Social Reproduction and Species Reproduction in the Ecological Imaginary

Natasha Zaretsky


My paper explores the role of social reproduction and species reproduction within the post-1960s ecological imaginary. The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed the rise of a global anthropogenic awareness marked by the prospect of ecological catastrophes triggered not by “nature” but rather by human activity. This emerging consciousness was shaped by visions of reproduction-run-aground (for example, in Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring, which conjured the threat of sterility) and by fears of reproduction-run-amuck (for example, in Paul Ehrlich’s 1971 Population Bomb, which likened overpopulation to a slow-motion bomb detonation).
This paper turns to one moment in the rise of an anthropogenic consciousness: the revival of nuclear war fears during the Second Cold War of the 1980s. The category of reproduction haunted this revival in two ways. First, anxieties about nuclear war implicitly mobilized the Marxist, feminist category of social reproduction, producing a picture of a post-apocalyptic world in which all of the activities that Marx saw as vital to the maintenance of economic production had collapsed. These included the purchasing of household goods, food preparation and service, the laundering and mending of clothes, the maintenance of the home, the socialization of children, and the provision of emotional and physical care to the young, the sick, and the elderly. Second, these atomic nightmares also turned on the threat to species reproduction, as scientists speculated that a nuclear war would constitute a planetary emergency and an extinction-level event. By pointing to the ubiquity of the category of reproduction (social and species) within the ecological imaginary of the last forty years, the paper demonstrates how Cold War fears still resonate today, while highlighting how Marxist and feminist analysis might be integrated into contemporary debates about the Anthropocene.

* Please consider this paper for inclusion in the Marxist-feminist stream

Anthropocene, - Social Reproduction - Nuclear War