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Article

Care As Belonging, Difference, and Inequality  

Tatjana Thelen

The topic of care has inspired a vast and complex body of research covering a wide range of practices. As an open-ended process, it is generally directed at fulfilling recognized needs and involves at least one giving and one receiving side. Although care has mostly positive connotations in everyday usage, giving or receiving it can also be a negative experience or express domination. Care evolves through complex arrangements of different actors, institutions, and technical devices and at the same time transforms them. As human needs are not a given, the process of care involves negotiations about who deserves to receive it and on what grounds, as well as who should provide it. Because care is so deeply implicated in articulating and mediating different moralities, it becomes central to constructions and classifications of difference. In this way, care extends far beyond intimate relations and is engrained in processes that establish belonging as well as various forms of inequality. Researching care in intimate settings as well as in public sectors enables bridging various communities of care and grasping how the distribution of care not only mirrors inequalities but contributes to their (re)production or even intensification.

Article

Women in South Africa  

Jill E. Kelly

Gendered processes produced and sustained families and labor in southern Africa from the first hunter-gatherers through the present, but these processes were never static or uncontested. Archaeological, oral, and ethnographic sources suggest that southern Africa’s first hunter-gatherers experienced tense contestations of social and sexual roles and that the division of labor was more fluid than is normally assumed. Some 2,000 years ago new ways of life—pastoralism and agriculture—organized societies according to gender and generation, with young persons under the control of adults, and older women able to wield control over children-in-law as well as political and spiritual power. For agriculturalists, the home was a political space. During the centralization of states in the region, leaders tightened control of women, coming-of-age practices, and marriage as well as militarized age sets. After the onset of colonialism, gendered violence and contested social relations shaped and maintained a gendered and racialized capitalist society. Enslaved, dependent, and free African women’s labor unfolded in the service of white settlers along European ideas of women’s work, and a consensus emerged among officials, missionaries, and African Christian converts over the centrality of educated women converts to the making of Christian African families. Authorities enacted legislation to govern sex and marriage and to differentiate by race and culture. The developing system of migrant labor relied upon women’s agricultural work in the reserves. The apartheid state, too, intervened in social relations to control labor and produce not only racialized but also ethnicized persons in the service of separate development. Across the 20th century women shaped nationalisms, often using their association with social reproduction, and mobilized both within larger nationalism movements and specifically as women. Their political and social activism continues in the post-apartheid era.

Article

Consumer Credit and Debt  

Hadrien Saiag

The global crisis that erupted in 2007–2008 clearly exposed that debt with financial institutions has become a key element of household social reproduction in most parts of the world. One way to analyze how this situation impacts on people’s lives is to investigate the very nature of debt (its “essence”), which is often conceived as intrinsically violent. However, most anthropologists consider how people manage their debt and take a situated approach to debt in context. Their focus on people’s financial practices takes a broad view of consumer credit as any number of monetary debts that households incur to make ends meet. Their examination of how debt is managed within the household points up that consumer credit is often used to sustain meaningful social relations, although this can trigger a debt spiral. This spotlight on how people’s financial practices relate to broader historical and social contexts shows that the rise of consumer credit is instrumental in reshaping class, racial, and gender relations in their material and moral dimensions, and that people can be found to resist debt in many ways. Although these trends in the anthropological literature make for a rich understanding of debt relations, much could still be done to understand why people in most settings complain about their debts, but do not openly rebel against them.

Article

Higher Education Equity and Justice  

Ulpukka Isopahkala-Bouret

The higher education (HE) equity and social justice agenda is primarily concerned with inequalities in the participation of underrepresented groups. The main purpose of this agenda is to widen access to the social privileges that HE offers. Transnational policy agencies and national governments have advised higher education institutions (HEIs) to deploy relevant indicators and implement inclusive practices, such as financial assistance, nondiscriminatory admission mechanisms, and student guidance and counseling. HEIs have also been funded to provide outreach and widening participation programs in several countries. In the early 21st century, the conceptualization of HE equity and justice has broadened from fair access to more holistic, procedural, and intersectional approaches. Still, the lack of reliable, relevant, and feasible policy indicators and data make it a challenging objective to measure and follow up. Furthermore, research has pointed out the need for contextualized definitions of equity and justice because the specific social and cultural challenges differ from one country to another. Equity and justice manifest themselves in the broader design of national and regional HE systems. Some HE systems have stronger institutional stratification and financial barriers than others, hence restraining the fairness of access and social inclusion. The application of Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory has dominated much of the research on structural constraints of HE equity and justice. An understanding of the connection between structure/agency and the cultural reproduction opens up new avenues for the development of HE equity and justice in both policy and practice.

Article

Rural Education in China  

Liang Du, Huimeng Li, and Weijian Wang

Rural education has received considerable attention from researchers and policy makers in their attempts to understand the deep-rooted rural/urban dichotomy in China. Most debates surround how to improve the “quality” of rural education and to “rebalance” the level of educational development between rural and urban regions. For this purpose raising the “quality” of teachers across rural schools is highlighted as the key element in many policies and studies, and the focus has shifted from addressing a teacher shortage to the recruitment and retention of quality teachers, especially in those remote regions. Issues in China’s rural education are not only reflections of rural–urban differences but also reproduce these social differentiations. Those who pay the price of the entrenched rural/urban dichotomy in China are the increasing number of “left-behind” children in the rural villages as well as the “floating” students in the urban schools whose numbers have also increased in the past decades. Most members of both groups tend to undergo a social reproduction process in the school systems and eventually become workers in the manufacturing and service industries in urban centers. Meanwhile, rural education in China is also abundant in culturally meaningful processes. While many scholars and policy makers view the rural school as a critical site for passing on the cultural inheritance of “rural China,” rural students themselves nevertheless creatively make meaning of their daily experiences and produce rich cultural forms. Some of them develop certain forms of “counterschool” culture as they experience educational failure, while others take up cultural traits valued by their rural families and turn them into a form of cultural capital, which consequently plays a pivotal role in the educational and social mobility of rural students.

Article

The Anthropology of Financialization in Eastern Europe  

Marek Mikuš

Initially understood as a narrowly economic process of financial expansion, the concept of financialization has expanded to describe the increasing power of financial actors, practices, logics, and narratives in various domains of social life and the resulting transformations. Anthropologists study financialization as a polyvalent social process that works in and through social relations and encompasses financial expansion and penetration as well as particular forms of morality, governmentality, and subjectivity. They employ ethnography and relational analysis to defamiliarize finance, destabilize its dominant representations, reveal its hidden agendas, and expose the gaps between its promises and actual outcomes. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, Eastern Europe has been one of the most dynamic areas of anthropological research on financialization. The process had a distinct flavor in the region inasmuch as it was part of its wider transition from socialism to capitalism and integration into the global capitalist economy in an unequal and dependent position. Peripheral financialization in the region depended on cross-border inflows of interest-bearing capital, orchestrated mainly by banks owned by Western European banking groups. Much relevant work by anthropologists has examined the consequences of peripheral financialization for households, focusing especially on characteristic predatory lending practices such as foreign exchange (FX) lending. Another prominent line of inquiry has been concerned with forms of civil society and contestation emerging in response to financialization. These often took a more conservative or technocratic form than similar movements in the West, which reflected the specificities of financialization as well as wider political dynamics in the region. Anthropologists also studied the state as an agent and object of financialization, exploring issues such as articulation between financialization and authoritarianism or the impact of growing public debt on the ideologies of governance. A general thread in anthropological analyses has been a complex interplay between transformations induced by financialization and the manifold ways in which finance was “domesticated” by preexisting social relations and values, especially those based on kinship and gender.

Article

Domestic Workers in U.S. History  

Vanessa May

Domestic work was, until 1940, the largest category of women’s paid labor. Despite the number of women who performed domestic labor for pay, the wages and working conditions were often poor. Workers labored long hours for low pay and were largely left out of state labor regulations. The association of domestic work with women’s traditional household labor, defined as a “labor of love” rather than as real work, and its centrality to southern slavery, have contributed to its low status. As a result, domestic work has long been structured by class, racial, and gendered hierarchies. Nevertheless, domestic workers have time and again done their best to resist these conditions. Although traditional collective bargaining techniques did not always translate to the domestic labor market, workers found various collective and individual methods to insist on higher wages and demand occupational respect, ranging from quitting to “pan-toting” to forming unions.

Article

Critical Approaches to Motherhood  

Ashley Noel Mack

Motherhood is not an inconsequential and ideologically neutral individual role in society. Instead, “motherhood” is considered, according to critical and cultural scholars and theorists, to be both a complex set of experiences individuals embody and a symbolic social institution that has been used to regulate human behavior through cultural norms and social scripts that are discursively struggled over across history. The institution of motherhood is imbedded in cultural, economic, and legal systems and is a central consideration in how we come to define the domestic and public spheres. Black feminist, liberal feminist, radical feminist, Marxist, queer, postcolonial, and decolonial theories are mobilized by critics in communication to investigate motherhood as a complex symbolic interlocutor. Critical scholars from these divergent theoretical and political traditions analyze motherhood as an experience, a practice, a performance, and/or an ideology. Because of the importance of the concept of mothering in society, examining discourses about motherhood is a central concern for critical and cultural communication scholars who are interested in the formation of gender and sexual scripts and the maintenance of racial and class-based systems of oppression.