Re-gendering the Indebted Man: Female Subjectivity in the Argentine Financial Crisis

By George Jepson, 20 March 2019
Image: Women demonstrate at the third Ni Una Menos protest against femicide, Buenos Aires, June 2017

The austerity programme imposed by the IMF after Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis, far from imposing debt universally as Maurizio Lazzarato’s figure of the ‘indebted man’ would have it, hit women hardest. George Jepson revisits this history to extract the figure of the ‘indebted woman’ it forged and the collective female body of protest that erupted as a result.

In December 2001, Argentina erupted in popular revolt. Mass mobilisations and street protests broke out against a government whose policies of debt indued austerity had, for too long, widened the gap between the elite and the increasingly impoverished masses. Media images of these insurrections circulated around the globe, defining collective knowledge of the crisis and imparting a sense of its severity, radicalism, and the instability of Argentina’s political system. Images of picqueteros (street pickets), pan banging (cacerolazo), roadblocks, the fire-bombing and vandalism of banks and municipal buildings came to symbolise the revolts.

However, rather than erupting from a dormant population, it is by now well understood that the conditions that sparked these insurrections had been developing since at least the 1990s.[1] The Argentinian context itself works as perhaps the ultimate example of a nation in the Global South into which a huge influx of capital acted to destabilise both the economy and national and local politics, and for which global financial institutions would have to come to ‘save the day.’ How is it that the neoliberal policies imposed by these institutions served, contrary to their reasoning, to worsen the crisis, foster political corruption, and plunge 50 percent of the population below the poverty line? These conditions, imposed in numerous iterations since the 1980s by the IMF and the World Bank –- in collusion with lobbying American Banks and vulture funds[2] – and, the Argentine state, are evocative of an ongoing imbalance of power between the Global North and South.

But these neoliberal policies and economic conditions did more than have a catastrophic effect on the Argentine economy. In fact, the IMF and international banks, who willingly lent money to a military dictatorship, were complicit in and benefitted greatly from the creation of Argentina as an ‘indebted nation’. This process actively sought to recolonise Latin America; weaponising international finance as a means of governance.[3] Within this context, I will explore Maurizio Lazzarato’s ‘indebted man’ paradigm that constructs ‘indebtedness’ as a generalised subjective condition through which the most universal power relation has become that of the debtor-creditor: ‘[everyone] is a ‘debtor’ accountable to and guilty before capital.’[4]

There is however, as Tiziana Terranova understands, ‘an inconsistency in relation to [Lazzarato’s] analysis of debt as generalised condition,’ which necessitates ‘drawing attention to the gendered character of the debtor-creditor relationship and how it intervenes in processes of reproduction.’ [5] I extrapolate from this as a means to explore the possibilities of theorising differential subjective conditions insofar as they are contingent on the concept of debt and its affective potentials. Lazzarato’s figure provides a useful but limited paradigm of global indebtedness that I will expand through the conditions of the Argentine financial crisis, its history and legacy, particularly exploring the scope of its appropriation and effect on the figuration of and possibilities for female subjectivities. By interrelating Lazzarato’s paradigm to work exploring the condition and roles of women in Argentina in this period, the indebted figure can be expanded to emerge as a self-aware, non-finite, differently-gendered subjective trope.

Today the conquistadors are the officers of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who are still preaching the worth of a penny to the same populations which the dominant world powers have for centuries robbed and pauperized.’

 – Silvia Federici[6]

Following Federici, we can begin to understand the origins of the Argentine financial crisis as subject to the same processes of primitive accumulation as that which Marx outlines in Capital Vol. 1. As Marx delineates, primitive accumulation is the incremental, but violent, establishment of private property as the central tenet of (global) capitalism; the appropriation of formerly public or unowned commons as private wealth.[7] While Federici expands the notion to include the (female) body as an appropriable and expropriable object, for Marx it is centrally a process of land enclosure, which provides grounds for ongoing wealth creation and, by extension, capitalism’s own reproduction. Following this we can understand – as does Rosa Luxemburg – that capitalism’s fundamental means of reproduction[JB3]  is in fact its ability to provoke, displace and overcome crisis through the assimilation of the form the crisis takes. For our purposes, this mechanism takes multiple forms as we must understand that not only did the debt crisis emerge from a series of loans amassed by Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1981, essentially for personal gain, but that the lending of these loans from mostly United States banks was an active mechanism of support for the regime[JB4] . Of both the micro and the macro, the same logic is true: keeping a particular demographic indebted or the nation in which they reside indebted maintains a pre-existing balance of power. The process of indebtedness itself is designed to be self-perpetuating, making the structural conditions of resistance against this balance of power ever more impossible to overcome. This also extends to the United States’ ability to maintain Argentina’s general state of indebtedness in collusion with a conservative government, for whom the country itself functions as an entity from which wealth can be extracted. There becomes no danger of political challenge on the global stage from a country whose masses are impoverished. [8]

We can understand debt itself then through the prism of primitive accumulation: debt creation is the appropriation of a nation’s pre-existing institutions, say state owned companies or welfare institutions, that are then used as collateral from which capital can be extracted. As Federici notes, quoting Capital, the ‘only part of the so-called national wealth that actually enters into the collective possession of a modern nation is the national debt.’[9] This logic, as we will see, can be extended to invoke a biopolitics of debt whereby the body, in our case the female body, acts as a site of constant accumulation.

Due to the sudden expansion of international finance markets in 1970s, huge loans became available which had previously not been.[10] Seizing on this, the Argentine dictatorship’s minister of finance José Alfredo Martinez de Hoz ‘adopted a strategy of accelerated external indebtedness.’[11] Instead of allowing space from debt servicing, which often stagnates economic growth simply due to the huge amount of money it takes to maintain solvency in the face of massive interest rates, his laissez-faire policy (in the form of loan taking and the abolition of export tariffs, as well as a heavy devaluation of the peso) was ‘part and parcel of a policy designed to open up the economy, to integrate the Argentinian economy into the international markets.’[12] Not only then were any internal protective measures eschewed – protection for welfare services, wage rates, and social services – but instead Argentina’s fragile markets were opened up to unhindered international competition. This essentially destroyed Argentina’s latent industrial sector, a deliberate result arising from the self-preserving agrarian elite who either populated the military government or were close allies of the regime.


Image: The swearing in of Jorge Rafael Videla after Argentina's military coup of 1976

Accordingly, the nationally owned oil firm Yacimentos Petroliferos Fiscales (YPF) was forced by Jorge Rafael Videla’s government to take out huge loans, despite the company’s solvency and high profit rate, that were channelled away from the public domain and into the private hands of military officials and a pre-existing oligarchy.[13] The strong position of the nationally owned firm, and the military regime’s distaste for it, meant that it was also heavily taxed to alleviate Argentina’s debt, essentially using publicly owned capital to sustain massive borrowing on the part of the dictatorship. Following this, the firm itself became privatised by Carlos Menem in 1993, removing it from the public domain, reducing its employee base from 52,000 to 10,600 and further channelling its profits from the public domain.[14]

The dictatorship’s loan taking was an attempt to maintain the agricultural export economy while channelling the loaned money back into private accounts, often in the same US banks from which the loans had come. This ‘capital flight’, whereby $28 billion left the country to private offshore accounts almost as quickly as it arrived, was a fundamental technique of amassing huge amounts of private wealth through the use of the collective bodies of the Argentine population as collateral for loan taking.[15] Sue Branford and Bernardo Kucinski term this ‘authoritarian indebtedness’ in which,

loans were not used to finance large-scale industrial or other projects designed to improve the productivity of the national economy. The military dictatorships used them instead to open up domestic markets to imports in order to allow the middle classes a brief, and therefore all the more passionate, frenzy of consumption. The loans raised overseas to finance such orgies of consumption, with which authoritarian regimes attempt to maintain the loyalty of their supporters, led to an exodus of capital.[16]

As a strategy of governance – the mutually constitutive process of the creation of mass wealth for the government, its allies and associated transnational corporations and the suppression of wages and employment levels as a means of reducing the possibility for resistance (the creation of living conditions inescapable to their inhabitants) – functioned exactly as intended, for a while. The process of debt accumulation so as to amass private wealth is naturally short lived, however, as upon default (after the fall of the dictatorship) not only did loans become unobtainable to the Argentinian state but the IMF conditions imposed were significantly harsher than before. As manifested in aggressive conditions of austerity, international banks recognised the precariousness of the Argentine economy, which simply became a body – essentially an institutional embodiment of the lower classes of Argentina – upon which huge interest rates could be imposed, that not only maintained the Global North/South economic power balance but also sought to indefinitely prolong conditions of indebtedness.

These loans were always amassed as a strategy of profiteering which, by its very nature, relies on the repercussions of economic policies falling onto the Argentinian lower classes who would bear the burden of the debt for decades to come. The figures speak for themselves. The Argentine national debt, prior to the dictatorship, in 1976 was $7 billion. In 1983, following the restoration of democratic rule and the election of Raul Alfonsin, the debt had risen to $50 billion (with interest payments on this debt, from 1984-1996 amounting to $15 billion alone).[17]

Here a specifically Argentinean ‘indebted man’ slowly emerges from the oppressive conditions of the dictatorship. The figure however would come to be solidified from the mid-1980s to 2001, due to the imposition of a repertoire of policies that Couze Venn understands as the ‘neoliberal reconstitution of the state to serve the market’.[18] This was never more true than with the election of Alfonsin, who attempted to control the volatile Argentine economy and maintain his concurrent image as a figurehead sold to the people as able to resolve the crisis: ‘the many hopes of Argentina’s workers rested on the new government.’[19] It is at this point that the IMF emerges as the dominant force in the re-structuring of the Argentine economy (and concurrently those of Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela), placing ‘all the responsibility for the “adjustment” on the shoulders of the debtor nation’ as a condition which posits the ‘health of the financial market [as having] absolute priority over the well-being of ordinary Latin Americans.’[20] The IMF effectively became a guarantor for the international banks. The severity of the austerity conditions that the IMF program imposed served to reassure lenders that the debts, at the very least, would continue to be serviced. As the essential mediator, the IMF (re)gained huge amounts of power in the debt renegotiations.


Image: Roberto Domi opens the offers for the privatisation of YPF, 1993

In response to 1985’s 1000 percent increase in inflation, the Argentine state, in order to meet the IMFs criteria for refinancing, imposed the Austral Plan[JB5] .[21] Its central tenets were the freezing of both prices and wages, the inflation of taxes, and the cutting of government spending; all measures which had their most immediate impact on Argentina’s poorest .[22] Where wage freezes were equal to a cut in wages, given the rising rate of inflation, the defences of the common citizen continued to weaken. By extension, this also necessitated a sudden inclusion of Argentina’s female population into the labour market (as opposed to traditionally reproductive labour, as was largely the case in Argentina).[23] As understood by Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, this process is always contradictory: what ‘began with capitalism was the more intense exploitation of women as women and the possibility at last of their liberation.’[24]

Through their inclusion into the labour market as a repercussion of increasing male joblessness (known as the ‘added worker effect’), women’s labour became a necessary supplement to the traditional Fordist ‘family wage’ which was a wage given to the (male) head of the household sufficient to provide for the nuclear family.[25] As an accumulation of previously unrecognised labour, either financially or in its reproductive capacity, traditional ‘women’s roles’ continue to be imposed, while becoming extended beyond the domestic. As Argentinian academic Ana Dinerstein contends, responsibilities simply accumulate on the figure of the female labourer.[26]

Although debt mechanisms, as with the broader Latin American debt crisis in general, are often strikingly similar, their ramifications are always heavily contextual, contingent on the responses of and impositions upon their subjects.[27] The entry of women into the labour market emphatically demonstrates this. As with Lazzarato understanding of the ‘promise’ of debt that must be honoured by the debtor, there is always a concurrent promise to the pre-existing social position of women as the reproductive force of the household. In stressing that ‘[d]ebt repayment is part of a standardisation of behavior that requires conformity to the life norms dictated by institutions’,[28] Lazzarato can actually be understood as gesturing towards a maintenance of social responsibility on the part of female labourers (both formal and informal) intensified by the austerity conditions that were concurrent with the debt repayments in Argentina. As an Argentinian woman active in the road-block movement of 2001 explains: ‘the women are always more numerous than the men, because it is embarrassing for men; their first reaction is to hide that they are unemployed.’[29] Where the social norm implies that the breadwinning man must be ashamed of his unemployment, of his inability to ‘provide’ for his family, and to fulfil the socio-economic role that he understands as germane to his gendered social position, there are also repercussions for the female figure who must extend the perimeters of her laboring responsibilities. This is evocative of the premise of the second essay of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality. Nietzsche, in whose footsteps Lazzarato would follow, formulates the central impetus for the repayment of debt as its moralisation, as inducing the most fundamental of all morals – guilt. In fact, he posits that guilt itself has its basis in debt. It is the imposition of a social and moral responsibility that finds its basis in the idea that a ‘thing must be burnt in so that it stays in the memory: only something that continues to hurt stays in the memory’[30] In these terms, the female figure has to become both reproductive of the household and economically productive due to the social mechanisms by which her husband would deem himself insufficient. The moralisation of work thus bears its burden most heavily on the female body. As Dalla Costa states, capital ‘has made men wage slaves, then, to the degree that it has succeeded in allocating [domestic services] to women in the family, and by the same process controlled the flow of women onto the labor market.’[31]


Image: Piqueteros, Puente Pueyrredón, Buenos Aires, 26th August, 2002

By understanding the conditions of indebtedness as familial, we can see how the onus is placed on the female figure to bear responsibility for the ‘emotional conditions’ of the indebtedness, the monetary void it has created, as well for the protest against these conditions themselves. To quote Dalla Costa,

women are of service not only because they carry out labour without a wage and without going on strike, but also because they always receive back into the home all those who are periodically expelled from their jobs by economic crisis. The family, this maternal cradle always ready to help and protect in time of need, has in fact the best guarantee that the unemployed do not immediately become a horde of disruptive outsiders.[32]

The reproductive labour expected of the ‘women of the house’ continued to be expected during the crisis, although now the Fordist concept of the ‘family wage’ had become untenable to swaths of working and middle class people. Wives and daughters are then expected to supplement this wage with informal work ranging from domestic (traditional, but paid, household jobs in houses other than their own) to sexual (prostitution).[33] This of course is not the subjectivity to which Lazzarato is referring, as it is not work on or ‘for’ the self, but work to survive. The time of the female (reproductive) labourer is still capitalised on as before, but its capitalisation becomes ever more extensive and exploitative.

In becoming what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as an ‘apparatus of capture’, the pressures exerted on the female body, on its capacity as a labour producing entity, through indebtedness,[34] speaks of capital’s ability to accumulate labour entirely on its own terms. As Maria Mies outlines, ‘[w]hatever the differences between the various production relations through which women are “integrated into development”, or rather subordinated under the global process of capital accumulation, one thing is clear: this integration does not mean that they become “free” wage-labourers or proletarians.’ [35] In this case it is a distorted fulfilment of demands long held by feminist movements for the gainful employment of women insofar as the burden of production as well as reproduction now falls on the heads of the most subjugated. In so far as Lazzarato contends that ‘capitalism exercises “control over the future,” since debt obligations allow one to foresee, calculate, measure and establish equivalence between current and future behaviour’ he is correct.[36] The reservation is that he fails to distinguish between the bodies upon which this control, this capture, is operative. If instead we understand that the social, familial and economic pressures exerted on the (Argentine) female body are both specific and severe, then we can easily recognise that the framework provided for differential subjectivity is even more restricted, and the framework of resistance even more contained and pressurised. This is expressed succinctly by Argentine female activist Luz, in a response to the 2001 appearance of protesting female bodies in the public arena,

We have to work because our husbands are unemployed, go to the piquete [picket] because we are also unemployed, work in the communal kitchen, take care of the kids. Gee! We have erupted into political life but at too high a cost. And to some extent, we withstand that and burden our lomos [backs], right? […] I believe that we demand from our bodies a lot more than men do. [37]

The pertinence of the body in the female experiences of debt is apparent, as noted by Federici in her contention that the female body has always functioned as a site for the accumulation of capital.[38] This view is concurrently held by Lazzarato, who understands through Foucault’s notion of biopower that the body has come to be pervaded by the logic of debt. His body however is always only an abstract debtor body, on whom a series of conditions are projected. The ability of the paradigm to purvey the specificity of the female condition in Argentina during the debt crisis is limited.


Image: Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo c.1977

In Family Values, Melinda Cooper posits that neoliberalism has always expounded the contradiction between the individualisation of its subjects and the utilisation of the family as indispensable institution for the propagation of its socially oriented laws.[39] We must however look to the physical violence that links the moralising, cognitive elements of debt as a form of governance with the tangible bodily ones, which lock women more tightly to their role within the nuclear family, increasing their vulnerability to the cycles of violence that permeate these local, familial spheres. The act of taking babies from women, who were subsequently murdered, during the dictatorship in order to procure children for the elite provides an unambiguous example of how the female body becomes a cypher and vehicle for the reproduction of a political regime. This logic is still apparent under neoliberalism, but merely buried in the moral and physical imperative to maintain the nuclear family as a means of self-preservation. They are, in Mies’s terms, both manifestations of ‘[t]he common feature of all the production and labour relations’ which entails ‘the use of structural or direct violence and coercion by which women are exploited and superexploited.’[40]

As has been widely reported in European media outlets, domestic violence, and femicide (often by husbands, boyfriends, family members), continues to be extremely prevalent in Argentina. Currently, a woman in Argentina is killed every 30 hours, or at least 1,800 since 2008.[41] Where this is often explained as an expression of underdeveloped gender politics, always in relation to the more ‘progressive’ European ones, such views misrecognise the shifting economic conditions that act in direct relation to this.

This domestic violence occurs disproportionately in the ‘informal slum developments’ given that, unsurprisingly, the women with the least autonomy, socially and economically, are the most harshly affected.[42] An essential point here is that neoliberalism, in undermining the points of contact between individuals (by converting money into the medium of all subject relations and the contiguous dissolution of social bonds), leaves women with little means bound economically to a husband, father or brother. This is true even in the case of women who have entered the labour market following the crisis and thus are earning, since in almost all cases the money is channelled back into the family institution. Also tied to austerity measures, that are always present in the servicing and attempted re-payment of large national debts, is the break up of social services. Integral here is the shutting down of women’s centres or shelters that would act as spaces of refuge for victims of domestic abuse. In social movements like the Annual Women’s Assembly we can see attempts to address the cycle of violence that binds women to the familial institution, the space where violence most commonly takes place.

Beginning in 1986 with 1,000 participants, the 2017 assembly meeting saw over 70,000 collectively mobilise. The intersection of women’s resistance and anti-debt movements was found in a number of workshops, particularly ‘Women and the Current Global Crisis’ organised by the Campaign for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM). Discussing and raising issues of vulture funds and the suspension of public debt repayments until audited with consent from the Argentine citizens, the workshop was part of a forum that acted to ‘disrupt the status quo which dictates that only certain people can express themselves whilst the rest listen in silence.’ This, as ATTAC/CADTM writer Maria Elena Saludas states, acts to allow ‘the topics discussed [to] belong exclusively to women’ and ‘to operate on the basis of consensus in order to guarantee that everyone has a say.’[43] By fostering an intersection of resistance against debt imposed crisis and the movements that seek to resist violence against women, the conditions for this violence and their relation to global neoliberal capital can come to be recognised. Incidents of violence are not, as is often represented in popular media, isolated, or performed by a certain isolated or irregular group of men against women. Rather, the violence itself is absolutely contingent on the imposition of austerity measures which both create the social conditions which allow for this violence (of course saying this is not to disavow the agency of those committing these violent acts) and undermine any means of resistance, or measures by which women can seek refuge from them.

As stated by feminist activist Veronica Gago, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo) also form integral precursors for contemporary women’s movement in the confrontation of state-led violence. Since their first march in 1977, the Madres have used public forms of street protest as their central means of confronting state terrorism.[44] What the appearance of hitherto unrecognised bodies in the form of female protestors on the street provokes is the re-development of (collective) political subjectivities. By removing them ‘from the place of the victim’ they become ‘political subjects and producers of value,’[45] as has been recognised by contemporary collective Ni Una Menos and mirrored by the rise of Women’s marches in contemporary Argentina.


Image: Ni Una Menos protests, October 2016

The pertinence of visible bodies, expressed in the influence of the Madres de Plaza Mayo, has consistently provided a central form of protest in the Argentinian context. It is less well understood, however, that women and children, make up to 70 percent of the picquateros movements that came to embody the insurrections of 2001.[46] This has even led to a re-gendering of the language used to term the protest itself, with the introduction of the piquetera.[47] This necessitates a subversion of the communitarian element implied by the reliance on the family. As Lazzarato explains,

the task of a community or society has first of all been to engender a person capable of promising, someone able to stand guarantor for himself in the creditor-debtor relationship, that is, capable of honouring his debt.[48]

What this form of protest seeks to contest is the constant pressure of austerity to individualise responsibility. The collectivisation of bodies is a direct response to corporeally experienced individualisation. Dinerstein recognises this in the term poner el cuerpo, a difficult to translate phrase akin to the English phrase ‘putting the body on the line’, but more generally addressing the need to use the body as a productive force when the power of speech has been denied. This resistant practice, and its gender specificity, lies in the historical use of women’s bodies as a primary source of wealth extraction. This informs the need of female picqueteras to protest en masse to dissolve the binding of the female body to private space (a place where essential political resistance is nevertheless always taking place) and to impose ‘a collective, embodied process’ that ‘connotes togetherness, engaging other bodies in the project of creating social change, of building power together from the bottom up.’[49] By resisting the pre-defined spaces that a female body is ‘permitted’ to occupy, there is a necessary subversion of traditional understandings of the role of the woman in social protest.

This can also be thought of in terms of the dissolution of the role of the female body as the holder of all familial responsibility. In the construction of a collective female body outside of the domestic sphere, we can see the limits of the Indebted Man being blurred and opened up to space of differentiation. The constitution of female collectivity in the public sphere produces a recognition of what Gago calls ‘autonomous bodies and sexual dissidents’ which shifts the social role of women in both its relation to social reproduction and to political protest insofar as they ‘act as a charter for producing subjectivity, connecting territories, and for building community.’[50] This simultaneously contests debt as universally individualising force at the same time as it questions the commonly held assumption that women’s role outside of the home is merely a supplement to male labour. A resurgence of popular austerity measures in 2018 under Mauricio Macri's tenure as president, always tied to the national condition of indebtedness, continue however to undermine the efficacy of resistance to its oppressive conditions.

The conditions of inflation which have been endemic to the fragile Argentine economy, exacerbated by Macri's lifting of currency controls in 2015, lead to a 25 percent increase that year, which grew to 40 percent in 2018. This resulted in an attempt by Macri's government to secure a $30 billion loan from the IMF to shore up the country's currency. These conditions are further exacerbated by the vulnerability of the Argentine economy to capital flight. The relinquishing of currency controls was hoped to allow Argentine owned capital to re-emerge as investement in the national economy, which it failed to do. Gago’s work has been fundamental to mapping this re-emerging crisis on both micro and macro levels. What she recognises is that the government’s economic strategy that seeks to free the market, claiming to address rising inflation, is part of a wider apparatus that utilises the condition of national and personal indebtedness to retain the status quo; a technique of governance that diverts the consequences of economic policy onto the most vulnerable.

Yet this emerges as claims of an expanded inclusivity framed in terms of the availability of cheap forms of consumption financed by the availability of small personal loans. The sting of debt is then always two pronged: the national debt manifests itself in harsh austerity measures, while at the domestic level unemployment leads to a rise in personal, or familial, indebtedness borne of loan taking as an attempt to curtail the economic effects of these austerity measures within the household. The social effects of this Gago makes plain.

Explaining the 'trickle down' logic of violence at the bottom rungs of Argentine society she explains, '[t]oday the household has gone from being an apparently pacified place to becoming a battlefield. Domestic violence does nothing but show scenes of a domesticity that explodes homes as sites of gruesome scenarios. Rita Segato explains how this violence is the effect of other forms of violence: the violence that men experience as humiliation in their workplaces, in a sort of sequence of interconnected pedagogies.'[51] Here the subjective capture of the male wage-earner through the structural violence of unemployment, the self-perceived emasculation, and the 'collapse of the ability to monopolize the provision of resources' on the part of the traditional male head of the household can be understood as providing the conditions in which domestic violence proliferates.

Beyond this, we must question the comprehension of these conditions as related to the increasing emergence of female bodies as a political presence in public spaces; often the (apparent) emergence of female bodies into public space is stated as a causal effect of the rise in femicide and violence against women. The Summer 2018 marches challenging existing anti-abortion laws that saw over 1 million women take to the streets provide a prescient example. This argument can be understood as a means by which cause is diverted, turning the blame back onto women themselves for the national debt servitude that precipitates social chaos, and creating a causal link between their political actions and the violence they face, therefore removing structural inequality and targeted governemental policy from the equation. The ongoing debate on abortion in Argentina is of course not unrelated.


Image: Anti-austerity protesters march in Buenos Aires following the presidential call for the early release of the largest IMF loan in history in August 2018, while towers of real estate hyper-development, Puerto Madero, loom overhead

Functioning as a manifestation of the reemergence of religion as tool of right, or centre-right, politics, to both distract from and support the moralising economic measures that amount to the increasing indebtedness of contemporary Argentina, the abortion debate also entrenches the connection between government policy and restrictive control over women's bodies. It is well understood by feminist activists that, despite popular support, the pressure of the catholic church on the structures of government had no small part in the rejection of the bill seeking to legalise abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy: the Argentine Pope Francis personally called for anti-abortion senators to ensnare their collegues, while the church itself held a ‘mass for life’ in Buenos Aires cathedral in opposition to the bill. These debates, and rejection of the bill itself, represent a further diversion of the causes at hand, playing on popular moral issues to rally sentiment for parallel debates on monetary and fiscal policy. Where the structural conditions of indebtedness and austerity emerge clearly from historical, if varied, iterations of oppressive governemental policy, their moralisation in popular debates – whether through the abortion debate or those around Argentina’s further marketisation which only serves to enrich those who have already accumulated wealth – clearly aligns with Lazzarato’s understanding of the condition of debt as enacting a subjective capture of those most vulnerable to its repercussions.

We can understand this logic as proliferating in what Gago calls the 'bankerisation of social subsidies.’[52] Usage of the welfare system in these terms becomes 'feminized', reminiscent of the way in which women's responsibility for the family unit is cemented. As she notes, women's preponderance as debtors is linked to the way in which the moralising effects of debt repayment fall most heavily on the heads of women.[53] As extrapolated from Federici, women's bodies come to replace common spaces as an object of privatisation; they are made to bear the emotional responsibility and physical repercussions of wider conditions of national debt-borne austerity. Gago's work on the proliferation of 'popular economies' provides an invaluable insight into the informal economic measures undertaken by Argentina's working classes to subvert and contest these conditions with smaller localised economies emerging to create solidarity and security against the precarity inducing measures.[54]

Understanding that the gendering of bodies constructs the object from which capital can be extracted, the female body becomes visible as a site of repetitive accumulation, particularly within the crises through which capitalism accumulates and redevelops itself. In exploring the conditions of women’s inclusion into the labour market imposed by crisis, we have seen how the female body continues to be framed as ancillary to that of the male. But it is urgent to speculate beyond this mere comprehension of the relations of bodies. The individualisation of the female that is continuous with this, by which a woman, always attached to a man, becomes alienated from all others in that attachment, is a division by which capital maintains its balance of power and subjugates female labour, in both reproductive and economic terms, to market logics that are free to dispel it at whim. Movements such as the national women’s assembly in Argentina, as well as the recognition that Argentine women have always been a fundamental element in political protest, offer ways to rethink the connections between bodies. In particular, this helps forge assemblages in which (female) bodies come to recognise their relationship to others beyond patriarchal ties or those of the nuclear family. It is these fundamental reconceptualisations that gesture towards an expansion of subjectivities that allow for the differential conditions of encounter beyond those prescribed by a still patriarchal and dominating global capitalism.


George Jepson <georgejepson11 AT> is an independent writer and researcher, currently exploring the spatial conditions of financialised subjectivities.



[1] There are cases to be made that they had been present since the military dictatorship that began in 1976, ‘although of course the conditions for protests between ’76 and 2001 at least appear(ed) to have shifted.[1] See Alberto R. Bonnet, ‘Discussing the Argentine Crisis and Insurrection,’ Historical Materialism, Vol. 14:1, 2006.

[2] A vulture fund is the name given to a debt-bond which has been bought up at a low rate by a private company, usually American or European financiers, who then lobby international courts and sue for the repayment of the debt they have purchased as a means of exploiting the weakness of the debtor, and to make huge gains on the initial investment. See ATTAC/CADTM, ‘Reject the Imminent Agreement with the “Vulture Funds”’, Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt,

[3] Silvia Federici notes, ‘much of the violence unleashed is directed against women, for in the age of the computer, the conquest of the female body is still a precondition for the accumulation of labour and wealth.’ Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch, New York: Autonomedia, 2004, p.17.

[4] Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man, Semiotext(e): California, 2012, p.7.

[5] Tiziana Terranova, ‘Debt and Autonomy: Lazzarato and the Constituent Powers of the Social’, The New Reader, No. 1, 2017:

[6] Federici, op. cit., p.17.

[7] Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1887, ch. 26.

[8] And buying weapons, of course, on which they spent $10 billion from 1976-1982. There are parallels to be drawn here with U.S. military spending, allowed by the amassing of large debts, on which its global power status is partly premised.

[9] Silvia Federici, From Commoning to Debt: Financialisation, Micro-Credit and the Changing Architecture of Capital Accumulation, Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt, June 2016,

[10] Gabriela Simon, ‘Argentina: The Bitter Legacy of the ‘Sweet Money’, The Poverty of Nations: A Guide to the Debt Crisis from Argentina to Zaire, Elmar Altvater, Kurt Hübner, Jochen Lorentzen and Raúl Rojas (eds.), London: Zed Books, 1991, p.130.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Sue Branford & Bernardo Kucinski, The Debt Squads: the US, the Banks, and Latin America, London: Zed Books, 1988, pp.89-91.

[14] Gary Marx, ‘Oil Privatization Brings $3 Billion in Argentina’, Chicago Tribune, June 29, 1993,

[15] Ana Dinerstein, ‘Que se vayan todos! Popular Insurrection and Asambleas Barriales in Argentina’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 22, 2, 2002, p.21.

[16] Elmar Altvater & Kurt Hübner, ‘The Causes and Course of the International Debt Crisis’, The Poverty of Nations: A Guide to the Debt Crisis from Argentina to Zaire, ed. Elmar Altvater, Kurt Hübner, Jochen Lorentzen and Raúl Rojas (London: Zed Books, 1991) 9.

[17] Simon, op. cit., p.128.

[18] Couze Venn, ‘Neoliberal Political Economy, Biopolitics and Colonialism: A Transcolonial Genealogy of Inequality’ in Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 26(6), 2009, p.217.

[19] Simon, op. cit., p.32.

[20] Altvater & Hübner, op. cit., pp.13-15.

[21] So named for the currency, the austral, which supplanted the peso between 15 June, 1985 and December 31, 1991.

[22] ‘Between 1975 and 1982 industrial output fell by 20%, employment in the industrial sector by 40%. Crisis and mass unemployment made it possible for wages to fall from 49-32.5% of national income.’ Simon, op. cit., p.130.

[23] Statistics show that women living alone with their husband were 66-69% employed, whereas those with children were only 31-50% employed (this rise being accounted for by the child becoming of school age, e.g. above 13). Kye Woo Lee & Kisuk Cho, ‘Female labour force participation furind economic crisis in Argentina and the Republic of Korea, International Labour Review (Vol. 114, No. 4, 2005).

[24] Mariosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community, Brooklyn: Petroleuse Press, 2010, p.4.

[25] As Lazzarato explains, terms such as ‘joblessness’ and ‘unemployment’ are dependent on a particular system of (official) employment. Lazzarato, op. cit., 2012.

[26] Dinerstein, op. cit.

[27] See Branford & Kucinski, op. cit..

[28] Lazzarato, op. cit., p.128.

[29] Silvia Chejter, ‘Argentinian Women Survive Economic Crisis,’ Signs, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2004, p.535.

[30] Ibid, 38.

[31] Dalla Costa, in Dalla Costa and James, op. cit., p.1.

[32] Dalla Costa , in Dalla Costa and James, op. cit., p.18.

[33] Lee and Cho (2005).

[34] Lazzarato, op. cit..

[35] Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour, London: Zed Books, 2012, p.145.

[36] Lazzarato, op. cit., p.46.

[37] Barbara Sutton, ‘Poner el Cuerpo; Women’s Embodiment and Political Resistance in Argentina’, Latin American Politics & Society, Vol. 19, No. 3, Fall 2007, p.147.

[38] This Federici expounds through her exploration of historic witch trials, which as we have noted, while under different historical conditions to my contemporary analysis, lay a groundwork wherein the female body is conceptualised as simply another object-form from which capital can be extracted. Federici, op. cit.

[39] Melinda Cooper, Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism (New York: Zone Books, 2017).

[40] Mies (2012) 145.

[41] Ana-Cat Brigida, ‘Fighting for the murdered women of Buenos Aires’, Al Jazerra,

[42] Ibid.

[43] Maria Elena Saludas, ‘’Hats Off!’ to the 31st National Assembly of Women’, Committee for the Abolition of Illigimate Debt (2016) Accessed: [Accessed: March 2018].

[44] The reason for their assembling was a call to recognise of the ‘disappeared’ during the military dictatorship, often being the mothers of those taken by the state police, military or other clandestine governmental forces.

[45] Veronica Gago, (Interview) ‘Argentine’s Life-or-Death Women’s Movement,’ Jacobin, 2017,


[46] Raul Zibechi, Territories in Resistance: A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements, London: AK Press, 2012, p.261.

[47] Picqueteras being the lexically feminised equivalent of the ‘male’ picqueteros.

[48] Lazzarato, op. cit., 40.

[49] Barbara Sutton, ‘Poner el Cuerpo; Women’s Embodiment and Political Resistance in Argentina’, Latin American Politics & Society, Vol. 19, No. 3, Fall 2007, p.143.

[50] Gago, op. cit.

[51] Veronica Gago, ‘Is there  war “on” the body of women?: Finance, Territory and Violence.’ Viewpoint Magazine, 2018,

[52] Gago, ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Veronica Gago, ‘What are popular economies: Some reflections from Argentina,’ Radical Philosophy. 2.02., June 2018,