Crossroads 2018 has an exciting line up

Neferti X. M. Tadiar

Neferti X. M. Tadiar is the author of Things Fall Away: Philippine Historical Experience and the Makings of Globalization (2009) and Fantasy-Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New world Order (2004). Her current book project, Remaindered Life, is a meditation on the disposability and surplus of life-making under contemporary conditions of global empire. She is Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College, Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University, and co-Editor of the journal, Social Text.

Conference abstract

Servility and Servitude: Reproductive Work in the Globopolis

In today’s new global political economy of life (where all life bears the potential to serve as a direct means and source for the extraction of capitalist value), it is vital to distinguish between the notion of servility as the general characteristic of the exploitation of the communicative performances and social, communicative, cognitive, and affective capacities of post-Fordist workers, on the one hand, and the labor of servitude characteristic of contemporary immigrant domestic and service work in particular, on the other. I focus in particular on the phenomenon of global reproductive work in the context of processes of global urbanization. Processes of global urbanization depend on modes of value-extraction that issue out of the servicing of circulation itself. Such modes of value-extraction do not, however, only depend on the capitalizable value of life as labor for servile Post-Fordist cognitive and communicative workers. They also crucially depend on the disposable life-times of a worldwide service/servant strata whose primary work is to save as well as produce the valuable time of their clients/employers – that is, to serve as the means of facilitating the latter’s value-productive movements.

In this account, domestic workers are producers of the valorizable life-times of others. They are thus to be distinguished from their employers whose lives bear investable, accumulable value. Live-in “guest” migrant domestic workers act as all-around household appliances and domestic implements, whose design or designated purpose is to “save” their employers’ valuable life-times. (Marx writes that rather than saving labor, what is characteristic about the machinery employed in production is “the saving of necessary labour and the creating of surplus labour”.) Like convenience foods and food services, “servitude” (in contrast to “servility”) provides, besides immeasurable social and subjective values of well-being, comfort, and self-esteem, “savings” in that non-material use-value of time. Instead of being “wasted” on the chores of life-maintenance, the “extra” time saved can then be absorbed into the higher value and valorizable life-times of employers.

Viewing the new global political economy in this way, that is, as an economy of discrepant “life-times”, I suggest another way of understanding the role of servitude in contemporary global capitalism beyond its construction as invisible or unaccounted, unremunerated labor, and beyond therefore its potential as a free political subject, a citizen if you will, of a globopolitical humanity. I see global servitude or reproductive work as a means of labor, or a machine of production, for the valorizable life of servile labor. Its specific capitalist genealogy can be traced to colonialism and slavery in the age of freedom.