For someone who hasn’t come across the term before, what is social reproduction theory?
Social reproduction theory (SRT) sounds quite intimidating, but the (rather grandiose) anthology of big words masks a relatively simple question: if capitalist production is fundamentally the production of commodities, and it is workers who produce such commodities, who ‘produces’ the worker? SRT theorizes the social processes through which labour power (the worker’s capacity to work) is reproduced under capitalism and the relationship such processes have to the production of commodities.
Most stories about capitalist production begin when the worker reaches the doors of the workplace. SRT is the backstory to that narrative. If production of commodities by the worker starts at, say, 7:00 am and stops at 5:00 pm, then SRT is about what happens before 7 and after 5.
Back to the question of who produces the worker, one part of that answer is easy, almost common sense, and this is the part played by social reproduction in the private sphere, or at home. Obviously, it is because our worker had dinner, a bed to sleep in, and access to other similar ways to regenerate her capacity to work, that she is able to return to work. After her long shift at work did she then have to do a ‘second shift’ of cooking for herself and her family? Did she have to pick up her child and soothe her? Such questions open up a new set of issues. But let us for a moment set them aside and simply catalogue the ways in which her home, her place within the family, helps regenerate her working capacity.