LT and HF’s Response: Hoosier Biopolitics

We spent the day, and now the evening, debating the transformations of capital that are so obviously under way right now. The drop-out rate in high schools has hit 30%, a number that will be given an enormous bump by the school reforms now being proposed. In the years since No Child Left Behind, teachers have been consistently vilified in the mass media, as an entrenched elite, as failing to live up individually to a traditional caring conception of the classroom. Now, after one round of lay-offs (with selective rehiring) last year, another round of young teachers will be fired, and teachers with seniority face salary cuts in the neighborhood of $20,000, in the case of our roommate’s mom.

At the same time, eight Planned Parenthood clinics will be shuttered this year by explicitly political funding cuts. These are primarily in rural areas, and the extremely poor urban spaces in Northwest Indiana. In the Herald Times today, the article outlines how clinics who cannot be supported by fees for service, in other words clinics where most of the clients receive free or reduced cost care, will be closed. This eliminates services for those least able to pay, and to disproportionately people of color.

As Waldby and Cooper argue in “Biopolitics of Reproduction,” declining birth rates represent, in the OECD (which is broadly equivalent to the post-industrial world), a slow crisis in economic and political viability. They point to the availability of reproductive planning, and its necessity given the labor and affective demands of the “new economy,” but Fortunati is more explicit about the political relation of abortion to capital in the 1970s in Chapter 2:

“Within the family, capital posits the reproduction of new labor powers as being ‘necessary’ to the male worker and female houseworker for their own reproduction. ‘Necessary’ because, paradoxically, it is the only way in which they can wider their circle of fundamental relationships or, indeed, have any relationship with non-adults. The need to have children cannot be explained solely in terms of lack of contraception or “illegality” of abortion. However, capital is once again losing its argument of necessity, as more and more women are opting out of bearing children or are limiting the number given the cost in both social and monetary terms nowadays.” P. 25

This relationship, described during a high point of class struggle, has certainly changed, but the underlying biopolitical terms remain, though are possibly better managed by capital. Without the action of a mass and autonomous feminist movement, access to birth control can be more one-sidedly modulated to manage population growth. It should also be pointed out that the clinics being shut also provide pap smears, etc. and this shift can be understood as a direct modification of the number of low-income female-bodied people who will face early death from cervical cancer and other previously-detectable causes.

But all this remains ambiguous. Possibilities: Planned Parenthood, and the other vestigial institution of 2nd wave feminism represent reterritorializations of amorphous, extremist and embodied demands exerted on a mass level in the 1970s, but are no longer needed for the management of women, the population, etc. Or, the closures of clinics are an austerity measure flowing along an ideological line charted by the pro-life and/or privatization movements. Further possibility and problem:

The apparent positive modulation of the population through the reduction of access to abortion is in conflict with our first reading of the education crisis. If the crisis in education is manufactured by budget cuts and the media interventions described above, and if all the apparent solutions will clearly just gut public education further, it would seem to be because an increasingly large portion of the population is unnecessary in the post-Fordist economy. Maybe 30% of the next generation, within clearly racialized strata, would be completely excluded – irrelevant to the production of value, but also without any contractual claim to state benefits. But, if this is the strategy articulated in education, why would abortion access be denied in a way that would promote a quantitative growth in restive, excluded populations? Ideology?

It seems that the scarcity of labor power, or the slow crisis caused by the declining birth rate in the post-industrial world, is a manufactured one. At least to the extent that bodies are interchangeable, it seems that the scarcity is constructed by borders and nativist immigration policies. Such scarcity then, is a product of an explicit racism or eugenic project. And the regenerative technologies developed – ones that Cooper and Waldby explicitly discuss in their detailed racial hierarchies – then prioritize the development, treatment, and regeneration of a light-skinned phenotype, if not explicitly the genes of certain residents of post-industrial nations.

This particular project seems to both ensure the depressed wages and easy exploitation of those without papers, particularly those who work in domestic and service sector jobs. The Texas equivalent of SB 590, in particular, the clause imposing harsh fines (and criminal charges?) on those who hire undocumented workers, includes an exemption for those employing domestic labor. (  Naturalization of feminine labor then, is no longer the main technique to guarantee the surplus value of reproductive labor in the home. Instead, the de-nationalization, as Cooper and Waldby term it, of domestic or feminized labor, becomes the primary tool for extracting surplus value.

Another possible interpretation is that Third World populations are viewed as more dangerous, less controllable, and therefore less easily integrated into post-Fordist regimes of re/production. While races are clearly a social construct, they also have a materialized basis, as the long-term organization of nation-states and borders tend to produce differentials in disciplinary regimes, in the production of docile and productive bodies. Thus, the exclusion of immigrants exacerbates the slow population crisis of the developed countries, but may be politically necessary in the containment of social struggle.

We noted in particular that teachers are, in the U.S., a conservative sector that has been promised middle class stability in return for docility, and for their role in reproducing the productive population. Thus, teachers are having a difficult time composing a political response to the current attacks (HF: I had an intense experience in high school of the lengths teachers, during serious contractual disputes, went to refuse the solidarity of large numbers of their students).

Teachers have an increasingly complex role, and have been in an awkward position of a largely “feminized” sector in advance of much of the rest of the economy; always very affective work, and always subject to a complex emotional burden. For the past decades, many teachers have already faced the demands of productive, waged work, reproductive work at home, and the reproductive dimension of the class room (both macro, in the sense of the obligation to reproduce the population’s skills and knowledge, and micro, in their care of students). At this complicated intersection, it seems appropriate to also mark the teachers’ position with Fortunati’s description of housework: “This greater complexity within reproduction has not only meant that the sector has required a higher and greater level of ideological organization in order to make it function, but has also made it harder to define and demystify the real nature of exploitation within it.” P. 9 This would also seem to speak to the “elitist” stance vis-a-vis students described above.

This situation has grown yet more complicated as more reproductive work has been shifted to them in the transition of other traditional child-rearers into the waged economy, and under the pressure of austerity. For example, in Indiana at least, job security for high school teachers is only effectively won by taking on nearly-unpaid coaching positions in athletics, on the side. These positions clearly also demand of the teacher functions such as “moral education.” Some laid-off teachers here have held on to these basically volunteer coaching positions in the hope that this will increase their chances of being re-hired.

I was particularly interested in piecing through and understanding Fortunati this week, and felt like her theorization of reproductive labor was immensely helpful. Particularly, it sets the stage for analyzing exploitation of various forms of reproductive, regenerative and feminized labor. Specifically, Fortunati highlights the naturalization of feminine labor in the home as an essential precondition for the exploitation of the male worker in the factory and for capital’s ability to extract surplus value.  This process of naturalization connects to feminine ideals of selfless giving and care (i.e. Hela cell line).

This theoretical intervention moves female houseworkers from a marginal position to a more central role in both their importance to the maintenance of capitalism, and their potential as revolutionary subjects.  Men, on the other hand, become mere “intermediaries” between capital and women in the reproductive relationship.  While this is a very useful corrective to ortho-Marxist biases, it seems to flatten the character of gendered oppression, and the layering effects of different patriarchical relations (the patriarchal structure of capital vs. traditional “feudal” patriarchal relations in the family, etc.)

Obviously these are, at most, starting points for conversation,

LT and HF


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