Short Review: A Feminist Urban Theory for Our Time: Rethinking Social Reproduction and the Urban

Peake, Linda, Elsa Koleth, Gokboru Sarp Tanyildiz, and Rajyashree N. Reddy, eds. A feminist urban theory for our time: Rethinking social reproduction and the urban. John Wiley & Sons, 2021.

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A feminist theory for our time: rethinking social reproduction and the urban integrates feminist, Marxist, postcolonial, and queer theories with urban theorists in order to propose a methodological approach to urban settings. It also recognizes social reproduction and economic production as a foundational component of urban transformations as well as a methodological starting point for urban studies. The book deliberately confines itself to universal applications of social reproduction theory rather than emphasizing historical contingency and social difference. The authors argue that social reproduction as a theory and method reshapes the social ontology of the urban. The main theme across most chapters is to examine different aspects of contemporary urban crises through the lenses of social reproduction formation, as well as through feminist efforts to decolonize urban knowledge production. 

Solidaritas Perempuan, retrieved from solidaritasperempuan.org

The chapter “From the Kampung to the Courtroom” by Meera Karyunananthan describes the involvement of Solidaritas Perempuan, an Indonesian feminist organization, who invokes the human right to water to demand that underprivileged women have better access to and control over the urban water system in Jakarta in order to alleviate their heavy social reproduction burden. The author argues that poor women’s socioeconomic rights in Jakarta serve to shift analytical attention and rescale knowledge production, making poor womens’ burden of social reproduction more visible. The chapter illustrates that socioeconomic rights complement feminist rights to the city’s initiatives to assert the value of city services as part of a feminist transition to a just city. It intrigued me since a lack of female perspective on this issue also obscures the fact that women are more likely to be affected by lack of access to water due to their role as primary household caregivers. If the issue is not resolved, the reproduction of inequalities will again affect the next generation of women. The members of Solidaritas Perempuan Jakarta and Kampung residents appealed the annulment of private concessions for the supply of drinking water. In addition to describing how the issue impacts women, the chapter also illustrates the action it undertook to alleviate their greater social reproduction burden.

Photo from Xinhua, Liang Sen and Getty Images retrieved from Refinery29

In a Canadian context, this approach might be applied to learn how urban settings contribute to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). The author discusses how capitalism exploits women’s bodies and asserts that racialized gender violence is integrally related to Indigenous struggles over land, and self-determination (Peake, 2021). Our understanding of the urban environment allows us to arrive at a solution or reconstruct certain aspects of urban life in order to reduce the incidences of MMIWG. 

The most challenging part of the book is its heavy reliance on a textual and theoretical approach which made it overwhelming. In some cases, certain perspectives are confused with others. Chapter 3, “Never/Again”: Reading the Qayqayt Nation and New Westminster in Public Poetry Installations’ by Emily Fedoruk, uses post-colonial scholarship along with the critiques of capitalism, and it became confusing to engage with the multifaceted approach to the topic. Furthermore, a strong component of the book is that each chapter is based on a different feminist tradition, such as the Marxist or Indigenous feminist approaches, which provides the reader with a range and depth of perspectives and approaches. 

What is the effect of rethinking social production and the urban settings in cities other than the one mentioned in the book? How can a feminist approach to the urban be incorporated in Canada? Which issues would benefit from a feminist and/or intersectional lens in Canada? These were the few questions that the book evokes. While it is genuinely informative and interesting, A feminist theory for our time: rethinking social reproduction and the urban might be more effective in a gender studies class, or a specific political science class that focuses on theories. Otherwise, anyone with a keen interest in feminism, or readers looking to expand their knowledge of how different feminist scholars approach certain issues will benefit from this title

Aakriti Raut