The Laws of Social Reproduction: A Lesson in Appropriation

17 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2017

See all articles by Prabha Kotiswaran

Prabha Kotiswaran

King's College London - The Dickson Poon School of Law

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Date Written: February 18, 2013


This article offers insights into the law’s appropriation of women’s reproductive labour, namely, the intimate labours that they typically carry out in the context of marriage to biologically, socially, emotionally and culturally reproduce members of the household by offering a range of goods and services. Feminist legal scholars have long demonstrated the law’s failure to recognise, much less value such reproductive labour. Where the law does recognise such labour, feminists argue that it is largely within the parameters of the institution of heterosexual marriage to the exclusion of other organizational forms. The article extends this line of feminist legal critique to reveal feminists’ own reluctance to recognize the reproductive labor performed by women outside the family and explicitly for the market within the debates on social reproduction. Through a cross-sectoral comparison of the law’s regulation of three such sectors of women’s abject labour, namely, sex work, bar dancing and commercial surrogacy, the article demonstrates how despite their regulation through criminal law, licensing law and contract law, there are several structural similarities in the political economies of these sectors. Consequently, any change in the rule network pertaining to any one sector of women’s reproductive labour affects women in that sector but also in other sectors. The article argues that it is only through an examination of the deep inter-connectedness between sectors of women’s reproductive labor that feminists can assess whether an alternative regulatory matrix would further women’s claims to economic justice.

Suggested Citation

Kotiswaran, Prabha, The Laws of Social Reproduction: A Lesson in Appropriation (February 18, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Prabha Kotiswaran (Contact Author)

King's College London - The Dickson Poon School of Law ( email )

Somerset House East Wing
London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

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