Contradictions of Capital and Care – Nancy Fraser
by Tatjana Bergmeister and Matthieu Schwartz
The text we are going to focus on is written by Nancy Fraser, a feminist and critical theorist from Baltimore, US. Professor of philosophy and social sciences in the New School in New York, as well as the president of the American Philosophical Association, she shares her critique on politics and social justices.
In her text “Contradictions of Capital and Care” Nancy Fraser posits that we are currently in a “Crisis of Care”. She refers to problems and pressures performed from different directions on several social services, giving birth, raising children, taking care for the elderly and housework amongst them. These processes of social reproduction are indispensable for our society and economy, even though they are naturalised and unwaged. As our current capitalist society is undermining social reproduction, it resulted in a major crisis of care linked to difficulties like family-work balance, time poverty and social depletion.
Nancy Fraser claims that there is a deep-seated social reproductive contradiction intrinsic to capitalist societies. Current stresses on care are deeply rooted in the structure of capitalism. On the one hand social reproduction is the premise for the genesis of capitalism and the possibility for capital accumulation, on the other capitalism’s objective of infinite accumulation is destabilising these processes on which it relies. For Nancy Fraser this antagonism lies at the root of the crisis of care.
As the focus of the current crisis relies mostly on the capitalist economic system, Fraser tries to present a full picture of the contradictions and crisis tendencies that are inherent to capitalism. With a broader view of capitalism and its non-economic roots she creates a base to criticise capitalism not only respective to its economic contradictions, but to all crisis tendencies, focusing on those related to social reproduction and care.
As capitalist society has undergone big transformations since the 19thcentury, also the expression of the underlying crisis changed a lot. Fraser argues that in general capitalist society disavows work of social reproduction, separating it from the work of economic production, associating it with women and denying it a wage. Thusly capitalist society could find a new way to superordinate men above women and to veil the importance of care work for our, and especially capitalist, society.
Nancy Fraser divides the capitalist system into three different regimes. She calls the first one “separate spheres, the second “the family wage” and the last “the two-earner family”. She claims that each of these regimes brought up a different side of the contradiction of social reproduction in capitalism, dealt different with these boundary struggles and sometimes managed to redraw them.
The first regime started with the liberal competitive capitalism of the 19thcentury. While the economy was pushing its limits and the exploitation of workers came to a peek, this regime left the social reproduction to the workers and established a new restricted image of the family and gender differences. Trying to save capitalism from a social crisis by protecting women legally from exploitation and by creating the Victorian ideal of the housewife, this regime managed to intensify male domination. The legal protection of women proved problematic, as wages remained too low to sustain a family and working-class women struggled to conform to the new Victorian ideals. Middle-class women found themselves in a position where they had no legal rights and were dependant on men. This regime created the idea of “separate spheres”, where women were responsible for the social reproduction and the gender hierarchy was strengthened, although only wealthy people could reach this ideal.
Following with the state-managed capitalism of the 20thcentury, the economy rebooted after the Great Depression and the Second World War, thanks to large-scale industrial production and domestic consumerism. The fordistic state dealt with the contradiction of economic production and social reproduction by investing in welfares, such as health care, childcare and old age pensions. This regime established the “family-wage” household, with the dominant male breadwinner and the female housewife, again intensifying female subordination. Founded on colonial and post-colonial exploitation and gender hierarchies, there were major racial inequalities present and the ideal of “the family wage” was not achievable for most families. Managing to soothe social contradictions for some time, this regime anyway ended in a crisis, when the New Left started to fight racial, imperial and gender inequalities and the economy found itself in a “productivity crisis”.
The third and contemporary regime is the globalising financialised capitalism. Neoliberalism abandoned welfare and hired women into waged work. Nancy Fraser names this regime the “two-earner households”. Emancipation seen as women doing the same work as men creates a “care gap”. Women able to provide income for their family have to hire a less privileged worker to raise their children. This worker will then have to do the same, creating an unfinished chain. The result is a dual system of social reproduction, favouring the ones who can pay for it and excluding the ones who cannot.
We can notice a general unrecognition of the importance of care in different domains. For instance Catherina Gabrielsson states in her text “The Critical Potential of Housework” the different aspects of care in opposition to architecture. She focuses more on a housework aspect, but both Fraser and Gabrielsson present ideas of maintaining a healthy shelter. Gabrielsson takes interest into carework’s relation to architecture and highlights the general ignorance of care and housework despite the importance of its existence. In one case, care is in opposition with architecture and in the other with capital, but in both cases, although they are established as crucial, they are both ignored and go unrecognised.
Growing up in a two-earner household ourselves, several of Nancy Fraser’s statements were accurate. Although this system has not brought us to a crisis yet, we recognise the inequality in the expectations of each gender. In our opinion we have to find a better balance between care and economic production and capitalist society has to rethink its social values and its handling of carework and emancipation.