Federici Discusses the Commons – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Federici Discusses the Commons

As the first Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men lecture of the academic year, scholar and feminist activist Silvia Federici reflected upon the theme of gender, collectivity, and the common. During her talk in the Sanford Room, Federici spoke to the common, reproduction’s role in “the commoning” and the social formation that capitalism has produced.

The talk meditated on the status of negative common that reproductive work has taken on in a capitalist society. Capitalism has transformed women’s labor into something neutral, something everyone can partake in, she said. “The most extensive form of labor has become the most invisible form; it has been taken for granted and has been reduced to the level of natural resource.”

Federici discussed her experiences in the women’s liberation movement, and how it led to her first encounter with the commons. For Federici, the movement was a process of deprivitization, it was a process of transforming pain, suffering and fear into tools that could be used for the common good. From this experience, she learned that an integral part of autonomy is community; without the intense collective experience, there is not a sense of self-validation.

After spending three years in Africa, Federici’s view on the common was also heavily influenced, and provided her with her first meaningful connection to the commons. “The commons I encountered were already a battleground because this was the beginning of globalization. This was a new process of primitive accumulation – similar to what happened at the beginning of capitalism,” said Federici. “In the process expanding the global labor market, and making available an immense amount of labor, these are commons that have been destroyed.”

Although for many years, the concept of the commons seemed to disappear from scholarship, it has begun to reemerge in our political discussion.”Now you have groups again, a whole part of the establishment, who are concerned that the kind of drive to marketize everything has reached a point that it has jeopardized the social fabric,” she said.

Federici also expressed a concern that the strong capitalist philosophies of today are not sustainable. If the trends against the common continue, she believes that even the most basic, fundamental natural wealth and resources will be incredibly difficult to access.

“The question of the commons today is one that very much requires that we approach it in a way that takes into account the differences of our relations that still exist, and should not be approached in a way that presumes a uniformity of social power,” explained Federici.

Federici is a Professor Emerita at Hofstra University; she also taught at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria.


The Fisher Center will continue its discussion on gender, collectivity and the commons on Wednesday, Nov. 14 with anthropologist Kaushik Sunder Rajan, who will give a talk on “The Scandal of the Trial: HPV Vaccines, Knowledge/Value, and Experimental Subjectivity” at 7 p.m. in the Geneva Room, Warren Hunting Smith Library.