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Reading: What is Maternal Labour?


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What is Maternal Labour?


Stella Sandford

About Stella
Stella Sandford Stella Sandford is Reader in Modern European Philosophy in the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University London. She is the author of Plato and Sex (Polity, 2010), How to Read Beauvoir (Granta, 2006), The Metaphysics of Love: Gender and Transcendence in Levinas (Continuum, 2000), and co-editor, with Mandy Merck, of Further Adventures of the Dialectic of Sex: Critical Essays on Shulamith Firestone (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), as well as many essays on the philosophy of sex and gender and on psychoanalytic theory. She is a long standing member of the Radical Philosophy Editorial Collective and a member of the executive committee of the UK Society for Women in Philosophy.
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What happens when we attempt to draw together the concepts of 'the maternal' and of 'labour' in the category of 'maternal labour'? What is the specificity of maternal labour as labour and what is its specificity as maternal? This paper argues that there is a peculiar difficulty in the category of 'maternal labour', even a fundamental contradiction, but that this is not a reason to reject it. Beginning with a brief discussion of Marx's comments, in the Introduction to the Grundrisse, on the category of labour, the paper then considers some classic Marxist feminist literature from the 1970s and 1980s on the relation between Marxism and feminism and on the domestic labour debates in order to try to explain the nature of the contradiction in the category of 'maternal labour' and its significance for thinking the possibility of a non-capitalist maternal subject.

How to Cite: Sandford, S., 2011. What is Maternal Labour?. Studies in the Maternal, 3(2), pp.1–11. DOI:
Published on 01 Jul 2011.
Peer Reviewed


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