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Vagabond Capitalism and the Necessity of Social Reproduction

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A vagabond, as is well known, moves from place to place without a fixed home. However, vagabondage insinuates a little dissolution—an unsettled, irresponsible, and disreputable life, which indeed can be said of the globalization of capitalist production. This paper reframes the discussion on globalization through a materialist focus on social reproduction. By looking at the material social practices through which people reproduce themselves on a daily and generational basis and through which the social relations and material bases of capitalism are renewed—and the havoc wreaked on them by a putatively placeless capitalism—we can better expose both the costs of globalization and the connections between vastly different sites of production. Focusing on social reproduction allows us to address questions of the making, maintenance, and exploitation of a fluidly differentiated labor force, the productions (and destructions) of nature, and the means to create alternative geographies of opposition to globalized capitalism. I will draw on examples from the “First” and “Third Worlds” to argue that any politics that effectively counters capitalism's global imperative must confront the shifts in social reproduction that have accompanied and enabled it. Looking at the political-economic, political-ecological, and cultural aspects of social reproduction, I argue that there has been a rescaling of childhood and suggest a practical response that focuses on specific geographies of social reproduction. Reconnecting these geographies with those of production, both translocally and across geographic scale, begins to redress the losses suffered in the realm of social reproduction as a result of globalized capitalist production.

The paper develops the notion of “topography” as a means of examining the intersecting effects and material consequences of globalized capitalist production. “Topography” offers a political logic that both recognizes the materiality of cultural and social difference and can help mobilize transnational and internationalist solidarities to counter the imperatives of globalization.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Environmental Psychology Program, Graduate Center, City University of New York, New York, NY, US; [email protected]

Publication date: 2001-09-01

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