The laws of social reproduction: a lesson in appropriation

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Prabha Kostiswaran



This article offers insights into the law’s appropriation of women’s reproductive labour, namely, the intimate labours that they typically carry out in the context of marriage to biologically, socially, emotionally and culturally reproduce members of the household by offering a range of goods and services. Feminist legal scholars have long demonstrated the law’s failure to recognise, much less value, such reproductive labour. Where the law does recognise such labour, feminists argue that it is largely within the parameters of the institution of heterosexual marriage to the exclusion of other organisational forms. The article extends this line of feminist legal critique to reveal feminists’ own reluctance within the debates on social reproduction to recognise the reproductive labour performed by women outside the family and explicitly for the market. Through a cross-sectoral comparison of the law’s regulation of three such sectors of women’s abject labour, namely, sex work, bar-dancing and commercial surrogacy, the article demonstrates how, despite their regulation through criminal law, licensing law and contract law, there are several structural similarities in the political economies of these sectors. Consequently, any change in the rule network pertaining to any one sector of women’s reproductive labour affects women in that sector but also in other sectors. The article argues that it is only through an examination of the deep interconnectedness between sectors of women’s reproductive labour that feminists can assess whether an alternative regulatory matrix would further women’s claims to economic justice.

Abstract 87 | NILQ 64.3.4 Kotiswaran Downloads 71