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the feminization of labour in cognitive capitalism

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Feminist Review

Abstract

The article starts with a definition of the concept feminization of labour. It aims to signal how, at both the Italian and the global level, precarity, together with certain qualitative characteristics historically present in female work, have become decisive factors for current productive processes, to the point of progressively transforming women into a strategic pool of labour. Since the early 1990s, Italy has seen a massive increase in the employment of women, within the wave of legislation that has introduced various flexible contracts – so-called atypical work. I show how cognitive capitalism tends to prioritize extracting value from relational and emotional elements, which are more likely to be part of women's experiential baggage. The results of a study conducted in November 2006 among freelance workers of the Rizzoli Corriere della sera group, the largest publishing group in Italy, will be used to show how women are able to move more easily on the shifting sands of precarity, within the context of cognitive work.

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Notes

  1. For more in-depth commentary, see Mezzadra (2006) and Sacchetto (2001).

  2. According to a study by Lionello Tronti from Istat, the number of hours worked by employees in the private sector is, in Italy, ‘equal on average to 1,694 hours a year: 153 hours more than their opposite numbers in France, 225 hours more than the Germans, 73 more than the British and 60 more than the Spanish. Moreover, the number of hours worked across the year in Italy is 143 more than the average of the 15 countries that used to make up the European Union and, if compared with the larger of the countries which have just joined, it is shown to be significantly lower than only Poland and Romania’ (www.lavoce.info, 9 January 2006). Italians are the only workers within the EU to be on a par with the hours worked in the USA with 1,810 hours per year in 2003 (1,817 hours for Americans) and thus significantly above France, Germany and the United Kingdom (on average, 1,498 hours).

  3. Cf. Province of Milan, Il lavoro difficile, Rapporto 2004 sul mercato del lavoro e le politiche del lavoro in Provincia di Milano, F.Angeli, Milan, March 2006.

  4. Cf. Province of Milan, Il lavoro difficile., op. cit., p.53 et seq.

  5. If the data are broken down by age, levels of employment and unemployment, it is seen to be even more split than the national data for the age range between 25 and 40. After the age of 40, there is a sudden drop particularly in the levels of female employment.

  6. Among the many sources available, we could cite the studies carried out by Alfred Tomatis, according to whom the need for communication ‘stems more than anything else from the desire not to break off (or possibly to renew) the sonic relationship with the mother in the prenatal period. The human being wants to keep or find a world to link it to the outside world and towards the other one from which, when still in the embryonic state, it drew the greatest levels of satisfaction’ in Tomatis (1977: 248).

  7. As the data involved have not been properly confirmed (in Italy, there is no relevant accurate census information on these various categories), we cannot give a definitive percentage for the female content of the data. From a series of individual statistics compiled in newspapers and universities, it can be deduced that women are, still, the relative majority within these professions.

  8. The research was carried out by sending out 300 questionnaires – there were 80 non-completed replies and 50 completed. The statistics were produced from the completed forms. There are approximately 600 freelance workers working for the Rcs Periodi group (while there are 270 on regular contracts). But the questionnaire was sent to only 300 of them, in other words to those who had (and could prove they had) a structured collaborative relationship of at least a year with a publication. The full text of the survey carried out can be seen at http://www.lsdi.it/dossier/precariato/index.html.

  9. In 2004, families resident in Italy in conditions of relative poverty come to 2,674,000, equal to 11.7per cent of resident families, for a total of 7,588,000 individuals, 13.2per cent of the entire population. In the 2001 report, the following appears: ‘The incidence of poverty is greatest families where the head of the household is a woman, especially in northern Italy where the incidence for women is 7per cent compared with 5.1per cent for males’ cf. ‘La povertà in Italia nel 2000. Note Rapide’, Istat, Rome, 21 July 2001, p. 3.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to the Sconvegno group in Milan, Italy for discussing parts of this text with me. I am also indebted to the suggestions by Judith Revel, Università Nomade and the staff of the journal Posse. I would like to thank Andrea Fumagalli, Carlo Vercellone and Stefano Lucarelli for helpful comments on a first draft of this paper. The suggestions and comments from an anonymous referee greatly improved the paper. I thank her. The usual caveats apply.

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Morini, C. the feminization of labour in cognitive capitalism. Fem Rev 87, 40–59 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.fr.9400367

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