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Defending The Indefensible? Culture'S Role In The Productive/Unproductive Dichotomy


  • David Brennan


The purpose of this article is to reveal the justifications for different production boundaries historically. It finds that the boundaries were and are predicated on an untenable productive/unproductive dichotomy that was justified on select and shifting cultural norms. Furthermore, the production boundary informed other categories like labor, capital, income, and wealth. Hence, this article exposes the degree to which economic categories were and are unstable, fragile, contested, and culturally embedded constructs. It then explores feminist-inspired production boundaries based on third-person criterion and finds that these boundaries are likewise culturally contingent. However, these new production boundaries merely do what economics has always attempted to do, which is to theorize production under different cultural circumstances. This article reaffirms the mutually constitutive role of culture and economic categories.

Suggested Citation

  • David Brennan, 2006. "Defending The Indefensible? Culture'S Role In The Productive/Unproductive Dichotomy," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(3), pages 403-425.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:femeco:v:12:y:2006:i:3:p:403-425
    DOI: 10.1080/13545700600669675

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Duncan Ironmonger, 1996. "Counting outputs, capital inputs and caring labor: Estimating gross household product," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 2(3), pages 37-64.
    2. Chernomas, Robert, 1990. "Productive and Unproductive Labor and the Rate of Profit in Malthus, Ricardo, and Marx," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 12(01), pages 81-95, March.
    3. Susan Himmelweit, 1995. "The discovery of “unpaid work”: the social consequences of the expansion of “work”," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 1(2), pages 1-19.
    4. Julie Smith & Lindy Ingham, 2005. "Mothers' Milk And Measures Of Economic Output," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(1), pages 41-62.
    5. Dudley Jackson, 2000. "The New National Accounts," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 1851.
    6. Stigler, George J, 1976. "The Successes and Failures of Professor Smith," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(6), pages 1199-1213, December.
    7. Susan Himmelweit, 1995. "The Discovery of 'Unpaid Work': the social consequences of the expansion of 'work'," Open Discussion Papers in Economics 6, The Open University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economics.
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    More about this item


    Unpaid household work; culture; national income accounting; JEL Codes: B12; B13; B29;

    JEL classification:

    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)
    • B13 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Neoclassical through 1925 (Austrian, Marshallian, Walrasian, Wicksellian)
    • B29 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - Other


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