Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life
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Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life

Edited by Deborah M. Figart and Tonia L. Warnecke

The Handbook illuminates complex facets of the economic and social provisioning process across the globe. The contributors – academics, policy analysts and practitioners from wide-ranging areas of expertise – discuss the methodological approaches to, and analytical tools for, conducting research on the gender dimension of economic life. They also provide analyses of major issues facing both developed and developing countries. Topics explored include civil society, discrimination, informal work, working time, central bank policy, health, education, food security, poverty, migration, environmental activism and the financial crisis.
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Chapter 1: A social provisioning approach to gender and economic life

Marilyn Power


What is economic life? How have scholars defined the parameters of their study of the provisioning process – that is, the production and reproduction of human material life? Economic thinkers have offered a range of answers to this question. Classical economist Adam Smith focused his analysis in The Wealth of Nations around general well-being (or ‘general opulence’ as he termed it), defined as the production of the ‘necessaries and conveniences of life’ produced by labor (Smith, 1776 [2003], p. 1). While most of his analysis focused on the role of markets in producing these necessaries and conveniences, production outside of markets and exchange relations could easily fit within his definition. In Capital, Karl Marx (1867 [1967]), building upon Smith’s analytic base, pointed out that market production of exchange values may deliver, rather than general opulence, inequality, miserable working conditions, and economic crisis. Once again, focus was primarily on market production, as Marx argued that commodity production and exchange was the heart of a capitalist economic system. Still, within his analysis – while adhering to his period’s cultural assumptions about ‘natural’ differences between women and men – he addressed the role of women’s nonmarket production in the well-being of working-class families, which was jeopardized by capitalism’s relentless demand for labor (ibid., p. 395fn).

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