Mariarosa Dalla Costa

Few voices have been as consistent and eloquent in speaking out about the importance – indeed the centrality – of domains and spheres of labor that are presented to us as peripheral, as Mariarosa Dalla Costa. In her first essay (one of three in the latest issue of the wonderful journal The Commoner), she begins

I began to pose to myself the issue of the land as a crucial question at the end of the eighties, on the heels of a trajectory which, during the end of the sixties and seventies, had as its crux the factory as the space of waged labour and then the home as the space of unwaged labour within which the former finds its roots. The labour, therefore, involved in the production of commodities and that of the reproduction of labour power, the labour of the factory worker and the labour of the housewife within the Fordist organization of society. At that time we said that the employer with one paycheck in reality bought two people, the worker and the woman behind him. Agricultural labor, or the labour of the land, which reproduced life for everybody, remained in the shadows however.

I love reading Dalla Costa because of her ability to so concisely illuminate the interconnectedness and mutual penetration of different domains of oppression. Read the above again and note how she indicates that the exploitation of waged labour depends on the ability to further exploit unwaged labour. Capitalism depends, in that instance, on the further oppression of women by men, and farms that oppression out to male workers, some of whom accept the charge.

Similarly, in the industrial age, the focus on factory production has allowed the rulers to present agricultural production as a peripheral activity, rather than that which makes everything else possible. The regimes of monoculture which decimate local food security and render entire regions vulnerable to price shocks – followed by demands from the World Bank and others to engage in Structural Adjustment Programs and then to actually take over a country’s economic policy – oppress the farmers. The oppression of farmers, in turn, depends on the oppression of the land, and what I think of as theft from the future.


3 thoughts on “Mariarosa Dalla Costa

  1. ciao Ericco,
    You’ve probly read it, but if not, Dalla Costa’s Power of Women and the Subversion of Community is really, really great. It’s online here – http://libcom.org/tags/mariarosa-dalla-costa

    You might also be interested in this piece by Jean Boydston, among other things it’s about how the waged and male working class rhetoric of “we need enough pay to support our families” played into occluding nonwaged and feminine labors. Great stuff. My notes on the Boydston are here, if you’re interested – http://whatinthehell.blogsome.com/2007/04/19/is-the-value-of-housework/

    I’m probly teaching both this fall, along with Silvia Federici’s book Caliban and the Witch.

    take care,

  2. Nate, thanks so much for these links. I have not read Women and the Subversion of Community, but am looking forward to it. Teaching Caliban and the Witch will undoubtedly be awesome.

  3. hi Erik, if you do read it I’d love to discuss it with you. It’s pretty short, was originally done as a pamphlet.

    If you like that one, a related short book is _The Arcane of Reproduction_ by Leopoldina Fortunati. Fortunati collaborated with Federici on a precursor to Caliban and the Witch in Italian. _Arcane_ is all about where the labors of housewives and prostitutes fit into Marx’s categories, and where those categories need supplementing or revising in the light of those labors. It’s a bit slow going but good. One other book that’s somewhat related that I highly recommend is _From Bondage to Contract_ by Amy Dru Stanley, which is all about ideas of contracts as freedom (according to abolitionists arguing against slavery) and how that related to developing American ideas about labor, vagrants/beggars, marriage, and prostitution. I think it’s a great book.

    Dallacosta also edited a book whose title escapes, co-edited with someone else named Dallacosta, it has a lot of stuff on women in the third word and ‘development’ and so on. I’ve only skimmed it but I think you might be interested.

    take care,

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