Francisco Goya, Witches' Flight

Silvia Federici: Women, Capitalism, and the Body

Instructor: Theodra Bane
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

The infamous witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries were, as Silvia Federici puts it, “one of the most monstrous attacks on the body perpetrated in the modern era.” Persecuted as witches, and murdered in the tens of thousands, were heretics, healers, slaves, disobedient wives, and women who dared to live alone. For Federici, the Marxist-feminist theorist perhaps best known for co-authoring the manifesto “Wages for Housework,” the witch-hunting of the early modern period, commonly seen as a spontaneous outbreak of superstitious hysteria, was in fact a brutal, deliberate attempt to create a docile feminized subject—one fit for domestic work and the social reproduction of wage labor. What is the legacy of the witch-hunt, and what does it teach us about the nature of capitalism, its social reproduction, and its connection to persisting misogyny and exploitation?

In this course, we’ll read closely the entirety of Federici’s Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation—exploring, as we go, the history of the body during the transition to capitalism. How was the human body re-conceived at the onset of capitalism, particularly in terms of gender and race?  In what ways was capitalism a kind of counterrevolutionary response to anti-feudal popular struggle? How did the weakened social power of women (accomplished through the witch hunts and colonialism) undermine peasant solidarity and increase state control over reproductive labor? What are the links between the witch hunts in Europe to witch trials in the (colonial) Americas? Caliban and the Witch will be the primary text for the course, but supplemental readings by Karl Marx, Angela Davis, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Selma James, and others will be included as well.

Course Schedule

Sunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
March 10 — April 07, 2024
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Sunday, March 24th.


Course enrollment is currently only open for waitlisted students. Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.

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