The Matrix

Mother church and Nanny state

The switch from the vernacular to an officially taught mother tongue is perhaps the most significant – and, therefore, least researched – event in the coming of a commodity-intensive society. The radical change from the vernacular to taught language foreshadows the switch from breast to bottle, from subsistence to welfare, from production for use to production for market, from expectations divided between state and church to a world where the Church is marginal, religion is privatized, and the state assumes the maternal functions heretofore claimed only by the Church. Formerly, there had been no salvation outside the Church; now, there would be no reading, no writing – if possible no speaking – outside the educational sphere. People would have to be reborn out of the monarch’s womb and be nourished at her breast. Both the citizen of the modern state and his state-provided language come into being for the first time – both are without precedent anywhere in history.

But dependence on a formal, bureaucratic institution to obtain for every individual a service that is as necessary as breast milk for human subsistence, while radically new and without parallel outside of Europe, was not a break with Europe’s past. Rather, this was a logical step forward – a process first legitimated in the Christian Church that evolved into an accepted and expected temporal function of the secular state. Institutional maternity has a unique European history since the third century. In this sense, it is indeed true that Europe is the Church and the Church is Europe. Nebrija and universal education in the modern state cannot be understood without a close knowledge of the Church, insofar as this institution is represented as a mother.

[...] This early Christian notion of the Church as mother has no historical precedent. No direct gnostic or pagan influence, nor any direct relationship to the Roman mother cult has thus far been proven. The description of the Church’s maternity is, however, quite explicit. The Church conceives, bears, and gives birth to her sons and daughters. She may have a miscarriage. She raises her children to her breast to nourish them with the milk of faith. In this early period, the institutional trait is clearly present, but the maternal authority exercised by the Church through her bishops and the ritual treatment of the Church building as a female entity are still balanced by the insistence on the motherly quality of God’s love, and of the mutual love of His children in baptism. Later, the image of the Church as a prototype of the authoritarian and possessive mother becomes dominant in the Middle Ages. The popes then insist on an understanding of the Church as Mater, Magistra, and Domina – mother, authoritative teacher, sovereign. Thus Gregory VII (1073–1085) names her in the struggle with the emperor Henry IV.

shadow-workch. 2


Gender-specific tasks are not new; all known societies assign sex-specific work roles. For example, hay may be cut by men, raked by women, gathered by men, loaded by women, carted away by men, fed to cows by women and to horses by men. But no matter how much we search other cultures, we cannot find the contemporary division between two forms of work, one paid and the other unpaid, one credited as productive and the other concerned with reproduction and consumption, one considered heavy and the other light, one demanding special qualifications and the other not, one given high social prestige and the other relegated to ‘private’ matters.

shadow-workch. 1

[citation needed] re: "we cannot find the contemporary division" but pay attention to the "productive" vs "reproductive"/"consumptive" dichotomy

All through the eighteenth and well into the nineteenth century, the project of Economic Alchemy produced no echo from below. The plebeians rioted. [...] And in these riots, the crowd was led, more often than not, by its women. How did this rioting proto-industrial crowd, defending its right to subsistence turn into a striking labor force, defending ‘rights’ to wages? What was the social device that did the job, where the new poor laws and workhouses had failed? It was the economic division of labor into a productive and a non-productive kind, pioneered and first enforced through the domestic enclosure of women.


Why the struggle for subsistence was so suddenly abandoned and why this demise went unnoticed, can be understood only by bringing to light the concurrent creation of shadow work and the theory that woman, by her scientifically discovered nature, was destined to do it. While men were encouraged to revel in their new vocation to the working class, women were surreptitiously redefined as the ambulant, full-time matrix of society. [...] In practice, the labor theory of value made man’s work into the catalyst of gold, and degraded the homebody into a housewife economically dependent and, as never before, unproductive. [...]

The bourgeois war on subsistence could enlist mass support only when the plebeian rabble turned into a clean-living working class made up of economically distinct men and women. As a member of this class, the man found himself in a conspiracy with his employer – both were equally concerned with economic expansion and the suppression of subsistence. Yet this fundamental collusion between capital and labor in the war on subsistence was mystified by the ritual of class struggle. Simultaneously man, as head of a family increasingly dependent on his wages, was urged to perceive himself burdened with all society’s legitimate work, and under constant extortion from an unproductive woman. In and through the family the two complementary forms of industrial work were now fused: wage work and shadow work. Man and woman, both effectively estranged from subsistence activities, became the motive for the other’s exploitation for the profit of the employer and investments in capital goods. Increasingly, surplus was not invested only in the so-called means of production. Shadow work itself became more and more capital-intensive. Investments in the home, the garage and the kitchen reflect the disappearance of subsistence from the household, and the evidence of a growing monopoly of shadow work. Yet this shadow work has been consistently mystified. Four such mystifications are still current today.

shadow-workch. 5

4 mystifications of shadow work:

  1. Appeal to biology "hunter" (male) vs "gatherer" (female) stereotypes as bio-historical precedent

    Common to all these is a basic confusion between the gender-specific assignment of tasks that is characteristic for each culture, and the uniquely modern economic bifurcation in nineteenth century work ideology that establishes a previously unknown apartheid between the sexes: he, primarily the producer; she, primarily private-domestic. This economic distinction of sex-roles was impossible under conditions of subsistence. It uses mystified tradition to legitimate the growing distinction of consumption and production by defining what women do as non-work.

  2. Social reproduction (blame the marxists for this)

    The label thus thwarts every attempt to grasp the difference between woman’s basic and vital contribution to a subsistence economy, and her unpaid conscription into the reproduction of industrial labor – unproductive women are consoled with ‘re-production’.

  3. Shadow prices

    They build economic models for crime, leisure, learning, fertility, discrimination and voting behavior. Marriage is no exception. Gary S. Becker, for instance, starts from the assumption of a sex-market in equilibrium, and hence derives formulas that describe the ‘division of outputs between mates’.

  4. Feminists writing on housework

    The woman-oriented outlook of these feminists has helped them to publicize the degrading nature of unpaid work is now added to discrimination on the job, but their movement-specific commitment has compelled them to cloud the key issue: the fact that modern women are crippled by being compelled to labor that, in addition to being unsalaried in economic terms, is fruitless in terms of subsistence.

The new historians of female sensitivity and mentality ostensibly concentrate on women’s work. But, in fact, they have given us the first coherent report written by trained historians who speak as losers in the war against subsistence. They provide us a history of ‘work’ performed in the shadow of economic searchlights, written by those who are compelled to do it. This shadow, of course, blights much more than motherly or wifely duties. It infallibly extends with progress and spreads with the development of the economic sphere, reaching further into both men’s and women’s lives to leave no one’s day completely unclouded. The housewife will probably remain forever as the icon of this shadow existence, just as the man in overalls will survive the microprocessor as the icon of the ‘industrial worker’. But to make this other half of industrial existence into women’s work, tout court, would be the fifth and ultimate mystification. It would forever besmirch the personal reality of women with a sex invented for economic control. For this reason, I propose ‘shadow work’ to designate a social reality whose prototype is modern housework. Add the rising number of unemployed to the increasing number of people kept on the job only to keep them busy, and it becomes obvious that shadow work is by far more common in our late industrial age than paid jobs. By the end of the century, the productive worker will be the exception.

now cf bullshit-jobs


bullshit-jobs Graeber, David. 2018. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. Penguin UK. ↩︎ 1

shadow-work Illich, Ivan. 2011. Shadow Work. Marion Boyars. ↩︎ 1 2 3