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Not Your Father's Capitalism.

"To bustle about in search of livelihood is merely another form of bustling about managing a home," noted anthropologists Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog in their classic 1952 study of the shtetl. (1) This observation captures the interconnection between generating income and maintaining a household that is central to political economies, capitalist no less than subsistence. But the new history of capitalism neglects such bustling. Looking at the economic role, unpaid as well as paid, of Jewish women is good to think about for the project of engendering the workings of capitalism as both an economic system and a set of social relations. For Jewish women in various times and places have always worked, though not necessarily for a wage and not always doing what we conventionally label as work.

Riv-Ellen Prell does much to unlock these relationships in her sweeping "The Economic Turn in American Jewish History: When Women (Mostly) Disappeared." She illuminates the limits of financialization and markets for seeing the agency of women, though regarded from a gendered angle we can deconstruct the ways that normative understandings of manhood and womanhood pervade discussions and practices of credit and trading as much as valuation of skill and the definition of work itself. (2) She illuminates the significance of kinship or the family as a network for economic transactions and capital formation, power within households and between households (based on gender, class, citizenship, and even congregation/religion), and global movements of capital, labor, and goods. She underscores the necessity to study masculinity. Most significantly, she reclassifies the historiography into two sets of binaries that prove actually to be interactive: production and consumption, structure and culture. A third component to these sets, however, is essential to fully capture the gender of capitalism and the necessary work of women: reproduction.

In the 1970s, with the spread of women's liberation, the shift to a service economy, and the rise of neoliberalism, feminist theorists in the US and Western Europe began a fresh discussion on the relation of reproduction to production and the place of family and domestic labor in economic life. The Marxist-derived domestic labor debates highlighted how reproductive labor consists of activities that produce labor power--activities that transform raw materials and commodities bought with a wage to maintain the worker daily and generate future workforces. Women have undertaken these tasks, often along with wage work. (3) Some would claim that such labor generates use value, but not exchange value, and thus is valueless in the Marxist meaning of value associated with exploiting labor power. Others, notably Leopoldina Fortunati, would argue that reproductive work already is part of exchange, that the housewife (and the prostitute) both work for capital in reproducing the labor power of the male worker. (4) Also referred to as social reproduction, such work is about the making of people through the tasks of daily life. These activities are both material (like feeding), emotional (like love), and assimilative (like transference of norms and values), whether occurring in the family, school, shul/temple/church/ mosque, or community. (5) In its commodified form, reproduction moves out of the home to institutional settings and returns to the home when workers, like domestic servants, perform such labor for a wage.

Reproduction, we might add, is essential for consumption as well as production, as usually understood. Not all forms of consumption function the same. Some purchasing of goods and services keep afloat the co-ethnic shopkeeper as well as the multinational corporation and all the links along the supply chain. Sartorial choices matter. Other consumption is for the making of people in two ways. It was, after all, the bread giver who transformed the wage into meals, as narratives whether imaginative or ethnographical, of the Jewish mother testify. (6) Additionally, consuming the right clothing and other products signaled arrival: the assimilation that Prell so well flags as important work that Jewish women as modernizers in Europe and beyond performed by decorating bodies and homes and establishing acceptable community practices. Putting together objects for display as well as use is a form of reproductive labor that produces identity. In centers of the garment trade during the early twentieth century, Jewish daughters were among the factory girls who adorned themselves to create their own culture, which was both distinct but also assimilative to emerging norms. (7) Prell's insight on philanthropic work further can be restated as reproducing "the larger society's social norms," as she puts it, a form of social reproduction.

We can consider Jewish women as workers in terms of the reproductive labor without which capitalism could not function. The mother work of caring for both dependent family and the community sustained people and fit them into the society. But it first sought to ensure their very existence. The low mortality rates of the Lower East Side supposedly came from the scrubbing and washing of Jewish mothers who labored inside their tenement flats, hauling water up flights of stairs to attempt cleanliness despite overcrowded and decrepit surroundings. (8) The shop keeping, petty trading, home-based outwork, and other forms of earning provided cash necessary for bustling, home management and family survival. (9)

Commodified forms of reproductive labor took generative forms. The sex work of some immigrant Jewish women, as in Buenos Aires, sustained families through remittances (monies sent home) and allowed men who organized trafficking and prostitution to amass capital. (10) Jewish women have been more likely to hire household workers than enter domestic service (especially in comparison to other immigrant groups). But refugees gained entrance into Great Britain from the 1930s into the late 1940s by coming as domestic servants. These women did heavy cleaning and intricate sewing for relatives as well as co-religionists. Some of them had certificates and skills, as teachers or health professionals, that were not recognized in receiving countries. (11) Other Jewish women became teachers and social workers, two women-dominated professions that have disciplined the bodies of children as well as immigrants and others who transgressed hegemonic norms. Teachers inculcated the work ethic in the process of conveying knowledge; social workers offered relief and services, separating the needy into the deserving and undeserving." Paid care workers like these engage in the work of reproduction, producing workers and citizens, on the one hand, and mitigating the harms of inequality, on the other.

In adding reproduction as a form of production (making people) and as a goal of consumption (remaking people), the structures and cultures of capitalism become gendered. What was invisible becomes visible, the naturalized unmasked, scaffolding built through the sexual division of labor exposed. Structure and culture come together in the process. It is time to retrofit the history of capitalism as if gender mattered and studies of the Jewish diaspora provide one entry into that project, as Rev-Ellen Prell so ably demonstrates.

(1.) Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog, Life Is with People: The Culture of the Shtetl (New York: Schocken, 1969), 131.

(2.) For example, see Eileen Hartigan-O'Connor, "The Personal Is Political Economy," Journal of the Early Republic 36, no. 2 (2016): 335-341 and Hartigan-O'Connor, "Gender's Value in the History of Capitalism," Journal of the Early Republic 36, no. 4 (2016): 613-635. On these other dimensions, we can do no better than start with Alice Kessler-Harris, A Woman's Wage: Historical Meanings and Social Consequences (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990).

(3.) Ellen Malos, ed., The Politics of Housework (London: New Clarion Press, 1995); Jocelyn Olcott, "Introduction: Researching and Rethinking the Labors of Love," Hispanic American Historical Review 91, no. 1 (2011): 1-27; Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2012).

(4.) Leopoldina Fortunati, Arcane of Reproduction (New York: Autonomedia, 1989).

(5.) Heidi Hartmann, "The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism," Capital & Class 3, no. 2 (1979): 1-33; Evelyn Nakano Glenn, "From Servitude to Service Work: Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of Paid Reproductive Labor," Signs 18, no.1 (1992): 1-43; V. Spike Peterson, "Rewriting (Global) Political Economy as Reproductive, Productive, and Virtual (Foucauldian) Economies," International Feminist Journal of Politics 4, no.i (2002): 1-30. See also, Premilla Nadasen, "Introduction-Part IV, International Feminism and Reproductive Labor," in Workers Across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History, ed. Leon Fink et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 163-170.

(6.) Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers: A Novel (New York: Persea, 2.003 [orig. 1925]).

(7.) Nan Enstad, Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure: Working Women, Popular Culture, and Labor Politics at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).

(8.) As recounted in Mary Ryan, Womanhood In America: From Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Franklin Watts, 1983), 181.

(9.) For example, Judith E. Smith, Family Connections: A History of Italian and Jewish Immigrant Lives in Providence Rhode Island, 1900-1940 (Albany: State University of New York, 1985) situates varieties of income generation in a manufacturing economy of textile mills and small jewelry shops.

(10.) Mir Yarfitz, Impure Migration: Jews and Sex Work in Golden Age Argentina (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2019).

(11.) Angela Davis, '"Belonging and 'Unbelonging': Jewish Refugee and Survivor Women in 1950s Britain," Women's History Review 17, no.1 (2017): 130-146.

(12.) Ruth Markowitz, My Daughter, the Teacher: Jewish Teachers in the New York City Schools (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1993); Daniel Walkowitz, Working with Class: Social Workers and the Politics of Middle-Class Identity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).
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Author:Boris, Eileen
Publication:American Jewish History
Date:Oct 1, 2019
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