Academic journal article New Formations

Reflections on Feminism, Immaterial Labour and the Post-Fordist Regime

Academic journal article New Formations

Reflections on Feminism, Immaterial Labour and the Post-Fordist Regime

Article excerpt

Abstract In the many articles and books written in recent years on the topics of precarious labour, immaterial and affective labour, all of which are understood within the over-arching frame of post-Fordist regimes of production, there is a failure to foreground gender, or indeed to knit gender and ethnicity into prevailing concerns with class and class struggle. I seek to rectify this by interrogating some of the influential work in this terrain. I draw attention to those accounts which have reflected on gender and on changes in how feminists and sociologists nowadays think about the question of women and employment. I ask the question, how integral is the participation of 'women' to the rise of post-Fordist production, and what kind of role, do women, especially young women now play in the urban-based new culture industries? By prioritising gender I am also critiquing its invisibility in this current field of new radical political discourse associated with writers like Hardt and Virno (eds 1996) and Hardt and Negri (2000). I argue for a more historically informed perspective which pays attention to the micro-activities of earlier generations of feminists who were at the forefront of combining forms of job creation with political activity (eg women's book stores and publishing, youth-work or 'mädchenarbeit', child care and kinderladen ) under the auspices of what would now be called 'social enterprise'.

Keywords feminism, precarious labour, immaterial labour, affective labour, Operaismo, gender and employment, post-Fordism

1. OPERAISMO AND THE SUCCESSES OF CLASS STRUGGLE?

In the many articles and books written in recent years on the topics of precarious labour, immaterial and affective labour, all of which are understood within the over-arching frame of post-Fordist regimes of production, there is a failure to foreground gender, or indeed to knit gender and ethnicity into prevailing concerns with class and class struggle. I seek to rectify this by interrogating some of the influential work in this terrain. I will also draw attention to those accounts which have reflected on gender and on changes in how feminists and sociologists nowadays think about the question of women and employment. (It is almost unnecessary to indicate that the critical paradigm underlying the shift in feminist debate is performativity theory and the radical de-naturalising of gender therein.) I ask the question, how integral is the participation of 'women' to the rise of post-Fordist production, and later in this article I ask what kind of role do women, especially young women (dispensing from now on with the need for the commas that query the category) play in the urban-based new culture industries? By prioritising gender I am also critiquing its invisibility in this current field of new radical political discourse associated with writers like Hardt and Virno, and Hardt and Negri.1 I propose that the transition to precarious work or immaterial labour which is now so profoundly felt by vast numbers of young people, especially young women,2 across Europe and under the age of 40, is inadequately understood without recourse to a critical interface that develops from the late 1970s onwards, between the wider impact of the women's movement (going well beyond the confines of self-declared feminists), and the modes of counter-response which capital, the state and consumer culture develop to constrain and re-shape, by means of a range of biopolitical strategies, the whole terrain of gender and sexuality.

I challenge writers like those associated with the Italian Operaismo School for their insistence on class, as the defining meta-concept for understanding contemporary work and for imagining a radical political future. Fundamentally this is a 'labour-society' model where the 'decline of labour' and the shift of the centre of gravity to the non-work sphere, is blamed for a wide range of contemporary pathologies including the 'opacity of groups' and the 'ruin of the self '. …

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