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

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


Reviewed by Andrea Urbina-Julio

First Published:

27 Apr 2022, 8:16 am


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

Peake Linda, Koleth Elsa, Tanyildiz Gökbörü Sarp, Reddy Rajyashree N, and patrick darren, A Feminist Urban Theory for Our Time: Rethinking Social Reproduction and the Urban, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons. Series Antispode Books, 2021; 295 pp.: ISBN 978-1119789154, US$35 (pbk)


The book A Feminist Urban Theory for Our Time: Rethinking Social Reproduction and the Urban, published in August 2021, edited by Linda Peake, Elsa Koleth, Gökbörü Sarp Tanyildiz, Rajyashree N Reddy and darren patrick / dp, points out relevant ideas to rethink social reproduction from the perspective of women’s stories and their everyday life struggles. The common framework of social reproduction in this book is based on the argument presented by Laslett and Brenner (1989) and Katz (2001) which established social reproduction as the activity for the maintenance of daily life, including mental, manual and emotional work for the existent life and those generations to come. Furthermore, there is a common theoretical framework related to the socialist feminist political economy, which positions social reproduction as the support of the function of a capitalist system that does not recognise women’s work, neither with value nor wages. Rethinking social reproduction as a feminist urban problem sets the urban as the site and urbanisation as the process through which social reproduction occurs. Why is this book appropriate for planning and urban studies? Mainly because it reflects on social reproduction in the daily life of urban spaces, gathering essential questions on the relationship between capitalism, urban form and social reproduction. The book’s authors argue that social reproduction is a fundamental way of knowing the urban, and understanding and reorganising the resistance of women’s urban struggles. Moreover, they argue for recognising the decisive role of social reproduction on ‘how, when, and where’ the urban emerges (p. 4). From an urban sociology and urban studies approach, the authors studied various cases where women and gender diversities have been exposed to struggles to maintain the social reproduction of their lives and their families.

The book brings together several studies that employed ethnography and qualitative methodologies, mainly in the Global South. It is structured in 11 chapters, written by junior and senior researchers who unpack questions on the necessity of exploring social reproduction and the urban experiences of many dispossessed women trying to survive in the urban domain. The contributions in this book examine social reproduction from a decolonial perspective, positioning people as infrastructure and reflecting on the subjectivities of each context. The book emphasises a common understanding of precarity as an important characteristic of the economic project of neoliberalism.

After presenting the general framework of the book in the introduction, Santos Ocasio and Mulling (Chapter 2) focus on practices of music performance in times of disaster in Haiti and Puerto Rico. They explore the role of urban cultural practices in dealing with trauma after Haiti’s earthquake and as a form of expression for critique and resistance. The same happens in Puerto Rico, where women gather to perform Plena Combativa songs, capturing the political and socio-economic environment in Puerto Rico. Chapter 3, ‘Never Again’, brings an interesting perspective into public poetry installation as a kind of commodity. By examining the case of Plaza 88 in New Westminster, British Columbia, Fedoruk argues that the utilisation of an indigenous poem written by an indigenous woman as an art installation is a way of adding value to the building without considering the actual meaning of the poem. The stories of violence and dispossession behind the poem are despised, losing the actual value of what the poem represents.

Katsikana, in Chapter 4, examines the relationship between the city and social movements in a case study of an anti-authoritarian community in Athens. The discussion centres on gender dynamics in experiences of protest and resistance, where gender divisions remain de-politicised and the male dominance in the organisations creates a model and culture for discrimination and sexual harassment. Chapter 11 also brings an exciting analysis of infrastructures of social reproduction in two feminist organisations: a sex union organisation in Cordoba, Argentina, and a housing activism organisation in London, UK.

One of the most significant contributions is Chapter 6 by Faranak Miraftab, titled ‘Global Restructuring of Social Reproduction and Its Invisible Work in Urban Revitalization’. This chapter looks at the trans-national care network and family processes through the mobility of workers and capital. The author analyses the Rustbelt industrial region of the United States, experiencing an increase in population of globally displaced and marginalised populations. Miraftab points out trans-local and transnational practices of social reproduction, where marginalised people move worldwide looking to find better economic opportunities, leaving their families in their countries of origin, sustaining them economically and socially. In the Rustbelt region, this labour mobility and capital process enables the revitalisation and regeneration of communities. Miraftab argues that families from the Global North export their social reproduction work to families in the Global South. However, it is invisible because it is neutralised under patriarchal norms. At the same time, Chapter 9 also examines the globalised dynamics of care networks, looking at the articulation of Colombia’s rural and urban experience, primarily through the work of Madres Comunitarias and the experience in Madrid and Barcelona of 135 cisgender women and transgender people. The research shows the precarious employment of many Global South women, still underpaid and still exposed to a postcolonial perspective.

Chapter 5, on resistance for basic supplies by the anti-eviction movement (PHA) and Alliance Against Energy Poverty (APE) in Catalonia, brings up the role of urban infrastructure and its relationship with social reproduction. This chapter points out the struggle of many women for water supplies and the need for affordable housing, challenging the commodification of the necessities of social reproduction. Karunananthan, in Chapter 7, also examines the relationship between basic supplies and social reproduction, showing the resistance from a collective group of women struggling with the privatisation of water in Jakarta. Based on the experiences of the women’s movement ‘Solidaritas Perempuan’, the chapter explores a ‘bottom-up’ process that gathers the experience of many Jakartian women in their daily life activities of collecting water. This experience challenges the predatory private water system and puts into the political debate the most excluded, poor women claiming a rightful place in the city.

Chapter 10, ‘Tenga Nehungwaru’, examines the food system in Zimbabwe, where women are in charge of the procurement, allocation and preparation of food within the domestic sphere. The chapter brings up an interesting analysis of how women have to search for and provide food in informal urban settlements on limited household budgets and in constrained situations, putting women and families into an exacerbated food insecurity situation. The latter has opened up the social acceptance of women being paid for work usually done by men.

With a more physical approach, Chapter 8 examines the ‘antispaces’ created in the Palestinian city of Ramallah by incorporating real estate buildings and the militarisation of the urban space. The author analyses the urban form of Ramallah’s new buildings, by exploring the possibility of reconfiguring the antispaces to reclaim a decolonised perspective for the city. It also discusses how planners and architects should be involved in creating such a decolonised perspective.

The 11 contributions bring up essential questions from an urban studies perspective, primarily through Gender Studies and its intersection in planning practices and research. The broad topics include insurgent practices, performative art and collective actions, giving a complete and in-depth perspective on how social reproduction occurs today in urban spaces. For planners looking to understand how women’s struggles are captured in the urban arena, this book contributes to reflecting on women’s dominant structures and how daily constraints and oppression are experienced worldwide. It also contributes to understanding how women shaped these places, from using public spaces to creating collectively organised groups to change the patterns of urban social life. The recognition of social reproduction today is a powerful tool for planners to change their perspective on how planning should be. Therefore, the book presents an interesting challenge for planners, by positioning an active political discourse to achieve a just city through a feminist and decolonised perspective.


Katz, C (2001) Vagabond capitalism and the necessity of social reproduction. Antipode 33(4): 709–728.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Laslett, B, Brenner, J (1989) Gender and social reproduction: Historical perspectives. Annual Review of Sociology 15: 383–384.
Google Scholar | Crossref


Related articles

If you enjoyed this review, the following articles published in Urban Studies might also be of interest:

Queering social reproduction: Sex, care and activism in San Francisco by Max J Andrucki

Andrucki asks in what ways can we think of gay urban space as continually made and remade through non-monogamous sex practices?


Coloniality and the political economy of gender: Edgework in Juárez City by Jennie Gamlin

Gamlin examines ethnographic work in its global context to explore how shame has become attached to male identities in locations of urban marginality.


‘Timepass’ and ‘setting’: The meanings, relationships and politics of urban informal work in Delhi by Sanjeev Routray

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Delhi, Routray examines how work regimes are marked by a commission economy.


Bodies of transnational island urbanism: Spatial narratives of inclusion/exclusion of Filipinas in Philippine islands by Arnisson Andre C Ortega

In this special issue study, Ortega demonstrates how gender and sexuality are important forces underpinning urban transformation when looking at narratives of inclusion/exclusion of Filipinas in the Philippine Islands.