Historicizing China’s 1980s Reforms and the Neoliberal Moment
2: The Social Reproduction Question: A Reinterpretation of China's Early Reform
Friday, March 25, 2022
11:30am – 1:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
State University of New York, Buffalo, United States
This paper attempts to offer a reinterpretation of China’s early Reform era (1977-1992) through the lens of social reproduction. Recently revived by feminist political economy, social reproduction refers to processes and institutions through which the maintenance and renewal of the labor power and social bonds take place, such as cooking, cleaning, caring for the needy, as well as healthcare and education—all indispensable preconditions for capital accumulation. In capitalist societies historically, most social reproductive tasks were performed by women in the household for free, later provisioned by the welfare states. With the neoliberal turn in the past four decades, the Global North has seen a massive erosion of the welfare state and increasing commodification of social reproductive services, depending heavily upon racialized and feminized migration from the South. Yet, social reproduction outside the core regions of the global capitalist system remains undertheorized. This paper draws upon newly available materials on China’s early Reform, a period in which different possible paths were being articulated and contested by different stakeholders in and outside the party-state at the time. In particular, I draw on empirical data from my book-in-progress, a case study of the politics of social reproduction in the textile industry, and I ask what new insights can we gain about the Reform period when we theorize social reproduction as a constitutive part of political economy? In turn, what conceptual challenges can we pose to the categories of socialism and neoliberalism?