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College of Arts and Sciences

Political theorist, feminist scholar to lecture Feb. 18

By: Kina Viola, Program Coordinator, Society for the Humanities

February 4, 2020

Image provided/ This image is based on archived work at maydayrooms.org from the Wages for Housework Campaign, a feminist movement of the 1970s.

In the 1970s, what Marx and Engel satirized as the most “infamous proposal of the communists,” the abolition of the family, became the most scandalous demand of feminists.  

On Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 4:30 p.m. in the A.D. White House Guerlac Room, Kathi Weeks will examine 1970s feminist arguments for family abolitionism and develop an argument for its contemporary relevance. Her talk, “Abolition of the Family: The Most Infamous Feminist Proposal” is sponsored by Cornell’s Society for the Humanities and will be followed by a reception—both events are free and open to the public.

Weeks, a professor of gender, sexuality, and feminist studies at Duke University, is the author of several books, most recently "The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries" (2011, Duke University Press). The book, which has garnered praise from a variety of academic and political sources, challenges the presupposition that work or waged labor is inherently a social and political good.

While progressive movements such as Marxism and feminism have fought for rights like equal pay in the workplace, Weeks argues that the root issue lies in treating waged work as naturalized. In taking work as an inevitable part of our society, we make the mistake of “depoliticizing” it, and removing it from the realm of critique, she says.

Combining feminist theory, sociology, and political theory, Weeks brings issues of domestic labor to the forefront: many of her ideas and critiques are informed by the Wages for Housework movement from the 1970s, which advocated for a social wage to be paid to women who perform uncompensated reproductive labor. Weeks’ argument for a Universal Basic Income is inspired by this movement, which she sees as a potential solution to years of gendered exploitation that continue today.  

Weeks’ talk is hosted by the Society for the Humanities as part of its 2019-20 focus on “Energy.” As a Society for the Humanities Invited Scholar, Weeks will present her recent work to the Society’s Fellows, as well as visit with with graduate students in the department of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies. Additionally, on Feb. 20, Weeks will offer a 4:45 p.m. seminar for Cornell graduate students on the topic of utopia and the relevance of feminism’s past to its present and potential futures. Interested students should email Kina Viola at kv89@cornell.edu to sign up for the seminar.