Reclaiming the Land, Reclaiming Our Bodies

Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2014 11:26 am

A feminist author and activist will discuss women and their connection to the land as part of a series sponsored by the Center for Prairie Studies.

Silvia Federici, emerita professor of political philosophy and international studies at Hofstra University, will deliver "Reclaiming the Land, Reclaiming Our Bodies: Women and the Production of Commons." The event will be held at 7:30 p.m., April 1 at the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101.

“Dr. Federici has an international reputation as a feminist scholar,” says Jon Andelson ’70, director of the center, professor of anthropology and Rosenfield Professor in Social Science.

The series, “(Re)Considering the Commons,” explores different aspects of the commons, which can be defined as resources available for shared use in society, such as parks, wetlands, water, the Internet, the Statue of Liberty, and Wikipedia, among many other definitions, Andelson says.

“Many of the things that we use in common are being threatened by privatization,” Andelson says.

Federici has studied these issues in Africa, where communal land has often been privatized and commoditized, rendering many rural and urban women landless. In response, Federici has found women farm unused public land, in effect reclaiming a commons. She has written about feminist theory, women and globalization, and is the author of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation.

Federici’s expertise has relevance in Iowa, where farmers face conservation issues daily. “Women own nearly half of Iowa’s farmland, and their relationship to it matters a great deal,” Andelson says.

The center’s six-part series has considered different aspects and dimensions of the commons: financial, water, information and wetland protection.

The final presentation in the series by associate chaplain and rabbi Rob Cabelli will examine “the ultimate commons — our common sense of humanity and threats to it from those claim to have sole possession of the truth,” Andelson says.

About (Re)Considering the Commons

The commons is whatever belongs to all of us—whatever we share, whatever we create, possess, or use together.

Can privatization produce a healthy and sustainable society, or to have such a society do we need to restore, reclaim, and reinvigorate the commons?

This series examines these questions in the light of experience and ethics.

About Silvia Federici

Federici is an emerita professor of political philosophy and international studies at Hofstra University. She was born and raised in Italy, then came to the United States in 1967 to study for a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University at Buffalo. She taught at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, and was associate professor and later professor of political philosophy and international studies at New College of Hofstra University.

Federici co-founded the International Feminist Collective as well as the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa (CAFA). In 1995, she co-founded the Radical Philosophy Association (RPA) anti-death-penalty project.

In her best known work, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Federici challenges Karl Marx's claim that primitive accumulation is a necessary precursor for capitalism, arguing instead that primitive accumulation is a fundamental characteristic of capitalism itself—that capitalism, in order to perpetuate itself, requires a constant infusion of expropriated capital.

Federici connects this expropriation to women's unpaid labor, both connected to reproduction and otherwise, which she frames as a historical precondition to the rise of a capitalist economy. She outlines the related historical struggle for the commons and communalism. “Instead of seeing capitalism as a liberatory defeat of feudalism, Federici interprets the ascent of capitalism as a reactionary move to subvert the rising tide of communalism and to retain the basic social contract.”