in Foner 1984:93). To the extent that Marxism sees
women’s oppression as the historically specific product of particular
societies rather than a necessary or natural feature of human society,
she was indeed correct. However, as I have argued throughout this
chapter, Marx’s materialist method needs to be extended to include
the (re)productive work that is overwhelmingly performed by women.
Such an extension does not offer a simple solution or explanation for
oppression, but it is a necessary starting point for analysis.
As many feminists have argued, there is a danger that the use of
man-made categories will channel us away from women’s experiences
and into a framework in which our concerns cannot be expressed. I
therefore think that the concept of ‘patriarchy’, used in a descriptive
rather than explanatory sense, should be retained to inform materialist
analysis; without this concept the ubiquitous and patterned nature
of male power becomes invisible and male priorities continue to be
the unquestioned norm (see Bryson 1999).

There remains an ongoing debate between those (including Mary
Davis in this volume) who argue that sex oppression is functionally
necessary for capitalism, and those, such as Ellen Meiksins Wood,
who argue that although it may be very useful it is not strictly
necessary (Wood 1995). However, even if it is logically possible to
imagine a capitalist society in which men and women are equal, this
is highly unlikely. Not only does women’s oppression conveniently
divide the working class, as Davis argues, but an analysis of women’s
(re)productive work indicates that the material preconditions for
equality would have to include either payment for the domestic
and caring work that is currently undertaken without fi nancial
reward or the provision of good, affordable childcare and the kind of
employment conditions that would allow women and men to combine
paid employment with (re)productive work. Such preconditions are
unlikely to be met in a society based on the pursuit of profit rather
than the satisfaction of human needs.

This does not mean that women’s oppression can only be addressed
when we have achieved socialism. On the contrary, it means that
struggles over conditions of (re)production can be seen as central to
more general economic change. If, therefore, women campaign for
free access to safe, affordable abortion, or against sexual exploitation,
or if they insist that men do their share of the housework, these can
be seen as basic material demands as well as political and ideological
struggles, for sexuality, reproduction and the family are all part of
the real material conditions in which we produce and reproduce.
At the same time, the analysis of (re)productive work shows that
this is vitally important to the health and survival of any society,
and that changing conditions of (re)production can both constitute
limitations and create possibilities for its future development. Giving
weight to these areas of human experience and activity is not simply
a matter of justice for women, ‘something for the girls’ to be added
after the important issues have been dealt with, but an essential
prerequisite for effective political analysis and action.

GUIDE TO FURTHER READING
For more detailed discussion of developments in Marxist feminism
from the nineteenth century to the present day, see Bryson (2003),
and for an expanded version of arguments in this chapter see Bryson
(2004). On the concepts of ‘production’ and ‘reproduction’ in Marxist
thought, see Marx’s ‘Introduction’ to his Grundrisse, and the entries by
Fine and Himmelweit in Bottomore (1991). Sargent (1986) provides
a now classic collection on the relationship between capitalism and
patriarchy. Stevi Jackson (1999) provides a good discussion of the
relationship between Marxism and feminism from the early 1970s,
which unpicks the question of terminology well. I have found the
collection of articles by Brenner (2000) particularly insightful.

NOTE
1. In simple terms, surplus value is created when workers produce more
than they need to maintain themselves. Under capitalism, this surplus is
appropriated as profi t by the owners of the means of production.
REFERENCES
Barrett, M. ([1980] 1988) Women’s Oppression Today: The Marxist/Feminist
Encounter (London: Verso).
Production and Reproduction 141
Barrett, M. and McIntosh, M. (1982) The Anti-Social Family (London: Verso).
Bottomore, T. (ed.) (1991) A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Oxford:
Blackwell).
Brenner, J. (2000) Women and the Politics of Class (New York: Monthly Review
Press).
Bryson, V. (1999) ‘“Patriarchy”: a concept too useful to lose’, Contemporary
Politics, Vol. 5, No. 4.
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