Feminist economics, vox pop and a note on the riots

September 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the aftermath of what have become known as the 2011 riots I have spent some time volunteering with local groups seeking to find a community-led way of responding. This has involved time spent going door-to-door on many of the estates in Tottenham. Among the conversations with residents that took place along the way, one analysis that kept on coming back was the connection of overworked parents with troubled children. One 60-year old white man of Irish origin put it succinctly:

The kids want TVs and computers and Blackberries, and so the parents work all hours to get the money to buy the gadgets, and never see their kids until they’re in court.

Now I am preparing a lecture course on international development, and it has suddenly hit me how closely this analysis fits with what scholars like Diane Elson were saying in the early 1990s (see Elson 1991, Moser 1992). Elson argued that mainstream economics focuses on the so-called productive economy in which labour is exchanged for wages, and ignores the reproductive or care economy within the home, in which family members – more often than not, women – provide everything that is necessary for the reproduction of the workforce (e.g. dinner and breakfast for the men who will go out to work and the children who must go to school to learn, to become the workers of tomorrow).

Ignoring this side of the economy means that the full consequences of policies are not taken into account – in particular, when the State withdraws from particular areas of service provision, it is often women who have to step in, and often end up being responsible for both the productive and the care economy, decreasing their leisure time and/or decreasing the quality of their reproductive work. This is likely to have negative consequences both for women’s health and the care of children, potentially affecting social reproduction and human development (here I am paraphrasing from a working paper by Myriam Blin because I don’t have any more time to write right now).

Frank Turner’s great campfire punk song put it somewhat more provocatively than this, of course.


Blin, Myriam (2006) “Export-oriented policies, women’s work burden and human development in Mauritius” SOAS Department of Economics Working Paper No. 147, available online at www.soas.ac.uk/economics/research/workingpapers/file28832.pdf

Elson, Diane (1991) “Unpaid Labour, Macroeconomic Adjustment and Macroeconomic Strategies” Working Paper number 3, Manchester: University of Manchester

Moser, Caroline O.N. (1992) “Adjustment from Below: Low-income women, time and the triple role in Guayaquil, Equador” in Haleh Afshar and C. Dennis Women and Adjustment Policies in the Third World York: Macmillan Press


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