Social reproduction, labour and austerity: carrying the future

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For many young adults in the UK, austerity has restricted capacities to access secure housing, employment and social welfare, with sharp implications for reproduction and reproductive futures. Exploring these lived reproductive experiences, this article develops a conceptual framework that brings together social reproduction, emotional labour and relational work in new ways, specifically through the concept of ‘carrying’. Carrying, I argue, beholds a range of embodied, emotional and laborious qualities that are required for contemporary social reproduction. To demonstrate, I draw on research based in the North East of England, as an area that has seen detrimental cuts in the name of austerity and has some of the lowest fertility rates in the UK. Empirical examples come from 12 in-depth Oral History and Future interviews, a technique specifically developed to explore present-day narratives about (not) having any or more children. It is argued that the emotional, embodied and relational labour of carrying is key to understanding the experience of reproduction in this context, particularly regarding (1) carrying possibilities, (2) carrying bodies and (3) carrying instabilities. These forms of labour often go unnoticed and unchecked and yet can shed new light on reproduction. To close, I argue that because the labour of reproduction is carried forward into the life-course, reproductive futures are yet another way in which social inequalities can widen further under austerity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-46
Number of pages20
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number1
Early online date17 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • austerity
  • future
  • labour
  • oral histories
  • reproduction


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