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Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation (2004)

by Silvia Federici

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7251426,840 (4.17)3
Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch hunts and the rise of mechanical philosophy, Federici investigates the capitalist rationalization of social reproduction. She shows how the struggle against the rebel body and the conflict between body and mind are essential conditions for the development of labour power and owership, two central principles of modern social organization.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
harrowing ( )
  icedtati | Sep 7, 2021 |
Federici's thesis appears intriguing on the surface, and while the work can provide insight into her own philosophical perspectives relating to socialist feminism, the book does not contribute to historical scholarship on the witch trials.

Federici does have valuable socialist insight found in the work. She notes how a hierarchal system (feudalism, and later capitalism) dispossesed the European peasantry from the means of subsistence / production - the land. From this premise, one can further concieve of the intersections between Environmentalism, Socialism, Feminism, and - with the addition of discussions relating to colonization - Postcolonialism. Unfortunately, despite this solid premise for philosophical discussion, this volume did not explore these avenues. Rather, it attempted a historical analysis seeking to link the witch trials of early modern Europe with primitive accumulation.

Federici cites her sources throughout, however, she makes numerous historical errors that raise red flags for historians. Firstly, her analysis stretches from the middle ages to early modern Europe, including multiple countries, and then into colonial Latin America and colonial British America. This only allows for a very shallow analysis of any given period and region to discuss in less than 300 pages total. Secondly, she refers to Prima Noctis as fact (this pervasive legend is popularized by Braveheart, but is pure fiction), and uncritically references the discredited witch cult hypothesis. These major issues remove any credibility of the work for students of history.

Overall, Federici's ideas in this work have value for philosophical thinkers, but not for serious students of history. The tragedy is that this work presents itself as a historical overview and thesis, and so fails in its mission. ( )
  WaldensLibrary | Mar 27, 2021 |
Excellent read on the end of European feudalism and the war capitalism waged to subdue peasants. Like many, my education about the Middle Ages was very limited, and my impression was mostly that of a miserable, impoverished peasantry in virtual slavery to their feudal lords. Little did I know that peasants actually had power - and lots of it - in the twilight of feudalism. The disintegrating feudal relationship, along with the massive labor shortage caused by the Black Death, led to massive wars against feudal masters and skyrocketing wages for workers.

It is in this context that Federici describes the 'Age of the Whip' - the imposition of capitalist discipline on a resistant peasantry. In particular, she explores the evolution of a number of trends, including: the enclosure of the commons and the 'bloody' laws against vagabonds, the shift to a mechanical view of the body, and most especially the war on women in the form of popular misogyny and witch burnings. She does a great job of tying these strands together in a way that's elucidating and engaging. There were a few moments towards the end of the book where I had to remind myself of the big picture, and the final chapter on the witch hunt in the Americas was not meshed well with the rest of the book, but overall a wonderful and highly recommended book. ( )
  2dgirlsrule | Jul 12, 2020 |
El libro trata dar respuesta desde una perspectiva feminista a algunas preguntas inquietantes ¿Por qué una matanza como la caza de brujas que supuso el asesinato de centenares de miles de mujeres en Europa y América ha merecido tan poco interés por parte de quienes estudian la historia? ¿Qué puede explicar semejante campaña de terror contra las mujeres? ¿Por qué hubo tan poca respuesta por parte de los hombres a esta matanza de mujeres?
  katherinevillar | Mar 24, 2020 |
I wanted to like this more than I did, though there were parts I enjoyed. On the whole there are some important ideas and ways of re-examining history in it that I'm glad to have been exposed to.

I wasn't as into the swamp of intellectual jargon (it reads like a academic thesis.. was it one?), the flimsy arguments and hand-waving conclusions, the selective omission of relevant contradictory evidence (such as: blaming hunger/etc during the ~1500's - ~1700's only on early capitalism and enclosure of the commons without ever mentioning the substantial impact on food production caused by the Little Ice Age during the same time period).

As a result, the book comes across as a deep yet narrowly researched dive on the topics it covers. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Silvia Federiciprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bondone, Giotti diCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harkey, Sally AnnCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pera Cucurell, MartaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch hunts and the rise of mechanical philosophy, Federici investigates the capitalist rationalization of social reproduction. She shows how the struggle against the rebel body and the conflict between body and mind are essential conditions for the development of labour power and owership, two central principles of modern social organization.

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