Neo-Liberal Crisis/social Reproduction/gender Implications

By Cohen, Marjorie Griffin | University of New Brunswick Law Journal, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Neo-Liberal Crisis/social Reproduction/gender Implications

Cohen, Marjorie Griffin, University of New Brunswick Law Journal


Neo-liberalism has had a profound impact on social reproduction in Canada. I will make three main points in this paper. First, periodic economic crises accelerate the marketization of social reproduction and the withdrawal of the state from social security supports. The marketization of social reproduction did not originate in the economic climate of crisis, but rather has been a long-term project of neo-liberalism that proceeds even in times of prosperity. Second, the shift in the relative contributions by the state to social reproduction in turn has a negative implication for the ability of the state to manage crises. There is an architecture of inequality that has become exaggerated with neo-liberal policy and this affects the recovery of economic cycles. And third, the management of crises by the state has gender implications that are often masked by the focus on short-term effects of the crises. The gender bias in both crisis management and long-term neo-liberal economic policy contributes to the increasing instability of economic activity.


Governments normally treat issues of social reproduction fairly narrowly and as an aside to economic performance. (1) Its usual association is in reference to policies and actions related to the household. This, then, tends to relegate its discussion by governments to 'social policy,' since it is not seen as integral to economic performance. Any gender discussions associated with social reproduction by both governments and the business sectors also tend to get marginalized as being significant, but only to women. My intent is to show that the undermining of state support for social reproduction and the disregard of social reproduction's role in the economy contributes to increased instability in the capitalist system.

Social reproduction needs to be seen as not only the reproduction activities that occur in the household, but all of the myriad ways that some feminist analysis understands social reproduction and how it is accounted for within a specific stage of capitalist development. Social reproduction includes the activities of both males and females, and the ways that the market, the state, the community, the household, and the individual are involved in meeting the direct needs of people. The state's role includes activities that directly and universally support the household (medical care, education, pensions, labour regulation and support), as well as specific programs that are more targeted to meet the needs of specific populations (social assistance, disability aid, employment insurance, child care).

At various capitalistic stages each share undertaken by the actors in this process is different, with the state assuming a larger or smaller influence on the social security to support social reproduction, depending on the time, state of development, and political ideology in ascendance. (2)

As is well known, the neo-liberal approach to social reproduction is to replace as much as possible of the state's responsibilities with private market or private household activity. In Canada this has been a very successful project, beginning with the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, greatly accelerated by the Liberal governments of Jean Chretien/Paul Martin, and carried out in varying degrees by provincial governments throughout the country. (3) While the privatization and the deconstruction of the social role of government has been the main focus of the neo-liberal approach, economic crises have given governments throughout the country a handy excuse to accentuate the need to undermine their roles in supporting popular features of policies related to social reproduction.

Major economic changes are rarely accompanied by appropriate ways to deal with instability in social reproduction. With the rise of the market system, over a very long period of time, the ability to meet the needs of the market with the competing needs of social reproduction found some reconciliation through the mechanisms of the welfare state, in all of its very different forms. …

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