The 2020 Ben Beinart Memorial Lecture - generously supported by Webber Wentzel - was delivered by Professor Ambreena Manji, Professor of Land Law and Development at Cardiff University, on the topic How not to skip home. In this lecture, Prof Manji reflected on home, and the labour that sustains home, in this time of crisis. As highlighted by socio-legal scholars, home is underconceptualised in law. Prof Manji sought in this lecture to connect her work on land and the sphere of social reproduction, theorising these together.
In Tithi Bhattacharya’s essay ‘How not to skip class: Social Reproduction of Labour and the Global Working Class’, she explores the circuit of reproduction and argues that we need to be attentive to social reproduction as ‘a terrain of struggle’. In this lecture, I will explore what happens when what Bhattacharya labels ‘the twain of production and reproduction’ collapse into one another. These two spheres have – certainly in the global north - until now been largely spatially separate, though feminist theorists have shown how they are analytically connected, the unwaged necessary work of social reproduction subsidising capital. And in the global south, the separation has always been artificial.
Many women do productive and reproductive labour simultaneously. The crisis occasioned by COVID has highlighted the fragility of this spatial separation. It has forced many of us to work in and from our homes in both productive and social reproductive capacities. Faced with an unprecedented crisis, the state has relied on the home and the reproductive labour that takes place there to enable lockdowns, expecting children to be absorbed back into the home and women to bear the brunt of the ensuing care needed. Women’s participation in the workforce – for so long dependent on early years childcare and the school system to enable it – now takes place simultaneously with this private, invisible reproductive labour. If, as Leo Zeilig and Hannah Cross have argued, ‘the experience of life with the Covid-19 outbreak is the common experience of life and death in the South’, so this crisis has shown to women in the global north the realities of many women’s lives in the south. In so doing, it has glaringly revealed a hidden abode.
In this lecture, I reflect on home – and the labour that sustains home - in this time of crisis. Socio-legal scholars have drawn our attention to the under-conceptualisation of home in law. In recent months, African feminists have called for greater attention to unpaid and invisible reproductive labour and the subsidy it provides, demanding that social and economic policy recognises this work. In South Africa, the C9 Peoples’ Coalition has called for a Basic Income. Silvia Federici has described her intellectual journey from work on social reproduction to work on subsistence farming and access to land as one of opening the kitchen door and going outside. In this lecture, I am doing the reverse: having worked for the past two decades on land, I am opening the kitchen door and coming inside to the sphere of social reproduction, connecting them and theorising them together. Arundhati Roy has written that the pandemic is ‘a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.’ I want to suggest that the portal can be found in our own homes.