If feminist theories may justifiably be considered one of the principal sites for a renewed reflection on exploitation, it is due in large part to the development of what today is known as feminist social reproduction theory. In its initial phase, during the 1970s, the aim of this theoretical enterprise was to extend the Marxian theory of exploitation as formulated in Capital. Its principal argument was that the mechanisms at work in the exploitation of labor for the reproduction of labor-power are analogous to those of wage exploitation, and are equally essential to the accumulation of capital. In later phases in the development of social reproduction theory, reproduction has often been understood in a broader sense than just the reproduction of labor-power, and in some cases the capitalist appropriation of reproductive activities is no longer identified with the exploitation of labor. The theme of the exploitation of reproductive labor thus marks certain divergences between the different stages in the development of feminist social reproduction theory, and also, as we shall see, between various contemporary versions of these theories.
These divergences concern questions of definition (how are we to understand the concepts of labor and reproduction?), debates in social theory (what role should the concept of reproduction play in a theory of capitalism?), and disagreements as to what models of social critique are most appropriate (should the capitalist appropriation of reproductive activities be considered in terms of the exploitation of labor, or the expropriation of activities essential to social life…
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