Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Arcane of Reproduction - Fortunati

A few notes and questions/ideas on the Fortunati text in the reader.

1. The capitalist male/female relationship is an exchange between women and capital, mediated by men. This relationship operates through a juxtaposing of its formal appearance and its real functioning.
Again we see capital and the social relations around capital are prone to mystification - there is a dual character to the relationship, and a sense that the real functioning is somehow hidden from view. Exchange between the male worker's wage and the female worker's housework or prostitution work appears as such, but in reality there is an exchange between variable capital and housework, ie capital and the female worker, mediated by the male worker.
This reproduction work must appear to be a 'natural force of social labour'.

2. Female labour-power is posited as use-value, not exchange value. Fortunati says the exchange must not appear to be organised in a capitalist way. The houseworker's labour-power has no price. In what appears to be an exchange of equivalents - money/housework - the housework has no limit and no price. Therefore her exploitation is without limit. Whereas the male worker sells his labour to the capitalist for a set period of time, she sells her housework with no limit of time - till death do us part. Her chance to 'change contract' is limited.

3. Fortunati says capitalism is built upon the inequalities of power between and within classes. Why is this the case? Is gender equality impossible in a capitalist society? I think she means that women's work - housework and prostitution work - is always a capitalist exchange mediated by men, and that because women's labour-power has only use-value, not exchange-value, women face inevitable inequality. Fortunati says the only way capital can organise the production of 'labour-power' as a commodity is to define a specific process of production and its related exchanges.

4. Fortunati says the woman has two choices - sell her labour-power on the market, like the male worker, or sell it to the male worker as housework or prostitution work. Housework is a safer market. The male worker is obliged to buy housework in order to satisfy his needs (use-value) and replenish his ability to work etc. I think there's a very obvious question to be asked here. Fortunati almost seems to suggest an essentialist attitude to gender roles - the man is 'obliged' to buy housework rather than cook his own bolognese/wash his own pants etc. I appreciate that this is a fact of life for most women in the UK, let alone the rest of the world, but I don't think it is inevitable. But perhaps Fortunati is arguing that this unfair division of labour down gender lines is in fact an inevitable inequity in a capitalist society? Maybe this is explored more in the rest of her book.

5. Finally, a summary of Fortunati's concise but astute look at prostitution.
Prostitution work appears, at the formal level, to be a commodity, an exchange-value. But in reality the male worker has not received prostitution work but female-labour power. His aim is not appropriation of the value created by her labour but the satisfaction of his needs. The exchange is not an exchange of equivalents. Neither party is equal nor equally 'free' in the exchange. The prostitute cannot sell her labour-power legitimately - she is criminalised. This liberty to sell negates her personal freedom. The money is legitimate; the labour is illegitimate. But at least she sells it for a determinate time only, so she has slightly more 'choice' than the houseworker.


Tom Bunyard said...

Thanks - really useful notes, and a very good summary. I think you
pulled out probably the most important issue in the text (which I hadn't picked up on) when you point out the implications of casting female labour as a use-value without exchange-value. Domestic labour becomes tantamount to a natural resource - like the sun, the wind, etc. - which can be tapped at will. It's perhaps interesting to relate that to
Negri's notion of 'biopolitics'; maybe this gives a way of reading that concept through Marx's concepts and categories, rarther than holding it to problematise them? However, as you also point out, a lot of what she says does sound - to use your own term - 'essentialist', i.e. a little
archaic, very heterosexual, etc. Perhaps the question then becomes as to how and in what way these ideas pertain to other social relationships.

dory said...

i agree with tom. excellent summary.

it's also interesting to compare fortunati's ideas of female reproductive labour with spivak's, in the latter's article "ghostwriting," that we read at the beginning of the course. spivak too discusses briefly the "socialization of reproductive labour-power"(67) but focuses mainly on the literal reproductive act of giving birth, of which fortunati does not provide any significant discussion.

spivak manages to invigorate her argument, (in a way that fortunati fails to) with the notion that this "socialized" read: naturalized, or invisible labour, does not fully disappear into male labour power, but haunts it, as a "spectre" (67). we know that the female reproductive labour is there, but we refuse to acknowledge it. however, if and when we do, it will be this acknowledgment, this interruption, that will push capitalism into socialism. spivak says: "According to marx, [the subsumption of female labour power into male labour power] is the specter that must haunt the daily life of the class-conscious worker, the future socialist, so that s/he can dislocate him/herself into the counterintuitive average part-subject (agent) of labour....It is only then that the fetish character of labour-power as commodity can be grasped and can become the pivot that wrenches capitalism into socialism..."(67-68).

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