Silvia Federici - a history of the body in the transition to capitalism. Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch-hunts and the rise of mechanical philosophy, Federici investigates the capitalist rationalization of social reproduction.
Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Autonomedia, 2004.
read it at Google Books
an interview with silvia where she talks about the main arguments in her book can be found here: en.labournet.tv/video/6382/caliban-and-witch
CALIBAN AND THE WITCH is a history of the body in the transition to capitalism. Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch-hunts and the rise of mechanical philosophy, Federici investigates the capitalist rationalization of social reproduction. She shows how the battle against the rebel body and the conflict between body and mind are essential conditions for the development of labor power and self-ownership, two central principles of modern social organization.
"It is both a passionate work of memory recovered and a hammer of humanity's agenda."—Peter Linebaugh
Silvia Federici's book "Caliban and the Witch" demonstrates the absolute necessity of women's studies for a thorough and scientific understanding of history. Focusing on the role of women and the body in the process by Marx and Adam Smith described as "original accumulation", i.e. the violent expropriation of the feudal commons in the movement towards a capitalist society, Federici demonstrates that a true war against women was an important part of the ruling class' strategy.
The book assesses various aspects of this development, including witchcraft and the witch-hunts, the "Christianization" (or rather Catholization) of the North and South American native civilizations, the role of philosophical mechanism and the developers of the scientific method (Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Hobbes, etc.), and the early slave trade. In each case Federici masterfully shows how this development came to be, what role it played in the process of 'original accumulation', and why it was favored temporarily by the ruling class. She also gives very strong evidence that things like fear of witchcraft, patriarchy, racism etc., often seen as the inevitable and 'natural' results of ignorance and superstition in those societies, were in reality forced onto the common people as part of a top-down campaign to destroy the backbone of the feudal communities.
What is an additional interesting contribution of this book is Federici's evidence that there was not only widespread peasant resistance against the process of enclosure, capitalization and expropriation, but more particularly that women often played a very major role in these resistance movements, especially after the German Peasant War ended in a massacre. Many of the women who would later be burned and persecuted as witches were likely survivors of these resistance movements and therefore both had strong connections with local farming communities and resentment against authority, a dangerous combination for the ruling classes. To me it was also remarkable new information to learn about how common female wage-labor in the cities was in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, as well as the degree of acceptance of sexuality and magic. Of course we should not in any way try to paint too rosy a picture of the late feudal era, which everyone knows had enough terror and tyranny of its own, but Federici shows that even then there was a strong current of people resisting both (proto-)capitalism and its predecessor.
In her historical panorama, Federici adresses many other writers on women and the body and their subjugation, in particular the feminists, Marx, Foucault and such people as Le Roy Ladurie and Carlo Ginzburg. In my view Federici overstates her case against Marx a bit; she is correct that the role of the subjugation of women in particular was not much addressed by him, but it certainly was by Engels, and I also think that the insights she shows in this work would have been able to count on Marx' full assent. She also seems to miss the fact that "primitive accumulation" is a mistranslation of Marx' term, so that accusations of Marx missing the fact that such expropriatory violence takes place as part of capitalism even today miss the mark.
Stronger is her case against Foucault, where she can show that Foucault not only completely ignores the importance of the witch-hunts and the Plague as turning points for feudal and post-feudal society, but that he also locates his famous instrumentalist subjugation of the body far too late in history (Foucault places it at the late 18th century, Federici rather in the 16th). In any case the scope of her knowledge of writers on these subjects is great, and the way in which she gives a context to the ideas of Descartes and other mechanists on "L'Homme Machine" (the term is 18th C.) is striking.
Overall, this is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in history, original accumulation and women's studies. - M. A. Krul
Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, PM Press, 2012.
read it at Google Books
Written between 1975 and the present, the essays collected in this volume represent years of research and theorizing on questions of social reproduction and the consequences of globalization. Originally inspired by Federici's organizational work in the Wages for Housework movement, the topics discussed include the international restructuring of reproductive work and its effects on the sexual division of labor, the globalization of care work and sex work, the crisis of elder care, and the development of affective labor. Both a brief history of the international feminist movement and a contemporary critique of capitalism, these writings continue the investigation of the economic roots of violence against women.
Silvia Federici, Past and Present, and the Fear of the Power of Women: 100 Notes, Hatje Cantz; Bilingual ed,, 2012.
Published in conjunction with the Documenta 13 exhibition in Kassel, Germany, the Documenta notebook series 100 Notes,100 Thoughts ranges from archival ephemera to conversations and commissioned essays. These notebooks express director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev's curatorial vision for Documenta 13
Silvia Federici, Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and Its Others, Praeger, 1995.
What do we mean by Western Civilization? When did the expression originate and why? At a time when there is a widespread perception that Western Civilization is undergoing a historic crisis, and when postmodernism, feminist theory, afrocentrism, deconstruction, and other current philosophical schools define themselves as alternatives to, or critiques of, Western Civilization, this book seeks to trace the development of the concept of Western Civilization and to examine the reasons for its endurance. It also suggests ways in which proponents of Western Civilization can co-opt ideas from opponents.
Written from a multidisciplinary viewpoint, the essays in this volume trace the development of the concept of Western Civilization and seek to explode many standing beliefs—primarily those which concern the very existence of a Western tradition. Bound to be controversial, the book will be of interest to scholars and activists in the fields of cultural history, anthropology, and the history of ideas, as well as general readers interested in the enduring discussion of the notion of Western Civilization.