A Woman’s Work: Making Something Out of Nothing

Introduction to the Special Issue


  • Roxanne Douglas University of Exeter




World-Literature, Women, Workers, Social Reproduction, Labor, Labour


This paper introduces this Special Issue of the Journal of World-Systems Research, “Women in World-Literature: A Woman’s Work” by making the case that the Warwick Research Collective’s (WReC 2015: 9) conception of “combined and uneven development” can not only be applied to women’s writing in conversation with materialist feminist theory, but perhaps misses the ways in which women, Black feminists, indigenous lifeways, and queer world-making shows us a form of work that is not bound by the wage or value-exchange system, as many acts of care or favors often described as “women’s work”—cannot be repaid (Walton and Luker 2019). Missing from the WReC’s framework is an explicit engagement with women’s writing and how women contribute to, and are exploited by, the world-system. This Special Issue thus focuses on only one aspect of women’s engagement with the world-literary system: women’s work. From the labor market, motherhood, sex work, affective work, to knowledge production and storytelling, to the very work of consumption itself. Social reproduction theory and materialist feminists have made the case that capitalism relies on the invisible labor of women, particularly domestic work and community work. Yet, if we consider the creative dimensions of women’s work, do we discover gaps in world-systems frameworks which, when refracted through literary analysis, actually upset capitalism’s insistence upon the inevitability of exchange value? To exemplify this, I turn to Silvia Federici’s explanations of the witch as a tool to think about how we might “make something out of nothing.”


Bhattacharya, Tithi. 2017. “Introduction: Mapping Social Reproduction Theory.” Pp. 1–20 in Social reproduction theory: remapping class, recentering oppression, edited by T. Bhattacharya and L. Vogel. London: Pluto Press.

Bush, Kate. 1989. This Woman’s Work. Britain: EMI Group Limited.

Butler, Judith. 1988. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal 40(4): 519. doi: 10.2307/3207893.

Center for Reproductive Rights. 2023. “The World’s Abortion Laws.” Center for Reproductive Rights. Retrieved 16 August 2023 (https://reproductiverights.org/maps/worlds-abortion-laws/).

Dalla Costa, Mariarosa. 1972. “Women and the Subversion of the Community.” Pp. 23–69 in THE POWER of WOMEN and the SUBVERSION of the COMMUNITY. The Falling Wall Press; The Commoner.

Dunaway, Wilma A. 2001. “The Double Register of History: Situating the Forgotten Woman and Her Household in Capitalist Commodity Chains.” Journal of World-Systems Research 7(1): 2–29. doi: https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2001.182.

Federici, Silvia. 1975. Wages against Housework. Bristol: Falling Wall Pr.

Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia.

hooks, bell. 2000. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. 2nd ed. London: Pluto Press.

Hughes, John, dir. 1988. She’s Having a Baby. Paramount Pictures.

ILGA Europe. 2023. 2023 Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex People in United Kingdom Covering the Period of January to December 2022. Brussels, Belgium: ILGA Europe - the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association; the European Union.

Knopf, Kerstin. 2015. “The Turn Toward the Indigenous: Knowledge Systems and Practices in the Academy.” Amerikastudien / American Studies 60(2/3): 179–200.

Lorde, Audre. 1984. Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power. New York, New York: Penguin Books.

MacKinnon, Catherine A. 2023. “Exploring Transgender Law and Politics.” Signs Journal. Retrieved 19 August 2023 (https://signsjournal.org/exploring-transgender-law-and-politics/).

Minh-ha, Trinh T. 1989. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Moretti, Franco. 2014. “Conjectures on World Literature (2000) and More Conjectures (2003).” Pp. 159–79 in World Literature in Theory, edited by D. Damrosch. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Olufemi, Lola. 2020. Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power. London: Pluto Press.

Olufemi, Lola. 2021. Experiments in Imagining Otherwise. Maidstone: Hajar Press.

Rowbotham, Sheila. 2016. “Foreword.” in See red women’s workshop. London: Four Corners Books.

Stevenson, Prue, Susan Mackie, Anne Robinson, and Jess Baines. 2016. See Red Women’s Workshop. London: Four Corners Books.

Walton, Jo Lindsay, and Ed Luker, eds. 2019. “Introduction: Working Late.” Pp. 1–68 in Poetry and work: work in modern and contemporary Anglophone poetry, Modern and contemporary poetry and poetics. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Watts, Carol. 1992. “Releasing Possibility into Form: Cultural Choice and the Woman Writer.” Pp. 83–102 in New feminist discourses: critical essays on theories and texts, edited by I. Armstrong. London: New York: Routledge.

Weeks, Kathi. 2011. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press.

Woolf, Virginia. 1994. A Room of One’s Own. London: Flamingo.

WReC, Warwick Research Collective. 2015. Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature. Liverpool University Press.




How to Cite

Douglas, R. (2024). A Woman’s Work: Making Something Out of Nothing: Introduction to the Special Issue . Journal of World-Systems Research, 30(1), 6–29. https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2024.1232



Women in World-Literature: A Woman’s Work