Sustaining Life: From ‘Economic Man’ to ‘Women’s Work’

‘Economic man’ symbolizes modern economies. ‘He’ (who may be a she) is rational, calculating, driven by a desire for money, power, ownership and insatiable consumption. ‘Women’s work’ (which may be done by a man) represents what ‘Economic Man’ leaves behind, the physical embodiment of humanity and its embeddedness in nature.

While ‘Economic Man’ seeks to turn nature into money, women’s work is sustaining of life. Modern economies are gendered in that they have been constructed without reference to the lives and experience of work in the home, community and subsistence non-market sector. Equally, modern economies do not take account of their reliance on the resource base and resilience of the natural world. As a result, these are exploited and damaged.  Women’s work and lives beyond the formal economy, like the natural world, is disregarded. As a result, human societies are unbalanced and lopsided, yet without the work of women and nature they would not be able to exist.

An ecologically sustainable economy would start from the embodiment and embeddedness of human lives, from the life of the body and the ecosystem.  It would start from women’s work and the vitality of the natural world. Prioritizing the life-world of women’s work would mean that patterns of work and consumption would be sensitive to the human life cycle. Necessary production and exchange would be fully integrated with the dynamics of the body and the environment. Providing necessary goods and services (provisioning) would be the main focus of the economy in which all work would be fulfilling and shared. Work and life would not be separated.

Money is the key mechanism that separates modern economies from all the unpaid work done in the home and community representing care, reciprocity and the production and maintenance of human beings, as well as the intrinsic value of nature. The global financial crisis creates an opportunity to question the priorities of modern economies and their money systems. One solution is to abolish money but this is only practical on a small scale. For large scale economies it will be necessary to challenge the way the current money system has distorted the idea of value and replace it with a democratized money system that would enable large scale economies to move towards the development of an ecologically sustainable and socially-just economy.

Pixelache 2013 keynote: Mary Mellor
Sustaining Life: From ‘Economic Man’ to ‘Women’s Work’

Keynote presentation by: Mary Mellor (UK)
Location: Naissaare Külalistemaja' Hostel/Naissaar Guest Hostel (EE)
Date: 18.5 at 20.00