rd fabric


THE FABRIC is an online platform set up to facilitate the sharing of thinking and research on social reproduction and art. Launched in 2017, THE FABRIC acknowledges social reproduction as a critical concept in reviewing the foci of socially committed art history and theory. It aims to bring together a range of initiatives that identify a growing community – of theorists, historians, artists, activists, curators and more – exploring how the ‘fabric of society’ reproduces itself and how the broader art field negotiates the high stakes of this daily re-making. The experimental approaches shaping social reproduction debates at present are symptomatic of the pressing socio-economic issues – including the gender division of labour and the material conditions that underpin it- giving rise to these debates.  Beginning from the groundbreaking insights of feminist critique, THE FABRIC seeks answers to these questions: how do cultural practices confront, articulate, analyse, complicate, and especially sustain or subvert the reproduction of society as we know it? What histories are implicated in such reproduction? What is its future, as planned from above and as radically imagined from below?

We are interested in understanding how our own milieu, modernity itself, all the way to the 21st century, became a vast apparatus for securing the reproduction of capitalist patriarchies, often strongly racialised, that re-invent and re-locate the multiple fabricas of our lives. The role of art in affirming or disaffirming this reproduction is not to be questioned but rather to be elucidated. But as the reference to the complex apparatus of modernity makes clear, such an elucidation requires a cross-disciplinary effort. THE FABRIC is not therefore a platform for research exclusively on art but engages thinking in philosophy, sociology, political theory, geography, history, economics and beyond. It straddles research on gender, labour, subjectivity, geopolitics, economic relations, aesthetics, institutions, emancipation struggles.

As is perhaps obvious, THE FABRIC does not approach its research agenda from an imaginary neutral ground zero. In the second half of the 20th century, the term ‘social reproduction’ was already used by feminism on the left to refer to the private domestic sphere where normally female labour sustains and then replenishes the working population across generations. THE FABRIC is therefore rooted in transformative feminist thinking. Developed by theorists such as Silvia Federici (associated with the autonomist Marxist tradition) among others, ‘social reproduction’ referred to work that was seen to fall out from what counted as ‘production’ in orthodox economic terms – it is still discounted, though the growing armies of paid nannies and carers used to free some women from unpaid work at home in order to usher them into waged labour tell another story. What is salient here is nonetheless that social reproduction has been associated with a form of labour that capitalism and patriarchy present to us as ‘life’.

These blurred boundaries between work and life encountered in social reproduction, as defined in 20th-century feminist discourse, have become ubiquitous in the early 21st century in the ever-expanding terrain of production. Despite differentiations in specific sectors of the economy, the big picture is an outcome of this imperative: ‘produce more, everywhere, and preferably all the time’. This seems to be a requirement/need for, rather than a mere desire of, a globally asserted and biopolitically executed economy of oppression and exploitation. The art field (a term we borrow from Pierre Bourdieu), including intellectual labour, is indicative of such developments, even as specific projects – curatorial, artistic, theoretical- oppose them. In general, the predicament of the ‘feminisation of labour’, observed within and beyond the art field, means that more and more work resembles that which was originally seen as ‘social reproduction’. The ‘feminisation of labour’ entails a strong qualitative component: labour is being feminised as it is being devalued, paid for less or not at all, losing security, definition, etc. But the resemblance does not end there: much as the unpaid-for home-based work (especially the rearing of children) is essential for the reproduction of human beings as social beings, the system of production overall and the ideological consensus that underwrites it, the expanded terrain of feminised labour today is essential for keeping the socio-economic nexus afloat day after day. A vast apparatus combining consent and coercion – or else, ideology and violence – contributes to the perpetuation of this status quo, despite instances of disaffirmation, refusal, and resistance. Yet the exacerbated challenges of the early 21st century dictate the need for a broadened, updated, and collective enquiry into the vectors of our participation and the possibilities of rupture.

Attending to complexity of the above issues, THE FABRIC encourages a multi-sited research agenda: a) in feminist critique that expands understanding of the history, current and evolving state of social reproduction and the struggles that are associated with it, b) in analysis that expands understanding of the art field’s discrete elements as supportive or disruptive of the propagation of relations that define the social and the economic, c) in the politically meaningful articulation of (a) and (b). THE FABRIC therefore aims to encourage, facilitate and disseminate critical thinking on art as a complex history and reality of labour that cannot ultimately be separated from the divides and collusions shaping our present.

Angela Dimitrakaki and Kirsten Lloyd

August 2017