The Different Facets of Injustice
A Critique of Nancy Folbre’s ‘Manifold Exploitations’
In her recent work, Nancy Folbre (2020, 2021) undertakes an ambitious effort: constructing an intersectional political economy that aims to identify the common mechanisms and logic underpinning the many wrongs that characterise capitalism. In this paper, we focus on what we deem the three fundamental theoretical pillars of her approach. First, she challenges the oppression/exploitation distinction within Marxian political economy and proposes a broader definition of exploitation that can take manifold forms. Second, she questions the Marxian concept of class, and emphasises the variety of forms of subordination and exploitation related to social identities that cannot be reduced to Marxian classes. Finally, she advocates a more comprehensive notion of the economy beyond a focus on capitalist relations of production. It is difficult to understate the theoretical relevance of these claims, which highlight the importance of various contemporary forms of injustice—of which the exploitation of workers by capitalists is only one. As a complement to the Marxian theory of exploitation and class, Folbre’s approach would broaden our understanding of oppressive social relations. Yet as an alternative to Marxian political economy, it is ultimately unconvincing: a shift of emphasis to ‘manifold exploitations’, social groups, and the economy does not yield a gain in analytical insight but rather an impoverishment of our conceptual toolbox. The struggle against capitalism is different from the struggle against patriarchy and racism, even if the ultimate aim should be the removal of all structures of oppression and domination.