The Politics of Reproduction: Socialist-Feminism, Social Reproduction and Psychoanalytic Theory

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In The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Friedrich Engels highlighted an important fact: any human group seeking to maintain itself must do more than what is necessary in order to keep its members warm and nourished. It must also produce “human beings themselves.” With this assertion, Engels recognised the social significance of reproduction, putting it on a par with that central preoccupation of historical materialism: the “production of the means of existence,” otherwise known as the economy. Over the last fifty years, understanding the relationship between production and reproduction has precipitated an encounter between Marxism, feminism and psychoanalysis. This chapter charts that encounter, assessing the significance of psychoanalytic thinking for understanding “social reproduction”: the reproduction of human beings, the reproduction of workers and the reproduction of society itself. Beginning with debates around patriarchy and capitalism of the second wave, and engaging with queer and black critical interventions, the chapter moves towards contemporary accounts of post-Oedipal, maternal and postmaternal subjectivities and politics. Psychoanalytic thinking has been central to understanding the production and reproduction of human beings, in particular the forms of subjectivity, gender and sexuality that they acquire, as they intersect and interact with structures of male dominance and capitalism. Analysing reproduction also raises the question of how to reproduce differently. With this in mind, the chapter positions social and symbolic change as dialectically related and interdependent processes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Psychosocial Studies
EditorsStephen Frosh, Julie Walsh, Marita Vyrgioti
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note



  • Reproduction
  • socialist-feminism
  • social reproduction
  • psychoanalytic theory
  • gender and sexuality
  • social and symbolic change


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