Pieter Bruegel, The Fall of the Rebel Angels

Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch: Women, Colonization, and Capitalism

Instructor: Paige Sweet
BISR Central
68 Jay Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

The “witch” embodies a world of female subjects that capitalism had to destroy. This bold argument is the premise of Silvia Federici’s book, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. For Federici, perhaps best known for the manifesto “Wages for Housework” and feminist re-interpretations of Marx, the bloody witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries, which occurred simultaneously with the colonization of the New World and the beginning of the slave trade, were formative to capitalism’s emergence. Persecuted as witches were heretics, healers, disobedient wives, women who dared to live alone, and West African obeha women, who poisoned the master’s food and inspired the slaves to revolt. Why did capitalism, a system seemingly concerned with free exchange, require the violent suppression of “deviant” women? To what extent was the “disciplining” of women a motive for and stimulus to capitalist development? What’s the relation of capitalism to gender and reproduction, and what insights can a study of “pre-modern” superstition and hysteria provide into persisting misogyny and exploitation in the contemporary capitalist world?

In this course, we will read Caliban and the Witch to study how capitalism worked on and through the body, re-imagining it in terms of race and gender that are useful for capitalist exploitation. Given the centrality of the body to Federici’s argument, we will explore the following questions: How did ideas about the body support the advent of capitalism as a counter-revolution that, in Federici’s words, destroyed the possibilities that had emerged from the anti-feudal struggle? How did the reduced social power of women (accomplished through the witch hunts and colonialism) undermine solidarity among peasants and increase state control over reproductive labor necessary to capitalist production? What links are there between the witch hunts in Europe and charges of witchcraft in the (colonial) Americas? How do these events reverberate with features of late capitalist globalization, including the IMF, domestic work, and immigrant labor? 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, 2-5pm
July 14 — August 04, 2019
4 weeks


Registration Open

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