“Social reproduction” can be broadly defined as the replacement of people or structures with a new set similar to the original, in order for the existing social system to continue.
According to Silvia Federici, “reproductive work” refers to “the complex of activities, relations, and institutions that in capitalism produce and reproduce labor-power,” i.e., people’s capacity to work. These activities include, for example, domestic work, child-raising, sex work, as well as subsistence forms of farming that in many countries are an integral part of housework (Carlin and Federici 2014).Simply put, “reproductive labor” is the making and remaking of people. This is not only biological reproduction; reproductive work is all the work we do on a daily basis, and inter-generationally to reproduce ourselves.
We do not socially reproduce in neutral ways. In capitalist societies, one of the main things we reproduce is “labor power:” we reproduce people as workers. We know ourselves through the activities of social reproduction: washing the dishes, cooking for others, helping others feel beautiful, healthy, and fulfilled, providing the services that they need–caring for others and being cared for.While “reproduction” may mean copying what existed in the past, this is unlikely to occur in any exact manner for societies as a whole. Environmental, social and economic conditions can change over time, along with new technologies and processes.
Matthew Carlin and Silvia Federici. (2014) “The Exploitation of Women, Social Reproduction, and the Struggle against Global Capital.” Theory & Event 17.3.