Friday, December 29, 2023

Eight books to help explain the way we live now

Benjamin Selwyn is Professor of International Relations and International Development at the University of Sussex. At the Guardian he tagged eight books to help explain economic development, including:
Sylvia Federici: Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (2004)

The World Bank estimates that closing the gender gap so women could start and expand new businesses at the same ratio as men, would generate global economic gains of about $5-6tn (£4-4.75tn).

But why are women so heavily excluded from business activity in richer and poorer countries alike? And what could a book about medieval witch-hunts in Europe explain?

Federici, an Italian-American academic, feminist and founder of the international Wages for Housework campaign in the 1970s, provides a radical answer.

First published in 2004, her book explains how European witch-hunts were a way of excluding women from public life, while contributing to the rise of the modern wage-based economy.

Federici shows how primitive accumulation had different impacts on men and women. Previously, peasants worked the land as family units, exploited by local lords – handing him some of their produce or sometimes working for nothing. But they could pass on land tenure through the generations. Medical care – including contraception and abortion – was provided within and between households, often by older women.

Federici shows how alongside peasant dispossession and the evolution of the labour market, the modern economic order was built on the destruction of solidarity among peasant households. Lords and early modern states started this process by unleashing a wave of misogyny against peasant women.

Women who administered medical care to others – especially of birth-control – were branded witches and tortured to death. Women were increasingly confined to domestic, unpaid duties, and their labour devalued.

Federici documents how European colonialists branded women cannibals and witches to justify land grabs, enslavement and extermination. They enforced notions of women’s work being in the home.

The gruesome pre-history of the modern economic system was, Federici shows, heavily gendered and is part of the reason why divisions of labour exist today and are so disadvantageous to women.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue