Gendered states of punishment and welfare: looking back, looking sideways, looking forward.

Author:Roberts, Adrienne
Position::Essay
 
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I want to begin by thanking Paul Cammack, Todd Gordon and Jacqui True for their thoughtful engagement with my book. Coming from different vantage points, each of the contributors to this symposium uses their own unique lens to read and interpret the contents of Gendered States of Punishment and Welfare. Reading each of the contributions and reflecting on the background of each of the commentators, it seems clear to me that Cammack has approached the themes of the book from the perspective of the completion of the world market, Gordon with an interest in emphasizing the ongoing nature of colonialism in and by the Canadian state and True via her framework of the political economy of violence against women. These different lenses lead them to identify various shortcomings, to take issue with certain framing concepts and to point to how others might take the research agenda forward, if in a slightly different direction. In what follows, I will look back at what I tried to do in the book, look sideways at some of the roads not taken and look forward at some of the work I have done since publishing this book to develop these themes as well as what remains to be done.

I begin the book by drawing attention to the fact that the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom--countries that are among those most commonly associated with liberalized capitalism, from which 'freedom' from government intervention is supposedly paramount--are also characterized by high levels of incarceration, increasingly harsh law and order agendas and a widening of the criminalization of minor forms of deviance. Beginning with questions about the growing punitiveness of neoliberal societies, I then outline a feminist historical materialist analytical framework that takes me back five centuries to show how, in capitalist societies, the law (and its enforcement) works in conjunction with welfare regimes to discipline the poor and marginalized sectors of the population in ways that are often coercive and always highly gendered.

Whereas influential commentators like Loi'c Wacquant (2001, 2009) have argued that the rise of punitive state strategies such as 'workfare' and 'prisonfare' are part of a ruling-class response to the social insecurities brought about by neoliberalism, from a feminist historical materialist perspective, I argue that these trends are constitutive of this particular configuration of capitalist social relations. It is deeply problematic, I maintain, that much academic work within (international) political economy--not to mention economics and criminology--views capitalism primarily as an economic relation, devoid of so-called 'extra-economic' forms of coercion. Instead, I argue that the law and the forms of policing, surveillance and punishment that are used to enforce it are part of the very ontology of capitalism. They are also used to create and reproduce social relations of gender and the feminized relations of social reproduction that are integral to capitalist reproduction yet rendered invisible in most literature in the social sciences.

This is not to suggest that the law is only used to regulate gender outside of waged labour, though Cammack is right to suggest that I spend more time discussing this than discussing the disciplining of gendered waged workers. As I point out in several places, given the tendency for most critical literature in this area to assume that the law and forms of punishment have historically worked to produce proletarian subjects, my focus was on highlighting all of the ways in which it is 'not abstract labourers being disciplined but rather gendered labourers who [are] disciplined in different ways to take up quite distinct positions in productive and reproductive labour' (p. 93). While the legal regulation of female waged workers certainly does involve laws like the Factory Acts, the feminist historical materialist perspective that I develop in the book suggests that there is a need to have a much wider conceptualization of women's labour historically and up to the present--a perspective that includes multiple forms of paid and unpaid labour. Thus, the examples that I mobilize in the book include moves by organized labour to marginalize women from industry (p. 80), laws designed to preserve labour market segregation (p. 81), laws regulating prostitution (pp. 81, 89-93, 117-118) and the regulation of women as domestic workers, both paid and unpaid (pp. 30-31, 80, 92, 114-115, 120).

Specifically, the book develops three interrelated theoretical arguments. The first argument is that the law...

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