Neoliberalization, social reproduction and the limits to labour in Jamaica


Beverley Mullings (email:


Since the 1980s the Jamaican state has systematically withdrawn from investments geared towards enhancing the social and psychological welfare of its citizens, shifting the responsibility and cost for the education, health care and socialization of dependent members of the society to households and communities. This shift in responsibility for social reproduction disproportionately and negatively affected women, who have traditionally assumed primary responsibility for this necessary component of capitalist systems. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Jamaicans, primarily women, successfully rendered a spatial fix to the crisis by stretching the space and scale of their everyday means of existence beyond the nation's territorial boundaries. However, as this paper demonstrates, Jamaica is approaching the limits of its population's ability to reproduce the social structures and relations needed for social stability. This situation, that I describe as the ‘limit to labour’ is increasingly manifested in declining levels of social cohesion and heightened levels of violence in at all levels of Jamaican society. Although crisis has been a defining feature of social reproduction in Jamaica throughout its history, the emerging social crisis should be distinguished in its severity because it has begun to erode the social institutions and norms upon which Jamaica's social order has historically rested. It is the economic costs of this emerging limit to labour that ultimately pose the greatest threat to the sustainability of current neoliberalization processes.