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Silvia Federici

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Silvia Federici
Photo of Federici being interviewed in 2014
Federici being interviewed in 2014
Born1942 (age 81–82)
Parma, Italy
PartnerGeorge Caffentzis
Academic background
Alma materUniversity at Buffalo, NY, USA (PhD)
Academic work
Notable worksCaliban and the Witch (2004)

Silvia Federici (born 1942) is a scholar, teacher, and feminist activist based in New York.[1] She is a professor emerita and teaching fellow at Hofstra University in New York State, where she was a social science professor.[2] She also taught at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria from 1984 to 1986 (Federici, 2014, revised edition 'Caliban and the Witch,' p.9).[when?] In 1972, with Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, she co-founded the International Feminist Collective, the organization that launched the campaign for Wages for Housework. In 1990, Federici co-founded the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa (CAFA), and, with Ousseina Alidou, was the editor of the CAFA bulletin for over a decade.[3] She was also a member of the Academic Association of Africa Scholars (ACAS) and among the voices generating support for the struggles of students across the African continent and in the United States.[citation needed] In 1995, in the course of the campaign to demand the liberation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, she cofounded the Radical Philosophy Association (RPA) anti-death penalty project, an organization intended to help educators become a driving force towards its abolition.[citation needed] From 1979 to 2003, she was a member of the Midnight Notes Collective.[citation needed]

For several decades, Federici has been working in a variety of projects with feminist organizations across the world like Women in Nigeria (WIN), Ni Una Menos, the Argentinian feminist organization, and Feminist research on violence in New York.[citation needed] For the last five years,[when?] she has been organizing a project with feminist collectives in Spain to reconstruct the history of the women, who were persecuted as witches in early modern Europe, and raise consciousness about the contemporary witch-hunts that are taking place across the world.[citation needed]

Federici is considered one of the leading feminist theoreticians in Marxist feminist theory, women’s history, political philosophy, and the history and theory of the commons. Her most famous book, Caliban and the Witch, has been translated in more than 20 foreign languages, and adopted in courses across the U.S. and many other countries.[citation needed] Often described as a counterpoint to Marx's account of "primitive accumulation," Caliban reconstructs the history of capitalism, highlighting the continuity between the capitalist subjugation of women, the slave trade, and the colonization of the Americas. It has been described as the first history of capitalism with women at the center.[citation needed] Federici's work in Caliban has crystallized her reputation as a member of the Marxist and feminist theoretical canon.


Federici was born in Parma, Italy, in 1942.[4] She moved to the US in 1967 to study for a PhD in philosophy at the University at Buffalo[5] with support from a Fulbright scholarship.[4] She taught at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, and was Associate Professor and later Professor of Political Philosophy and International Studies at New College of Hofstra University.

She was co-founder of the International Feminist Collective, and an organizer with the wages for housework campaign. In 1973, she helped start Wages for Housework groups in the US. In 1975 she published Wages Against Housework, the book most commonly associated with the wages for housework movement.[6]

She also co-founded the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa (CAFA), and was involved with the Midnight Notes Collective. In 1995, she co-founded the Radical Philosophy Association (RPA) anti-death penalty project.

Federici lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her partner George Caffentzis.[4]

In March 2022, Federici was amongst 151 international feminists signing Feminist Resistance Against War: A Manifesto, in solidarity with the Feminist Anti-War Resistance initiated by Russian feminists after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[7]

Scholarly contributions[edit]

Federici's best known work, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, expands on the work of Leopoldina Fortunati investigating the reasons for the witch hunts[8][9][10][11] of the early modern period, but giving a feminist interpretation. In it, she argues against the popular interpretation of Karl Marx's concept of primitive accumulation which is often viewed as a necessary precursor for capitalism. Instead, she posits that primitive accumulation is a fundamental characteristic of capitalism itself—that capitalism, in order to perpetuate itself, requires a constant infusion of expropriated capital.

Federici connects this expropriation to women's unpaid labour, both connected to reproduction and otherwise, which she frames as a historical precondition to the rise of a capitalist economy predicated upon wage labor. Related to this, she outlines the historical struggle for the commons and the struggle for communalism. Instead of seeing capitalism as a liberatory defeat of feudalism, Federici interprets the ascent of capitalism as a reactionary move to subvert the rising tide of communalism and to retain the basic social contract.

She situates the institutionalization of rape and prostitution, as well as the heretic and witch-hunt trials, burnings, and torture at the center of a methodical subjugation of women and appropriation of their labor. This is tied into colonial expropriation and provides a framework for understanding the work of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other proxy institutions as engaging in a renewed cycle of primitive accumulation, by which everything held in common—from water, to seeds, to our genetic code—becomes privatized in what amounts to a new round of enclosures.



As editor[edit]

  • (1995) (ed.) Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and Its "Others". Westport, CT, and London: Praeger.
  • (2000) (ed.) A Thousand Flowers: Structural Adjustment and the Struggle for Education in Africa. Africa World Press.
  • (2000) (eds.) African Visions: Literary Images, Political Change, and Social Struggle in Contemporary Africa. Westport, CT, and London: Praeger.


Free online access:

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Silvia Federici biography". Interactivist. 28 September 2007. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  2. ^ "Silvia Federici biography". Democracy Now. Archived from the original on 20 April 2006. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  3. ^ "On capitalism, colonialism, women and food politics". Politics and Culture. 2 (Special Issue on Food & Sovereignty). 2009.[dead link]
  4. ^ a b c Kisner, Jordan (17 February 2021). "The Lockdown Showed How the Economy Exploits Women. She Already Knew". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  5. ^ "Silvia Federici, On capitalism, colonialism, women and food politics" Archived 2017-10-11 at the Wayback Machine, interview by Max Haiven, Politics and Culture, 2009, Issue 2.
  6. ^ Vishmidt, Marina (March 2013). "Permanent Reproductive Crisis: An Interview with Silvia Federici". Meta Mute. Mute.
  7. ^ "Feminist Resistance Against War: A Manifesto". Specter Journal. 17 March 2022. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
  8. ^ "January 2018 (Volume 69, Number 8) | The Editors | Monthly Review". Monthly Review. 1 January 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  9. ^ Cervantes, Hugo (22 January 2018). ""Out of this World": How Mykki Blanco and i-D highlight Johannesburg's queer life - Highlander". Highlander. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  10. ^ Duffau, Helene. "Caliban et la sorcière: femmes, corps et accumulation primitive" [Caliban and the Witch: Women, Bodies, and Primitive Accumulation]. Club de Mediapart (in French). Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  11. ^ "Le corps, terrain originel de l'exploitation des femmes" [The body, the original terrain of the exploitation of women]. Le Monde.fr (in French). 9 July 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2018.

External links[edit]