Ryan Schram's Anthrocyclopaedia

Anthropology presentations and learning resources

User Tools

Site Tools

View page as slide show

The commodification of kin

The commodification of kin

Week 6: Global gifts and body shopping

Ryan Schram
ANTH 1002: Anthropology in the world
Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Slides available at https://anthro.rschram.org/1002/2022/6.2

Main reading: Zharkevich (2019)

Other reading: Krause and Bressan (2018); Leinaweaver (2010); Vora (2009)

Home economics

Capitalism has taken many forms over its history in different places. In many respects, its days of greatest success are over, and we live in a new phase of capitalism.

Fordist production and a Fordist social contract

In the first half of the 20th century in industrialized, affluent, capitalist societies of “the West” (and especially after the second World War), the dominant model of production and consumption created a new structure for society.

  • Fordism (named for Henry Ford but the product of many) is a model of large-scale production of manufactured goods
    • Mass production is based on centralized control of manufacture by large firms to achieve the most efficient use of labor.
    • To be successful, mass production depends on the mass consumption of highly standardized goods, e.g. cars, home applicances.
  • The Fordist industrial model is also a new social contract, a new normative idea of people’s entitlements and obligations as members of the society.
    • Mass production also depends on mass employment of low-skill labor, creating opportunities for greater social mobility and wealth accumulation (mostly for whites in the US; see Florida and Feldman 1988).
    • Mass employment creates greater collective power for the labor movement, who claim more and more of a share of the profits of Fordist enterprise.
  • The Fordist social contract is also a specific “sexual contract” between men and women, who must play distinct, interdependent, unequal roles (Adkins 2016; see also Pateman [1988] 2018).
    • The husband and father is the sole breadwinner for a family. Men’s wages ideally should support a conjugal heterosexual household, including a spouse and children.
    • Women as wives and mothers are primarily if not exclusively responsible for childcare and maintenance of the family’s needs.

And then it was over.

After Fordism, a new kind of global capitalism and a new kind of household

Mass production can only be made so efficient (and consumers can only consume so much stuff). As the economy it sustains continues to grow, the large firms at its heart make less and less profit. The system inevitably falls into crisis.

  • Wages stagnate, prices rise, families come to depend on two incomes (Harvey 1989, 147–53; see also Fraser [1997] 2013).
  • Capitalist firms in affluent societies use their economic power to pressure states to eliminate barriers to trade so they can outsource production overseas, i.e. where wages are lower.
    • So-called globalization is not progress; it is a reaction to the failure of Fordism.

Fordist families in a post-Fordist era

Fordism as a social contract institutes a specific kind of kinship based on an absolute division between the public domain of economic activity and the private home.

  • Kinship in the Fordist “private” domain of the nuclear family is still, as Carsten might say, something people do; it’s invisible to the rest of the world since doing kinship is seen as strictly women’s work.
  • Even as the Fordist social contract collapses, people still adhere to this ideological representation of kinship as private. Women who work in dual-income households still do most if not all of the care work; they pull a “second shift” at home (Hochschild 1989).

Families have responded to the breakdown of the Fordist social contract in different and unequal ways

  • Wealthy families commodify the acts of kinship by hiring domestic workers who work in the families’ homes, contributing to a system of “stratified reproduction” (Colen 1995).
  • By and large, domestic workers in wealthy households are also other people’s mothers, and they depend on other kin to provide care work for their children in their absence, especially among transnational immigrant domestic workers.
    • The result is a “global care chain” linking households through commodity and gift exchanges (Hochschild 2000). (These chains are also conduits of remittances within transnational households.)

In conclusion, global capitalism is a broken system on the verge of collapse. Informal economies and transnational reciprocity are the duct tape and chewing gum holding it together.

References and further reading

Adkins, Lisa. 2016. “Contingent Labour and the Rewriting of the Sexual Contract.” In The Post-Fordist Sexual Contract, edited by Lisa Adkins and Maryanne Dever, 1–28. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137495549_1.

Colen, Shellee. 1995. “‘Like a Mother to Them’: Stratified Reproduction and West Indian Childcare Workers and Employers in New York.” In Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction, edited by Faye D. Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp, 78–102. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Florida, Richard L., and Marshall M.A. Feldman. 1988. “Housing in US Fordism*.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 12 (2): 187–210. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2427.1988.tb00449.x.

Fraser, Nancy. (1997) 2013. “After the Family Wage: A Postindustrial Thought Experiment.” In Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist” Condition, 41–66. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315822174.

Harvey, David. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell.

Hochschild, Arlie. 1989. The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home. New York: Penguin Books.

———. 2000. “Global Care Chains and Emotional Surplus Value.” In On the Edge: Globalization and the New Millennium, edited by Anthony Giddens and Will Hutton, 130–46. London: SAGE Publications.

Krause, Elizabeth L., and Massimo Bressan. 2018. “Circulating Children, Underwriting Capitalism: Chinese Global Households and Fast Fashion in Italy.” Current Anthropology 59 (5): 572–95. https://doi.org/10.1086/699826.

Leinaweaver, Jessaca B. 2010. “Outsourcing Care: How Peruvian Migrants Meet Transnational Family Obligations.” Latin American Perspectives 37 (5): 67–87. https://doi.org/10.1177/0094582X10380222.

Pateman, Carole. (1988) 2018. The Sexual Contract. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell.

Vora, Kalindi. 2009. “Indian Transnational Surrogacy and the Commodification of Vital Energy.” Subjectivity 28 (1): 266–78. https://doi.org/10.1057/sub.2009.14.

Zharkevich, Ina. 2019. “Money and Blood: Remittances as a Substance of Relatedness in Transnational Families in Nepal.” American Anthropologist 121 (4): 884–96. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13316.

1002/2022/6.2.txt · Last modified: 2022/09/01 16:31 by Ryan Schram (admin)