Silvia Federici
Key Texts: Caliban and the Witch. Women, the body and primitive accumulation
Related Figures: Maria Rosa Dalla Costa, Leopoldina Fortunati
Political Association: Feminism, Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa

The following is a partial transcript from a talk held by Federici at Vancouver on April 2006 (webcast here)

1486: publication of the Malleus Maleficarum; 1492: Columbus occupies Americas. These are the dates that signal the culmination of the crisis of the feudal world, as a result of long peasants' struggles, and the artisan workers' demand for independence from merchants. Serfdom was coming to an end, despite the sustained attempt of rulers to regain power. Globalisation began when the European elites annexed America to Europe. With the rise of Protestantism, begging starts being seen as a sin and becomes criminalised.

In the 16th and 17th century population starts being treated as an instrument of wealth creation; this changes the general attitude to procreation and fatality.

A) One explanation for the witch hunt is the attempt to take over the body of women in order to control the source of labour. Like the slave trade, the witch hunt became a means to control women, to the extent of criminalizing reproductive autonomy. The economic utility of procreation demanded the establishment of direct control over the reproductive process. The severity of punishment of infanticide arose in the same period, as did capital punishment for abortion. The witch hunt was instrumental to the appropriation of women's bodies for the reproduction of the worker. This continues up to our day. Even now, the state is fighting to control the production of life, evidently in the boom of reproductive technologies and attempts to make reproduction independent from women's bodies.

B) The development of new work discipline and the intensification of labour - despite technology, we now work more than ever - begins in the same period as the witch hunt. The elite looks into all aspects of life (festivals, community activities) as something to be eliminated as superfluous. An attack is waged on all forms of sexuality that is 'unproductive'. The demonisation of female sexuality went hand in hand with the new work discipline.

C) The process whereby the work that goes into the reproduction of life is devalued. Every activity that is useful to the reproduction of the capacity to work is declared as non-work. With capitalism all reproductive activity became feminised, and women become expelled from wage labour. Women's labour disappears as work. The division of labour is the basis of a hierarchy o labour along gender lines, and wage is the tool of separation. The violence that characterised the relation between men and women is embedded in this disparity. The ideology of the witch hunt says that there is something wrong with women who have money, in fact the most commonly persecuted figure is the prostitute. Witch hunt per se did not cause this devaluation of reproduction; that was rather the product of a restructuring of capitalism. Nonetheless, witch hunt was necessary to discipline women into this new role, to create new functions and identities. These have naturalised women's exploitation, hiding it and making it appear as something of nature.

The roots of sexism and racism are the same: a situation where you need workers without rights. Enslavement is essential to this process of accumulation and these have not been one time events; these developments became structural to capitalist society. In the last twenty years you can see similar developments. A globalisation based on land expropriation, migration, an increase in the impoverishment of women, mass prostitution, baby markets etc. As a result of present globalising drives, there has been an explosion of violence against women. Over the last fifteen years there has been a return to witch hunting, in Ghana for instance. The redefinition of the social position of women turns the woman into a kind of compensation for the man's loss of power. The woman is a new common, seen as the new nature, like water etc, something everyone can go and get.

The way sexuality is used, the sex industry has been restructured to define aa relationship between men and the female body which is violent.

 Read Essay

Theses on Mass Worker and Social Capital (1972, with Mario Montano)

War, Globalisation and Reproduction

Mormons in space (wih George Caffentzis)

A brief history of resistance to structural adjustment (with George Caffentzis)

Donne, Globalizzazione e Movimento Internazionale delle Donne (it)

Genoa and the antiglobalization movement (with George Caffentzis)

The great Caliban.The struggle against the rebel body (pdf)

The Debt Crisis, Africa and the New Enclosures (pdf)

Interview on the Italian presence in Iraq (11/2003)

The War in Jugoslavia. On Whom the Bombs are Falling? (1999, with Massimo De Angelis)

Development and Underdevelopment in Nigeria (1985)


Review of Federici's Enduring Western Civilization

Review of Federici's Caliban and the Witch Peter Linebaugh

Review of Caliban and the Witch Steven Colatrella

Another review of Caliban and the Witch Sketchy Thoughts


(1992) "The Debt Crisis, Africa and the New Enclosures", in (Midnight Notes Collective 1992). (eds.), Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-1992, New York: Autonomedia.

(1995) (ed) Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and Its "Others". Westport, Connecticut and London: Praeger.

(1999) "Reproduction and Feminist Struggle in the New Internaitonal Division of Labor" in (Dalla Costa and Dalla Costa (eds) (1999) Women, Development and the Labor of Reproduction, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

(2000) (ed) A Thousand Flowers: Structural Adjustment and the Struggle for Education in Africa, Africa World Press.

(2000) (eds) African Visions: Literary Images, Political Change, and Social Struggle in Contemporary Africa. Westport: Connecticut and London: Praeger.

(2004) "Il Femminismo e il Movimento contro la guerra USA", in DeriveApprodi #24