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Economic Marginalia: Postcolonial Readings of Unpaid Domestic Labor and Development

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Disciplines
  • Economics
  • Linguistics

Abstract

19 Economic marginalia Postcolonial readings of unpaid domestic labor and development Cynthia A. Wood In this essay, I explore the implications of postcolonial feminist thought for anal­ yses of mainstream economics' marginalization of unpaid domestic labor, or housework. Through close readings of theories of economic development, I consider the following questions: Do "third-world" contexts force development economists to recognize the existence of women's work which is ignored in economic analyses of the North?l If so, does this imply the incorporation of unpaid domestic labor? Are there differences in the unpaid domestic labor of women in the South and those in "developed" countries which are relevant to this discussion? How do "first-world" experiences shape definitions of economic activity? What are the implications of all of this for the material lives of women currently subjected to "development"? I argue that the existence of different forms of nonmarket work in "less developed" countries complicates mechanisms of marginalizing unpaid domestic labor in develop­ ment economics. This analysis deconstructs foundational assumptions of economics to show how they reproduce and reinforce postcolonial systems of power, to the partic­ ular detriment of many women in the South. It is premised on the belief that what appears on the margins is often most revealing of a discourse and most productive of new directions. Slips of the tongue, things seen peripherally, unexpected metaphors or absences can guide us to the rifts or seams of a discourse and be used to pry it apart. These marginalia are the traces of the obscuring and obscured in economics, good reasons to look at unpaid domestic labor and the "third world" together. Such an approach is vital to understanding the material effects of development on women in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The huge development industry which has emerged over the last fifty years applies policy in these regions based on hegem

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