The Feminist Subversion of the Economy shows the urgent need to radically and democratically discuss what we mean by a dignified life and how we can organize to sustain life collectively.
In the face of unending economic crises and climate catastrophe, we must consider, what does a dignified life look like? Feminist intellectual and activist Amaia Pérez Orozco powerfully and provocatively outlines a vision for a web of life sustained collectively with care, mutualism, and in balance with our ecological world. That vision is a call to action to subvert the foundational order of racial capitalism, colonial violence, and a heteropatriarchal economy that threatens every form of life.
The Feminist Subversion of the Economy makes the connection between the systems that promise more devastation and destruction of life in the name of profit—and rallies women, LGBTQ+ communities, and movements worldwide to center gender and social reproduction in a vision for a balanced ecology, a just economy, and a free society.
Newly translated and updated in collaboration with Liz Mason-Deese, who has won a PEN translation award for her work on feminist economics, The Feminist Subversion of the Economy shows the urgent need to radically and democratically discuss what we mean by a dignified life and how we can organize to sustain life collectively.
About the Authors
Amaia Pérez Orozco has a PhD in Economics and is activist in social and feminist movements. She is a long time educator and advocate of feminist economic concepts, theory, and practice all around Spain and Latin America
Liz Mason-Deese is an editor at Viewpoint Magazine, a member of the Counter-Cartographies Collective, and a member of the translation collective Territorio de Ideas. She is a long-time translator of and participant in feminist movements in Latin America.
What People Are Saying
“The Feminist Subversion of the Economy fires a thousand shots at the deadly, destructive, and exploitative economy at the heart of capitalist growth. These shots come from many perspectives interwoven in this carefully researched and passionately argued feminist text—that is, the many perspectives of ordinary people who constitute the labor necessary to reproduce this world and better worlds still; those silenced, exploited, discarded by a global capitalist system that equally disavows and destroys our rich but imperiled ecological world; and those whose organized power everywhere constitutes the forces that can overthrow the conditions of its imprisonment, and that of our planet. Amaia Pérez Orozco reminds us that we all have contributions to make for a shared life of dignity and autonomy in balance with our other-than-human world; contributions that demand we organize against capital, colonial violence, climate catastrophe, racism, and sexism. The feminist and ecological analysis, the militant tools and methods, the refusal of the lies and myths that prop up a crisis-making world order, and the pluralist vision of a life worth living found in this book warrant collective study and coordinated action.” —Saru Jayaraman, lawyer, activist, and author of One Fair Wage: Ending Subminimum Pay in America
“Any glimpse into the future forecasts care work as an ever-growing portion of our economy. The Feminist Subversion of the Economy is a lush provocation that reexamines the fundamental work that nurtures and sustains communities around the globe, shedding new light on the internationalization of precarious and feminized labor. Amaia Pérez Orozco lifts up the 'chosen family' as a queer, anticapitalist network, one of many ways to pivot away from the defanged 'third sector' as delineated in the Global North, and toward a transformative social solidarity economy. Such cooperative economics are essential for our own thriving. The book serves as a timely reminder of the centrality of reproductive labor in making, and therefore re-making global systems through this type of queer, feminist, antiracist praxis. In doing so, it recasts feminized labor as the nexus of so many seemingly disparate crises—from ecology to gender exploitation to capitalism itself—and therefore the crux of solidarity through building power and new modalities of living together.” —Esteban Kelly, Executive Director of the US Federation of Worker Co-ops, cofounder of AORTA
“Through a rigorous, relentless exposure of the destructive logic governing capitalist development, Orozco sets the foundations for a feminist politics capable of subverting the myths propagated by capitalist economy and radically transforming the conditions and ends of our social reproduction. A must not only for feminists movements but for all engaged in the struggle to create a more just society.”—Silvia Federici, author of Revolution at Point Zero and Caliban and the Witch
“Amaia Pérez Orozco skillfully recenters the feminist critique of contemporary capitalist economics on the practices of sustaining life. The result is analytically rich and politically provocative.”—Kathi Weeks, author of The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries
"Amaia Perez Orozco’s contributions for life against capital remind us of our humanness—and the contributions of ecofeminism to dismantling hierarchies, exploitation, and invisibleness—in order to fulfill our collective responsibilities to establish a good life for all. The Feminist Subversion of the Economy well articulates the road to creating a clear commitment to achieve the interconnections and solidarity that will create and sustain a better world.” —Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, author of Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice.
“In the last decade, feminist political economy has experienced an efflorescence, as a generation of new thinkers has critically revised the practice of reading the interconnected spheres of misery produced by capitalism, in all its debilitating forms. Why? Because such heterodox, ruptural feminisms offer the most robust theorization of the multidimensional confluence of ecological devastation, state-sanctioned racism, deteriorating mental and physical wellbeing, colonial exploitation, reliance on unpaid work (including care), heteropatriarchal division and social murder. These crises are synthetically and historically produced in and through capitalism, a global totality and the epicenter of these problems. Amaia Pérez Orozco’s The Feminist Subversion of the Economy is not just the exemplar of this critical-analytic tradition; this book is a further contribution towards the construction of “a solid base from which to fight”; a “utopian horizon”; a life-sustaining collectively-pedagogical project of “buen convivir”; and a feminist degrowth transition. This book will compel you think differently--and even better, with others!--as to how we can create a life-sustaining economy.”—Kai Bosworth, author of Pipeline Populism: Grassroots Environmentalism in the 21st Century
From the Book
From the perspective of feminism, we are aware that the socioeconomic system where we live is defined not only for being capitalist but also for being heteropatriarchal, for being structured in a racial way, for being (neo)colonialist, for being anthropocentric and so on... Given the abundance of the epithets which we can allude to, in these pages we opt for following Donna Haraway when she asks herself “how may we name that scandalous Thing?” (1991: 340). Well then, one of the defining elements of this scandalous Thing is that capitalist markets are at their epicenter. The starting point of the proposal that takes as analytic and politic axis the sustainability of life, when thinking about the economy and dealing with crisis, can be understood as a rebellion against the status quo.
What do we mean by capitalist markets being at the epicenter? In a material sense, we say that they are in the epicenter because their mechanisms define how the socioeconomic structure works; and because the socially guaranteed process is the accumulation of the capital. This inhibits a collective responsibility in the sustaining life and, moreover, establishes a constant threat within it, which ends up resolving (badly) in feminized and invisible areas. That is why we use the metaphor of an iceberg to illustrate the socioeconomic system. On a symbolic level, they are in the epicenter because their anthropocentric, ethnocentric and androcentric logic defines the very notion of life that is worth living. They impose a self-sufficiency ideal through the insertion in the market that can only be reached by a privileged subject, although this scope is fictitious and is based on the exploitation of the rest. But, even more, they are at the epicenter in political terms because from them we define the confrontation, which often is not only reduced to asking for improvements in their playing field (employment, salary, consumption), but it also establishes the hegemonic identity of the struggle to the worker subject, constituted, precisely, by its position in the wage relation, a relation defined in the framework of the capitalist markets.
But, what or who are those markets? Capitalist markets are not deities; they are socioeconomic institutions in which power relations that privilege specific individuals are assembled, but whose functioning is not reducible to a confrontation between capitalists and workers, the ones on the top against the ones on the bottom, men facing up to women, the 1 % and the 99 %. They are a combination of structures that allow a few lives to be imposed as those worthy to be sustained by everyone, as the only ones worthy to be rescued in times of crisis. They are a series of mechanisms that organize specific lives in a hierarchy and establish as a referent and a top priority the life of a privileged individual who, following María José Capellín, we will call BBVAh as WWMAh: white, wealthy, male, adult, with a normative functionality, heterosexual. This is the face of the ones that rule the accumulation process. It is the individual that embodies the corporate power. Power and resources concentrate around it and define life itself.
Through this starting point, the feminist demand to put the sustainability of life at the center arises. Maybe at first, this proposal was a reaction in contrast to what-is-not, rather than a clear commitment to what-it-is. It was a promising alternative but it was still relatively incomplete; that is why it was easy to fill with idealizations and/or be ignored. It was easy to play dumb for many people and leave the work to co-workers, for sure, praising the importance of the care and their spreading of love. Little by little, we are splitting hairs. For example, we can see that, while talking about the life-capital conflict, we cannot refer to an immaculate life tainted by capital, but we must open the debate on how to re-create accomplice (sexed) subjectivities. We can see that talking about heteropatriarchy is to talk about unpaid work, but also about much more, like mechanisms of regulation of the invisible spheres of the economy and of the constitution of subjects willing to inhabit them. From the reaction, we move on to the construction of another solid base from which to fight, and this is no longer so easy to avoid. This book is on that path between reacting to the perversity of the existing economy and proposing different ways of thinking and making lives (more) livable.
Looking from the sustainability of life is not simple, among other reasons, because it places us in a basic pressure: observe form outside of the capitalist markets a society in which these markets are the center. Understanding the process, but without being drawn by it. As a result of this same tension, declarations of intent are not enough in this proposal, because none of us has irrefutable truths; we need an arduous common process in which we rediscover the world, pulling together the threads of lucidity that are scattered.
Is talking about life sustainability to focus on who does the cooking? Yes and no. Of course, it means talking about that, but also wondering about megaprojects, the free trade agreements or the balance of payments. What is unique is that we landed all of this in certain individuals with peculiar decessities, with social relationships and with a specific positioning in that scandalous Thing. We talk about who cooks and how time is divided. And we also talk about how the steel of the cutlery has been extracted, transformed and exported; how the food chain, from which we eat, operates; the source where the energy with which we cook comes from. We want to understand if rice is more expensive because the capitals take refuge in safe values now that speculating with subprime mortgages is too risky; and if the coffee that we drink comes from large plantations that have stolen the land to the peasant economy. Looking from life sustainability involves wondering if, in the end, all that complex gear allows the people that make it up to eat or not, good or bad, with food sovereignty or without it, with quality time to sit at a table, with imposed or chosen companies. And if people are malnourished, it is not very worthy that the result of the balance of payments is positive.
This proposal has pros and cons which are related to that popularity on the ordinary life. If we long for a common and democratically argued notion of good living together, it is necessary to politicize what we often live as problems (or successes) not only the personal ones, but the minuscule ones, from our day to day. It is about starting from oneself in order not to remain in oneself “politicize the existence [and] leave from oneself” (Precarias a la deriva, 2004a: 83). In that sense, it can be an appropriate proposal for a variety of people. Although talking about the evolution of the earning rates or the marginal productivity rates sounds foreign to most people, discussing if we live well, badly or regular in our ordinary lives is something that everybody can use as a starting point. However, this is also its most dangerous risk. It is very easy to start from what is ordinary and stay in what is ordinary without daring to question the whole matter. A frequently idealized day-to-day: a working-class home where family protects itself from the capitals on sleights.