Enclosed Bodies: Locating Cerdá’s Urbanización within Federici’s History of Capitalism

Our aim is to be priceless, to price ourselves out of the market, for housework and factory work and office work to become “uneconomic.”

—Silvia Federici and Nicole Cox

A study of mobility simultaneously clarifies and unsettles the historical construction of gender.1 Centering the concept of mobility in the space of architectural history invites us to expand upon the private house—something that has been a privileged site within feminist architectural histories—to consider the multi-scalar dimensions of domesticity in the construction, subjugation, and governing of gender in the making of a modern world. If the entrenchment of gender as a marker of social difference was crucial to the formation of capitalism, an attention to im/mobility across a network of situated ideas, discourses, and spaces can shed light on how this centuries-long process would also require the reimagination and reconstruction of space across scales.

The work of feminist activist and scholar Silvia Federici is central to such a reading. Federici’s work, particularly in recent years, has become a familiar point of reference in architectural scholarship. Her activism in the 1970s with Wages for Housework, and the texts she authored, principally “Counterplanning from the Kitchen” (written with Nicole Cox), have been pivotal for resituating radical feminist critiques of architecture aligned with renewed feminist practices to rethink domestic architecture. Her text Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation looms large in contemporary feminist architectural discourse, but it also provokes questions yet to be fully addressed.2 Reading Caliban and the Witch architecturally leads us to assess the role of architecture and space as agents in the long history of capitalism that undergirds the gendering of the body. While the kitchen, the domestic interior, and the house are certainly privileged spaces in Federici’s work, they are never isolated historical endpoints or points of origin; rather, as sites of struggle, they are always inscribed in the broader political and social imaginaries that sustain them, often violently.

Drawing on Federici’s work, I argue that the construction of modern domesticity continues to depend on the co-production of a broader urban space and its attendant infrastructures that, together, work to govern the gendered body. While a process of gendering the body emerged amidst the social and epistemological transformations in early-sixteenth-century England and quickly spread through learned circles in Europe,3 it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that both this conception of the body and a politics attuned to managing it found their correlates in a spatial imaginary, a theoretical model in which space and governance could be co-organized to maintain a divided body. This model is Ildefonso Cerdá’s concept of urbanización, a term he coined in the early 1860s and developed through extensive theoretical propositions until his death in 1876. Cerdá’s written work continues a certain utopian legacy grounded in empirical science, the domination of “man” over nature, and an imaginary of the human body understood through biologically divisible categories (such as gender, race, age, and ability) whose attributes were central to the consolidation of nineteenth-century capitalism in Europe.

Revisiting Cerdá’s writings alongside Federici’s history of capitalism and the body repositions his work in two ways: first, it complicates the modernist temporality typically afforded to Cerdá’s work, displacing its point-of-origin appraisal within architectural history and casting it instead as the realization of a violent socio-spatial gendering of the human body three centuries in the making. Second, it encourages a different interpretation of his theories that helps illustrate how the gendering of space operates across scales, technologies, and territories beyond the private house.

Yet gender in Cerdá’s work is never made explicit as a structuring principle. Rather, it is expressed by the divide between mobility and immobility that organizes his entire theoretical apparatus. This distinction provides a bridge between his spatial imaginary and the gendered body for which it was designed. Reduced to a minimal, binary space of movement and rest, the urbe, as Cerdá called it, was constructed entirely around a newly imagined, modern human conditioned by unbridled mobility. Unsurprisingly, the binary space of the urbe corresponds to an equally binary body of the mobile, settling man and his largely invisible counterpart, the immobile, settled woman. The distinction between mobility and immobility not only shows how the management of gender was accomplished spatially beyond the bounds of the domestic interior, but also puts into relief the mechanisms that Cerdá prescribes to govern it.

Federici and Cox write that “It is not technology per se that degrades us, but the use capital makes of it.”4 I want to make clear that I take Cerdá’s work to be a symptom of a much larger condition. This is not an account of Cerdá’s work on the Eixample.5 Rather, the rhetorical stance of Cerdá’s written work as a theoretical projection of an imagined space allows it to work as a diagram that translates relations between power and space that are otherwise difficult to speak to. What I hope this essay offers is a kind of template for how the urbanized, gendered body can be assessed as a missing component through which to re-read architectural and urban history intersectionally. How might we approach architecture and urban space as a host of political technologies that coordinate the primitive accumulation of lands, bodies, and natures that Federici describes as an ongoing process essential to capitalism’s maintenance and growth? The division of gender pronounced in what follows must be seen as just one of many overlapping divisions that have been invented and inscribed onto the human body over the past four hundred years or more—biological divisions that capitalism instrumentalizes as a means to enclose and enslave some bodies for the extraction of capital as if it were a natural resource. Race, class, gender, ability, age, and sexuality offer crucial points from which new histories of space must continue to be written not only to expand the scope of architecture historical analysis, but so that it may in turn help empower the struggles to reimagine the present.6

The Spatial Enclosure of Women’s Bodies: Reading Federici Architecturally

Silvia Federici’s work is far-reaching. Energized by her life-long activism, it stretches across discourses, geographies, and historiographic periods. In recent years, her influence on matters of space in the social sciences has become particularly apparent, building on her work on global commons and the centrality of women to the struggles against displacement that neoliberal, financial capital has instigated.7 Her writing never seems far from her activism. In particular, Wages for Housework, a movement in which she was a key figure in the 1970s, spurred a series of formative texts, including “Counterplanning from the Kitchen.”8 Although the movement drew criticism,9 it provided the motivation for her collaboration with Leopoldina Fortunati to investigate the history of the body under capitalism, which would form the basis of Caliban and the Witch.10 Revolution at Point Zero, a collection of essays Federici began writing in the 1970s, illustrates her work to re-center the history of gender in the contemporary struggles against forms of capitalist enclosure of the commons, emphasizing in particular the centrality of women to these. Her ability to write histories of uprisings and rebellions in a language that speaks as much to the urgencies of history as they do to insurgencies of the present perhaps explains why her work has in recent years invigorated new lines of feminist scholarship and practice across the humanities.

In architecture, Federici’s writings have inspired recent feminist scholarship and practice. Most notable in this work has been “Counterplanning from the Kitchen,” written with Nicole Cox in 1976, a fiery retort to liberal feminism that situated the demands of Wages for Housework within the larger geographies of anti-capitalist struggle. Building on the work of Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, the text exposes the spaces of the domestic household as a situated technology of capitalism that forces women to perform unwaged labor while at the same time isolating them in pre-capitalist relations of dependency and violence.11 The kitchen speaks as much to the suspended invisibility of reproductive labor in the reproduction of capitalism as it does to the histories of slavery and the construction of the world proletariat. In the spirit of the revolutionary feminism of figures like Alexandra Kollontai, Federici and Cox place the kitchen next to the factory as a site not only of exploitation, but also of a potential collective struggle against the capitalist state.12

Much of Federici’s work hinges on the historically produced distinction between reproductive and productive labor, and the effects of this division are most legible in histories of the objects, spaces, and architectures that have reinforced it. It is no surprise, then, that the domestic interior, the private household, and of course the kitchen continue to be central sites of study for recent feminist architectural thinkers. In Anna Puigjaner’s call to “bring the kitchen out of the house,” Maria Giudici’s renewed feminist critique of type as a spatial logic of capitalism predicated on the productive-reproductive division of labor, and Samaneh Moafi’s critical history of domestic architecture in Iran as an embattled terrain in the co-production of gender and class, domestic architecture names a space that enables the division between the production and reproduction of capital—between waged and unwaged labor.13 Federici’s work offers a renewed method for interrogating how the design of space is linked to the violence of capitalism, the state, and the socialized policing of “private,” gendered life. In this way, Federici has allowed contemporary architectural historians to carry on the work of Delores Hayden, expanding the archive of feminist experimental architecture she amassed in the Grand Domestic Revolution, while pronouncing a more systemic critique of modern domestic architecture’s instrumentality to capitalism.14

Yet, as much as Federici’s reception in architecture has given way to more militant histories and practices, the focus on the reproductive-productive division of labor that it offers also has its limits. What is missed in this, and what makes Federici’s work especially relevant for spatial discourses more generally are its historical-conceptual conceits. Her expanded reading of capitalism through the spatio-historical notion of enclosure allows us to understand how the historical divisions of space imagined under capitalism entail a corresponding set of social divisions projected from the body outward. The enclosing of bodies opens a way to comprehend how space and social order are entwined in the historical violence at both the origin of capitalism as well as in its ongoing reproduction at a world scale.15 Caliban and the Witch, in particular, is an effort to uncover the historical roots of women’s subjugation—the origin of the division between reproductive and productive labor. Federici locates this in the history of land enclosures in Europe. This division, she argues, is the outcome of both the spatial process of appropriation of communal lands and expropriation of peasants as well as the processes for reorganizing social relations around a new understanding of the body. Arguing against Foucault’s genderless subject and Marx’s lack of gender insight in his explication of capitalism, Federici offers a profound account of the violence that accompanied and prefigured the emergence of the modern, “rational,” and capitalist world. In its tying together of the production of gender with the emergence of capitalism, Caliban and the Witch can be read alongside Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism in that both books challenge orthodox Marxism by placing the historical conditions of origination of capitalism in the cultural sphere, revealing how ideologies—whether mythic or scientistic—have served to naturalize the social orders necessary for its reproduction.16 Seeking to extend Marx’s notion of primitive accumulation, Federici argues that this process, set in motion in the sixteenth century across Europe and its colonial territories, enclosed not only lands, but also bodies.17 Primitive accumulation, for her, is the violent disciplining and enclosing of bodies in new social relations necessary for capitalism to grow out of subsistence economies. A world proletariat was formed not only through the expropriation of peasants from their means of subsistence and the enslavement of Africans and Native Americans, but also through the invention of a new human body. This body was likened to a work-machine: obedient, productive, and endowed with biologically specific capacities.

If, in Marx’s analysis, the fall of the subsistence economy was predicated on the forced separation of the buyers of labor-power from those selling it, Federici argues that this outcome came along with the forced separation of production from reproduction, bringing production for use to an end and sexually differentiating its associated activities of production—a process that she continues to trace in struggles over land throughout the world today.18 In other words, the birth of this new, enclosed machine-body was made possible by socially dividing the human body along a line of sexual distinction. Primitive accumulation, for Federici, is not just the accumulation and concentration of exploitable workers and capital. It is also an accumulation of differences and divisions within the working class, whereby hierarchies built upon gender, as well as race and age, became constitutive of class rule and operative in the formation of the modern proletariat. At the heart of this is the history of the witch-hunt. Federici’s claim is that the witch-hunts that took place in England and across Europe during the early modern period represented a turning point that led to the downfall of what had been a matriarchal world. Their purpose was to “eradicate an entire mode of existence” that threatened the structure of feudal power, “a whole world of female practices, collective relations and systems of knowledge that had been the foundation of women’s power in pre-capitalist Europe.”19 She argues that the witch-hunt was tied directly to colonialism and the institution of slavery: “Just as the Enclosures expropriated peasantry from the communal land, so the witch-hunt expropriated women from their bodies, which were thus ‘liberated’ from any impediment preventing them to function as machines for the production of labor.”20 The construction of modernity, of rational, scientific knowledge and of capitalism, Federici shows, is predicated on the transformation of women’s bodies into machines whose role in capitalism is the unwaged reproduction of labor-power: the rearing of children, housekeeping, cooking, and providing for the patriarch.21

Bringing such an expansive scope to bear on architectural work is of course not easy; we need not only new objects and sites of study, but also a departure from the dominant structures of knowledge by which we come to know architecture in the first place.22 To read a history of architecture with Federici is first and foremost to challenge the privileged category that modernism has enjoyed in architectural knowledge. It is to see the modern not as a break within a classically periodized, universal history, but as a radically divergent set of effects in a longer history of the becoming-global of a network of capitalist and colonial power. In this sense, it allows us to push against the tendency to interpret the modern domestic unit—the essential element of liberal-capitalist urban space as it emerged in the nineteenth century—as an invention contemporaneous to the inauguration of a new historical condition. Unsettling these assumptions, we can instead question how we might approach the gendering of space differently when we treat this architecture as a culmination of a far longer historical trajectory, one that exceeds the epistemological confines of architectural modernism in its traditionally understood frameworks (e.g., 1750–present). Caliban and the Witch suggests that modern domestic architecture and the work-machine body were not the outcomes of centuries of terror visited upon women, dispossessed from a life in common. Rather, both were predicated on a particular social imaginary that took hold in sixteenth-century England, one that was also accompanied from the start by an architectural imaginary. The rationality that instrumentalized sexual and biological difference as the basis for a new social division and the corresponding forms of labor that this came to mark was mirrored in and naturalized through a parallel splitting and re-signifying of architectural space that preceded and precipitated the subjugation of women.

For this reason, reading Federici architecturally helps to center our forms of inquiry around the body. It unsettles the presiding scholarly logic of architectural history that starts with the building, asking instead what it means to understand architecture as an accompaniment for a certain presupposed body, a material entanglement with an always imaginary figure whose effects circle back to haunt the fleshy bodies that come to inhabit it. So, what is an architectural history of the body as work-machine? If we follow Federici’s critique of primitive accumulation, it should come as no surprise that the social enclosure of women’s bodies has a corresponding architectural history.23 And while it is well beyond the scope of this essay to answer this question, I nevertheless want to highlight some possible points of departure.

Architectural Templates for Enclosure

An early correspondence between the social imaginary of the work-machine body and a spatial imaginary can be found in the work of Francis Bacon. For Carolyn Merchant, this came in Bacon’s overturning of an organic perception of nature that saw the earth as a woman, a source of nourishment and a figure of balance and order.24 Bacon, along with Descartes, Harvey, and others, instead advanced a mechanistic, patriarchal worldview in which nature as woman, unruly and uncontrollable, was meant to be dominated by man. “For Bacon … sexual politics helped to structure the nature of the empirical method that would produce a new form of knowledge and a new ideology of objectivity seemingly devoid of cultural and political assumptions.”25 But this violent metaphor was itself built on a history of violence that preceded and continued into Bacon’s present. For the new science that he and many others had advanced, nature, seen as disorderly and thus deserving of persecution, was mirrored in the countless women accused of witchcraft who faced the stake.26

It is important to underscore Bacon’s rumination on domestic architecture. In his text Of Building (1625), he illustrates the increasingly patriarchal nature of the English family of his time in an idealized form.27 Of note is a division of space that he advises should cut across the entire house, separating and delineating domestic life: “You cannot have a perfect palace, except you have two several sides; a side for the banquet … and a side for the household; the one for feasts and triumphs, and the other for dwelling.”28 The separation of the two sides of the house was to be managed internally and marked externally by a “great and stately tower” projecting the lines along which specific kinds of labor could be domesticated.29 This text mirrors architecturally the patriarchal structure of the society of Bensalem that Bacon expounded in his New Atlantis of 1626. Bensalem, built around the central institution, the House of Salomon, assigns its male members to partake in the discovery, documentation, and progress of scientific knowledge, while women, silenced and servile, remain with the assistance of architecture nearly invisible.

For historian Michael McKeon, Bacon’s writings offer a key insight into the history of English domestic architecture. In The Secret History of Domesticity, McKeon observes a parallel shift in the emergence of early modern domestic life in England in which the longstanding distinction between “public” and “private” activities (roughly ascribed to workplace and household activities, respectively) within the house incrementally gave way to their architectural separation. In palaces, cottages, farmhouses, and townhouses, this split was articulated over the course of what McKeon calls the “age of separation,” from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, through the introduction of screens, walls, circulation routes, passageways, vestibules, and entrance lobbies, and even through complete detachment.30 By the eighteenth century, the separation of spaces of reception and business, workshops, parlors, and halls from spaces of domestic service, sleep, storage, cooking, dining, and bathing had become second nature for architects and was often seen as the most “humane” way to organize a home. Yet the use of the public/private distinction becomes somewhat misleading, and, as McKeon seems to acknowledge, it is often better described in terms of the modes of labor that it specifies and the increasing gender-space specificity that cuts across it.31 The private might be better understood to denote the portions of domestic space dedicated to the maintenance of the household—spaces for reproductive labor and the reproduction of labor-power. The public side of the house, dedicated to receptions, social engagements, manufacturing, craft, farming activities, scientific experimentation, bookkeeping, and so on, is perhaps more accurately characterized as comprising spaces for the private affairs related to productive labor and the consumption of labor-power that would progressively take place beyond the walls of the house.

If the architectural groundwork for a domestic modernism in Europe had been all but naturalized by the eighteenth century, what exactly is new about domestic architecture in the nineteenth? Of course, the progression to an “age of separation,” as McKeon calls it, was precipitated by the demands of an increasingly international system of capital—one that we know would increasingly depend on the managed isolation of the private house. Certainly, in this context, with the rise of typological thinking by the end of the eighteenth century along with the massive expansion of housing projects developed across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we begin to see a cohesion of a gendered social order and the architectural conditions that can best reproduce it en masse. However, this reading also implicates a certain underlying systematization at work in the broader organization of space that could accommodate such a transformation. The question of domestic architecture’s articulation with this larger, more systematized space, attuned to the demands of international capitalism and its forms of governance, deserves closer attention. Federici’s notion of enclosure may help to expose domestic architecture as just one spatial register in a more complex ecology of gendered domesticity. By shifting the historical analysis to the body, we not only check the primacy of architecture, asking instead what other technologies of enclosure may have developed beyond the house, but also reframe our historical analysis by asking how subjectivity is co-produced with and through space more broadly. For this, other markers of enclosure are needed—something that a reading of Ildefonso Cerdá’s work on urbanización offers.

Enclosure beyond the House: Im/mobile Bodies

Cerdá occupies an awkward position in the canon of architectural history. While he is a well-known figure for his Eixample of Barcelona, the vast majority of his work remains paradoxically obscured by this project. He is often seen as a kind of minor Haussmann, and few have attended to the copious pages of theoretical treatises and speculative propositions he authored throughout his life, a body of work for which the Eixample was a kind of test case.32 In this written work, Cerdá sought to persuade his peers that he had discovered not a new type of city, but a new system for the co-organization of life and infrastructure that would do away with the city altogether. In its place, an edgeless, centerless grid of fluid circulation and domesticity was meant to extend across the earth, accommodating a calculated distribution of population and services. The urbe, as he called this space, was not a city at all but a spatial template on which to constitute new relations between society and technology, nature and capital, justice and subjectivity, territory and private property, movement and security, and life and labor. The urbe would at once displace the city, and by its spatio-technical disposition, render the state and its oppressive politics redundant. While Cerdá’s presumption to have discovered urbanización (a term he coined) is both remarkable and easily dismissible, the volumes in which he describes this process and the order of space it produces deserve a closer, more interpretive attention. What they capture in diagrammatic simplicity is not so much an invention as a careful documentation and description of an emergent spatial order that he observed unfolding across Europe and the Americas.

What is striking is the role that domesticity plays in Cerdá’s imaginary. For him, the single-family house operates as a kind of self-evidently and trans-historically sanctimonious category whose status in recent history—like that of the city—had become corrupted under the rule of absolutist politics. Domesticity, in his utopian assessment, had receded from history, forced into the shadows by the excesses of the state and its totalizing politics. This development, he reasoned, had steered European society off its predestined path toward civilization. The private, single-family house appeared to Cerdá as at once the most natural, ancient, and civilized form of human habitation and the promise of a society yet to be realized. Like other liberals of his time, he saw the goal of modernity as the realization of a stateless society rooted in the economic management of private affairs and whose order was legible at the scale of the family. The house thus doubles as the fundamental object of Cerdá’s urbe and the ideological form that would uniquely condition its spaces. He even describes the private, single-family house as an “elemental,” “original” urbe in itself—the casa-urbe.33

Yet to begin from the house would be to miss the subtle path that connects its spaces, as well as those of the urbe it influences, with the bodies it was meant to govern. The fractal-like logic of Cerdá’s urbe invites other ways to mark the enclosure of women’s bodies that complicate the house as the privileged site of gendered subjugation, revealing instead the urbe as a multi-scalar set of gendered technologies of enclosure. A reading of Cerdá’s theory of urbanization from the imagined body for which he theorized it reveals the contours of the subtle network of gendered space and the mechanisms that govern it.

Toward the end of his Teoría General, Cerdá gives us a provisional reading of what we might call the urbanizing body:

This man cannot be, and will not be, the calm and tranquil, almost immobile man of the generations that precede us. Instead, he will be the man of today—an active, enterprising, bold man who sacrifices his sleep and repose to find the time his business and his interests demand of him; the man who travels enormous distances in a few brief instants; the man who in just minutes transmits and circulates his news, his instructions, his commands around the entire world.34

Cerdá’s obsession with mobility—vialidad, as he called it—underpins his entire theoretical horizon, motivating nearly all considerations and decisions. Through it, he rationalizes a utopian historical structure, in which urbanization can be understood through a progressive sequence of phases of human mobility, while scrutinizing the most minute technical details of infrastructure and the regulations meant to maintain its fluidity. And because urbanization was said to be the most natural expression of humanity, the concept of vialidad articulates as much a technical principle of urban space as it does a state of being human—a corporeal condition. Like domesticity, Cerdá’s use of vialidad at times reaches the messianic, suggesting an irrevocable source of human vitality, the cause of urbanization itself. Folding pre-history into future program, vialidad is the universal human lifeforce that the urbe promises to unleash. But if the body of urbanization, perpetually driven to be mobile, is to function, it can only do so if it seeks an equal stretch of time in a state of immobility, in a state of rest and recuperation. Cerdá continues his description:

Man is; man moves. That is all. There is nothing more than rest or movement. And in the urbe, these two elements have, as it could not be otherwise, two corresponding means or instruments for their exercise. All actions associated with being at rest take place within the finite volumes, materially or virtually occupied by buildings; all actions concerning locomotion take place in the indefinite spaces that we call roads.35

The body that occupies Cerdá’s urbe dwells neither in the casa-urbe nor outside it, in the “network of ways,” but between the two. If the urbe is a mirror of the most natural state of humanity, reduced to a dichotomy of spaces of movement and spaces of rest, it suggests not a single subject—an infinitely mobile body—but an equally binary subjectivity, a body divided between states of mobility and immobility. The structure of the urbe that Cerdá prescribes is a minimal, rectilinear space composed of nothing but a network of ways and a grid of domestic blocks—vias and intervias (literally, the spaces in between roads), as Cerdá plainly calls them. While the components themselves may be discerned easily enough, the difficulty (or impossibility) of locating the ideologically dominant of the two figures in Cerdá’s writings illustrates a dialectical relationship at work between the domestic and the infrastructural, which is key to understanding his theory of urbanization. He reasoned that the street had emerged as a historical appendage of the house, and that the two had long been bound together. In this way, while vialidad determines the form of the urbe, endowing it with its expansive vitality, the intervia remains its fundamental unit, an urbe in miniature. Cerdá resolves the opposition between the two in this dialectic whole: “Dwellings are the ultimate terminal point, yet at one and the same time, they … are the first starting point of the great universal vialidad.”36

As comes through in his writings, the body that inhabits Cerdá’s urbe appears legible only in its mobility. Its illumination in this space is pronounced in the moral proclamations and technical specifications that Cerdá invests in the infrastructures of movement. While the domestic remains an essential component of the urbe—even an urbe itself—it nevertheless stands as a necessary biological technology that supplements and nourishes the urbanizing body, a space whose purpose seems to be to enable further mobility. Thus, lacking the glory of hosting infinite human circulation, the domestic lends no visibility to this body whatsoever. Rather, as an infrastructure of immobility, care, and maintenance, the mobile body becomes obscured in its spaces; it withdraws in the privacy of its walls from the vitality and visibility of life in the network of ways. Yet its obscurity in this space illuminates, if only fleetingly, that this body conceals its other: the immobile, attentive female body.

Appearing only in his descriptions of the casa-urbe, the presence of the woman in Cerdá’s imaginary seems to deserve none of the philosophical musings that his circulating man does. Instead, she is visible only in the casa-urbe in presumptions and self-evident associations with domestic activities, while the mobile, urbanizing man appears throughout Cerdá’s writings wherever he speaks to the universal principles of his vision of humanity. Unlike the man, who resides naturally in the worldly infrastructural expanses of the urbe, the woman is inscribed in—almost indistinguishable from—the machinic architectural spaces of the casa-urbe. From the perspective of these twinned, contrasting bodies, this space has much to disclose. Once again, the dogma of mobility will help to diagram the logic of its organization.

Surrounded by a “perimeter road” and ordered according to a hierarchy of interior “roads” (corridors and passageways) that connect a series of “dwellings” (rooms), the casa-urbe is an architectural technology tuned to accommodate the oscillation between states of human circulation and rest at the scale of secluded, private, family life. Like the urbe, the casa-urbe offers a clean and functional space in which the single family could dwell most rationally. The interior “streets” organize a hierarchy of rooms, each of which is assigned a specific function, which Cerdá divides into two groupings: rooms that service the collective and those intended for the individual. While the latter group includes only bedrooms, bathrooms, and lavatories, the former category includes a host of rooms that deserve their own sub-categories.37 First are rooms associated with sustenance (la manutencion): pantries, cupboards, woodsheds, food cellars, coal cellars, and kitchens. Next are rooms dedicated to cleanliness (la limpieza): laundry rooms, sculleries, lavatories, and waste-collection rooms. The third category comprises rooms for social gathering: parlors and reception rooms, domestic oratories, workshops, and offices. Finally, Cerdá identifies auxiliary quarters for domestic housework (departamentos auxiliares de la economía doméstica), which include storerooms, linen closets and storage rooms for household goods and furniture.38

While Cerdá’s unrelenting logic of division unsurprisingly scales down to the casa-urbe, here we find a deviation which may help clarify its ends. It is somewhat contradictory that the house—the quintessential site of refuge in his scheme—finds itself split down the middle like the urbe, repeating the binary logic of im/mobility. This division both mirrors and differentiates itself from that of the urbe: on one hand, we see the same logic of a hierarchy of circulatory infrastructure that gives disciplined order to the casa-urbe’s many spaces of rest (espacios destinados á la estancia).39 On the other hand, though, this logic seems to fundamentally break down when we examine the purpose of these rooms; the vast majority of them are in fact not spaces of rest at all, but sites and technologies of domestic labor.

Of the rooms he designates as dedicated to the service of the collective, eleven of the fourteen are spaces for domestic labor: pantries, cupboards, food cellars, woodsheds, coal cellars, kitchens, laundry rooms, sculleries, waste dumps, lavatories, and storerooms. The other three, meant for social gatherings, are divided into two groups: rooms in which “members of both sexes congregate”40— parlors, reception rooms, and oratories—and workshops and offices categorized according to gender, comprising “workshops; that is, a work salon (salon de labor) for the fairer sex (los individuos del bello sexo), and an office or study for the men of the family, led by the head of the household.”41 Only the remaining rooms—the quarters for individual living, bedrooms, bathrooms, and associated lavatories—are truly dedicated to repose. Aside from spaces for social gathering, the rooms devoted to the service of the collective are tended to almost entirely by “good housewives” (las buenas madres de familia) each day.42 In fact, Cerdá makes clear that the division that cuts the casa-urbe in two is not that of circulation and rest, but rather a division that separates the endless labor of housework and childcare from the glory and contemplative repose enjoyed by men. With bourgeois echoes of Bacon, Cerdá writes:

Let us consider the importance of the rooms a man retires to, sometimes to hide his small disappointments, sometimes to savor his triumphs, sometimes to meditate on the humbleness of his position, sometimes to make great plans that, to a greater or lesser extent depend on fortune in society at large, serve to fulfil his ambition for power and glory. Let us reflect that at the very heart of this sacred place there are or should be rooms destined for the mother of the family who, having given up her own life to dedicate to her children, spends her days and nights there, caring for them and educating them.43

The urbanizing man, a body oscillating between infinite mobility and serviced rest, is only imaginable when its counterpart becomes visible: the urbanized woman, a body perpetually immobilized in the space of the casa-urbe, yet paradoxically never at rest. Both figures are imagined as machines. However, the counterpoint of mobility that men perform is not rest, but the enclosure of women in unwaged reproductive labor. If the division that organizes Cerdá’s casa-urbe is in fact one of labor, then mobility becomes a signifier for something else. Following Cerdá’s fractal logic from the casa-urbe outwards, the entire urbe can be read as a disciplined geography of labor whose primary technologies are infrastructure (productive labor) and domesticity (reproductive labor). Like the casa-urbe, what matters is how to maintain the separation between these two technologies—how, in other words, to govern the bodies that dwell in this space.

Isolation and Governing Gender

Throughout his writing, Cerdá makes consistent reference to a technique he applies across scales and spaces of the urbe: “isolation” (aislamiento), allowing us to read its space from the architecture of the casa-urbe outward. Walls, corridors, and passageways isolate the male spaces of glory and repose from the invisible labor needed to maintain them and run the rest of the household. The notion of isolation continually reappears throughout the Teoría as a means of maintaining the binary nature that cuts across and defines the urbe. In his idealized detached, single-family house (casa aislado), Cerdá specifies an “isolating zone” (zona aisladora) or “field of operations” (campo de operaciones) that wraps around the house to separate it from others and from the network of roads outside its plot, while also providing a space that facilitates housework (such as hanging laundry out to dry).44 The sidewalk, with ample width and a perimeter fence, plays the key role in surrounding and isolating the intervia from the incessant vialidad of the urbe:

But since the life of man, whatever his occupation or manner of living, is a constant alteration between stasis and movement, between rest and agitation, it is essential that alongside the very spaces intended for staying (espacios destinados á la permanencia), there should be vias constantly at his disposal to offer him passage to wherever he may attempt to go… . Therefore another zone of roadways developed around the intervias is to be especially and inseparably at the service of the intervias… . In addition to transmitting movement between the vias … and the intervias, the path around the intervias has a further extremely important purpose which we must note, namely, to increase isolation.45

But it was not simply a matter of isolating one realm from the other; the governance of the whole structure would be meted out differently according to the characteristics of the two spaces. Unlike the rationally self-governing infrastructures of male circulation Cerdá imagined, whose regulation could spring from organized lines of traffic, prompts, and signals, the feminized spaces of domestic life in the intervia required a more direct mode of administration. Domestic space, seen by Cerdá as unruly, obscure, hazardous, and a potential cauldron of disease and social dissent, was to be reinvented as a coordinated biological technology. The intervia would serve the health of the family in its pursuit of capitalist exchange. It is a space for biological nourishment, the restoration of health, and the rearing of children.46 Its massing and proportions were determined by a delicate balance of the overall volume of clean air that could be generated from the interior gardens in comparison to that occupied by built mass, all as an effort to allow this air to circulate like the uninterrupted vialidad of the traffic outside.47 Below ground, vialidad consists of the removal of household waste and the delivery of domestic water, electricity, and gas. These parallel networks of circulation that animate the intervia offer a means through which to nourish the family and to realize a type of hygienic government over the urbe’s population. For this reason, the intervia must remain an interminably administered space.

Beneath all of Cerdá’s work is the presumption that the ordering of space and the control of bodies are one and the same. Tempered by his scientific pretentions and rationalized by his liberal positivism, his self-assured writings betray a conviction that the key to solving all political and social ills lies in the technical reordering of space into categories of infrastructure, nature, commerce, and domesticity. In this imaginary, the design and administration of space is itself a technique of governance whose efficacy resides in its ability to operate directly on individual bodies.48 Because of the interminably binary nature of the urbe, the technique of isolation is the most prominent spatial expression of this biopolitical structure, and it also helps to describe how gender was to be governed in the urban expanse.

Despite (or perhaps because of) Cerdá’s efforts to overcome all ancient oppositions, the urbe seems to absorb and redistribute them across a single cut that reappears at every scale of space as the principal organizing diagram. Yet this division is also a technique of dividing bodies according to sexual distinction, enclosing (“isolating”) women’s bodies in the seclusion of domestic labor to the same degree that it frees men’s bodies to partake in the newfound freedoms of movement, capital, and power in the nineteenth century. As Federici argues, capitalism does not emerge with an “original” accumulation of capital in the hands of a few and the dispossession of the many; it comes into being through the production of difference, that is, the biological division of bodies, that enables accumulation. Primitive accumulation is predicated on the accumulation of sexual as well as racial difference as a marker of a newly systematized set of social differences that enabled, and continue to enable, the existence of capitalism today. If the body became the site over which a new struggle had emerged at the dawn of capitalism in the sixteenth century, by the nineteenth, its gendered disposition had been all but naturalized, and the governments that rose to power built their techniques around this imagined body whose biological and physiological distinctions provided the features that could in turn naturalize its new roles under capitalism.49 It was Cerdá’s “genius” to build a spatial theory that not only reflected but reproduced this emergent form of liberal governance, offering a far finer and more multilayered articulation of power that could obtain in the relations between bodies and space.

It is telling that Cerdá wrote so often about the oppressive “enclosures” that he saw in the walled city. Their iniquity was that they did not conform to the abstract, statistically modulated body that had so self-evidently occupied his social imaginary of nineteenth-century life in the emerging industrial centers of Europe. Yet, this body is nothing new to the century at all. As Federici reminds us, it is the descendent of a body that had been constructed centuries earlier, through public vivisection, fragmentation, and witch-hunts—violence that at the same time destroyed the body that inhabited the pre-capitalist world of magic and animistic nature. Underpinned by the ideals of mechanical philosophy and Puritan discourses of individual talents, capacities, and inclinations, the new body was a work-machine, one whose individual powers had been rationalized and dehumanized into sellable labor-power.50 A Cartesian imaginary of self-control—at once master and slave—transcribed through nineteenth-century physics, biology, and psychology, the body of the nineteenth century became a scientifically predictable machine of labor-power, whose medical imperfections and social deviances lent a sense of assurance to Cerdá’s conviction that what was needed to perfect society, to realize utopia, was a new space that would be mechanically, socially, and biologically sympathetic to this universal conception.51 The unquestioned self-control that this body possesses, together with its predisposed, biologically differentiated proclivities, means that the house (and bourgeois domesticity more broadly) provides the philosophical and material template on which to construct a radically inverted notion of urban space, one that, like capital itself, was to be scale-less. This body was at the center of Cerdá’s theory to the extent that he calculated the urbe’s density as a measure of urbe per body.52 In this way, his theory of urbanization not only complemented the emergent liberal capitalist state, but also opened new zones of quasi-governmental interfaces between space and bodies predicated on their machinic immediacy in a space reduced almost entirely to forms of infrastructure.

Architecture, History, and Systemic Injustice

When we view urban space as a medium that divides between mobility and immobility, we begin to see a space that corresponds to a human body understood to be equally divisible according to biological markers. While Cerdá’s urbe reveals the degree to which gender had come to be naturalized as a marker corresponding to reproductive and productive forms of labor, it also shows how this division nevertheless needed to be relentlessly governed, spatially organized, and constantly reproduced. Indeed, the only way the urbe could liberate capital to expand and circulate across the globe was through its enclosure of women in an endless grid of unwaged labor. The apparatuses it prescribes are not limited to the architecture of the domestic household, but in fact took the liberal bourgeois house as a kind of template for the urbe to be reproduced across all scales. The colonial legacy from which Cerdá drew inspiration comes full circle: the enclosure of lands that the urbe makes explicit in its limitless expansion (urbanización) across the earth is at the same time the enclosure of women’s bodies in new relations of unwaged reproductive labor that its domestic grid guarantees.53

Yet this space is not without its incongruities. The gendered division that had rippled through domestic space over the course of centuries, while fit for the emerging capitalist modes of dispossession and divisions of labor, produced a social form that could not in itself be sustained. Indeed, the contradictions of the ascendant bourgeois society of the nineteenth century and its universalist, humanist values meant that the enforcing of this division and the coercion it required had to be somehow outsourced from the realm of the private domestic sphere and its naturalized morality. Cerdá’s urbanización shows us precisely how this is externalized through the spatio-governmental administration that the urbe provides. In the urbe, this division repeats itself across scales to organize the house into spaces of productive and reproductive labor, and to externalize this division into an operative and highly governed boundary condition that shapes the entire fabric of the urbe along the lines of mobility and immobility: vialidad and estancia. In the urbe, infrastructures, technologies, and the forms of governance that Cerdá devised for it maintain a capitalist state order that hinges on the gendered separation of spaces of productive labor from those of reproductive labor and the reproduction of labor power. Its privileging of circulation discloses a circular logic that continues to animate capitalist life today. This logic mythologizes the extraction of labor set in motion by gendered asymmetry, reaffirming the bonds of the patriarchal family as the basis of society.54

At stake here is ultimately a question about the scope and limitations of architecture as a site from which to confront systemic injustices. For as much as it may serve to oppress, enclose, and enslave some bodies while enriching the privileged few, architecture—as a technology—only does so because of the specific complexes of social and political norms, laws, and practices in place, categories still too often seen to be tangential to, separate from, or altogether outside the scope of architectural scholarship. Thus, we find ourselves in the perpetual dilemma wherein the architectural work to undo the spatial effects of capitalism will always remain limited in its impact without also re-evaluating the nature of architectural expertise, the accepted constraints of historical inquiry, or the situatedness of architecture’s political role in the maintenance of capitalism.

It is helpful to recall the ambition that Federici and Cox had for Wages for Housework. Their goal was adamantly not only for women to be paid for reproductive labor, and thus to enter into the wage relation; rather, it was a strategy to use the wage as a means to more effectively struggle against capitalism, to render women as a class, and thus place the house alongside the factory as a site of struggle against capitalism. Caliban and the Witch provides a history to clarify this struggle. By recentering a history of capitalism around the body, Federici offers a new language in which this struggle can be historically articulated with other struggles that continue into our present. In a sense, Caliban and the Witch makes a more nuanced demand than Wages for Housework does. It not only historically grounds the broader social, cultural, and epistemological imaginaries of capitalism that continue to permeate our bodies, but also urges readers to attend to the extensive histories of resistance as a crucial component for alternatives to capitalism.55 Because architecture has long been an instrument of capitalism, colonialism, and statecraft, and has been complicit in practices of displacement, enslavement, genocide, and environmental racism, it offers a specific site from which to write histories that speak to their co-production. But to get there, we need to continue to unsettle the space of architectural history from the bourgeois institutional structures in which it continues to be produced, and to nurture instead a culture that thinks, writes, and speaks across archives and with more militant histories that unapologetically center narratives of the past in the struggles of the present. Along the way, we may continue to learn how to encounter architecture less as an object of study and more as a way to see the world, with others.

✓ Transparent peer-reviewed

Ross Exo Adams, “Enclosed Bodies: Locating Cerdá’s Urbanización within Federici’s History of Capitalism,” Aggregate 10 (November 2022), https://doi.org/10.53965/BLVM4342.

  1. 1

    Epigraph: Silvia Federici and Nicole Cox, “Counterplanning from the Kitchen,” in Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, ed. Silvia Federici (Oakland: PM Press, 2012), 39.

  2. 2

    Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch, Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (New York: Autonomedia, 2004).

  3. 3

    Federici, Caliban and the Witch. See also Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (New York: HarperOne, 1989), and Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour (London: Zed Books, 2014).

  4. 4

    Federici and Cox, “Counterplanning from the Kitchen,” 14.

  5. 5

    Acknowledgement must be made here to work by El Grupo 2C (Salvador Tarragó, Carlos Martí Aris, Antonio Armesto Aira, Yago Bonet Correa, Joan Francesc Chico Contijoch, Antoni Ferrer Vega, Xavier Monteys Roig, Santiago Padrés Creixell, Joan Carles Theilacker Pons, Santiago Vela Parés, and Juan Llopis Maojo), whose writings and research between 1972 and 1985, published in the journal 2C Construcción de la Ciudad, shed new critical light on the Plan Cerdá’ of 1859 as well as on Cerdá’s writings. See Grupo 2C, La Barcelona de Cerdà (Barcelona: Flor del Viento Ediciones, 2009).

  6. 6

    Nancy Fraser’s work on the externalities of capitalism, as well as her calls for radical new imaginaries, comes to mind here. See Nancy Fraser, “Behind Marx’s Hidden Abode,” New Left Review no. 86 (March/April 2014). A notable influence on my work comes from the more expansive epistemological writings of Sylvia Wynter. See, in particular, Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 257–337.

  7. 7

    In addition to prominent keynotes Federici has delivered in venues ranging from the Association of American Geographers annual conference in Boston (2017) and New Orleans (2018) to the recent conference “CARE-WORK: Space, Bodies, and the Politics of Care” held at Rice University in 2021, as well as various panels centering on her work, a recent issue of Gender, Place & Culture (25, no. 9 [2018]) was dedicated to the centrality of Federici’s work to understanding contemporary spatial and political struggles.

  8. 8

    The New York Wages for Housework Committee 1972–1977: History, Theory, Documents, eds. Silvia Federici and Arlen Austin (New York: Autonomedia, 2017).

  9. 9

    Angela Davis’s refutation of the claims of the Wages for Housework movement, for example, reveals certain weaknesses in the demand for wages. See chapter 12, “The Approaching Obsolescence of Housework: A Working-Class Perspective” in Angela Davis, Women, Race and Class (New York: Random House, 1981).

  10. 10

    Their subsequent publication, Il Grande Calibano: Storia del corpo social ribelle nella prima fase del captiale (Milano: Franco Angeli, 1984), was the basis on which Federici would subsequently write Caliban and the Witch.

  11. 11

    See Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, December 29, 1971, https://libcom.org/library/power-women-subversion-community-della-costa-selma-james.

  12. 12

    Alexandra Kollontai, “Communism and the Family,” The Worker, 1920, accessed June 26, 2020, https://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1920/communism-family.htm.

  13. 13

    Anna Puigjaner, “Bringing the Kitchen out of the House,” e-flux Architecture, February 11, 2019, https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/overgrowth/221624/bringing-the-kitchen-out-of-the-house/; Maria Giudici, “Counter-Planning from the Kitchen: For a Feminist Critique of Type,” The Journal of Architecture 23, nos. 7–8 (November/December 2018): 1203–1229; Samaneh Moafi, “Esfahan, Iran: Architecture and the Making of a Gendered Working Class During the Cold War,” The Funambulist 10 (March/April 2017), https://thefunambulist.net/articles/esfahan-iran-architecture-making-gendered-working-class-cold-war-samaneh-moafi.

  14. 14

    Delores Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981).

  15. 15

    Federici’s work is indebted to that of Maria Mies, in particular, her Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World-Scale.

  16. 16

    Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1983).

  17. 17

    “Primitive accumulation,” according to Marx, refers to the original act of dispossession of wealth that doubled as the creation of an “army” of proletariats. For him, this occurred with the enclosures of the common landholdings in England across the sixteenth century and the expropriation of the free peasants from their means of subsistence, “divorcing the producer from the means of production.” Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (New York: Vintage, 1977), 875.

  18. 18

    See for example Federici, Revolution at Point Zero, and Silvia Federici, Beyond the Periphery of the Skin: Rethinking, Remaking and Reclaiming the Body in Contemporary Capitalism (Oakland: PM Press, 2020).

  19. 19

    Federici, Caliban and the Witch, 204; 102–103.

  20. 20

    Federici, Caliban and the Witch, 184.

  21. 21

    See in particular the chapter “The Great Caliban: The Struggle Against the Rebel Body,” in Federici, Caliban and the Witch, 133–162.

  22. 22

    In this respect, the collective syllabus written and taught by members of the Feminist Art and Architecture Collaborative (FAAC), inspired in part by Federici’s work, poses an entirely new epistemological framework from which to study and write architectural histories, including the objects of study (“spaces of contestation”), non-traditional temporalities of historical inquiry, and the way architectural questions can be posed more broadly. See Feminist Art and Architecture Collaborative, “Counterplanning from the Classroom,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 76, no. 3 (September, 2017), 277–280.

  23. 23

    Federici suggests as much, emphasizing that the initial borrowing of “enclosure” as a physical process to signify a social transformation, in turn, saw “the reproduction of workers shifting from the open field to the home, from the community to the family, from the public space (the common, the church) to the private”. See Federici, Caliban and the Witch, 84.

  24. 24

    Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature.

  25. 25

    Merchant, The Death of Nature, 172.

  26. 26

    Merchant, The Death of Nature, 163.

  27. 27

    Francis Bacon, The Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon, ed. J. M. Roberts (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1905).

  28. 28

    Bacon, The Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon, 789–790.

  29. 29

    Bacon, The Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon, 790.

  30. 30

    Michael McKeon, The Secret History of Domesticity: Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 212–268.

  31. 31

    McKeon, The Secret History of Domesticity, 221.

  32. 32

    Of note here is the work of Françoise Choay. Her The Rule and the Model of 1980, to which she dedicates a chapter to Cerdá’s writings, is perhaps more relevant to this essay. Françoise Choay, The Rule and the Model (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1980). See also Grupo 2C, La Barcelona de Cerdà.

  33. 33

    Ildefonso Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, y aplicación de sus principios y doctrinas a la reforma y ensanche de Barcelona (Madrid: Imprenta Española, 1867), 407, 408.

  34. 34

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 595.

  35. 35

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 595.

  36. 36

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 337–338.

  37. 37

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 429–430.

  38. 38

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 424–429.

  39. 39

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 421.

  40. 40

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 427.

  41. 41

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 428.

  42. 42

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 425.

  43. 43

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 421.

  44. 44

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 412–413.

  45. 45

    Cerdá, Teoría general de la urbanización, 368–369.

  46. 46

    Ildefonso Cerdá, Teoría de la viabilidad urbana y reforma de la de Madrid (Madrid: Instituto Nacional de la Administración Pública and Ayuntamiento de Madrid, 1861), §908.

  47. 47

    Cerdá, Teoría de la viabilidad urbana y reforma de la de Madrid, §909.

  48. 48

    Ross Exo Adams, Circulation and Urbanization (London: Sage, 2019).

  49. 49

    See Michel Feher, “The Age of Appreciation: Lectures on the Neoliberal Condition,” Goldsmiths College, London, November 2013, https://www.gold.ac.uk/architecture/projects/michel-feher/.

  50. 50

    “The Great Caliban: The Struggle against the Rebel Body” in Federici, Caliban and the Witch, 133–161.

  51. 51

    See Anson Rabinbach, The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

  52. 52

    Ildefonso Cerdá, Teoría de la construcción de las ciudades aplicada al proyecto de reforma y ensanche de Barcelona (Madrid: Ministerio para las Administraciones Públicas, 1859), §1500.

  53. 53

    Cerdá saw many of the colonial settlements and cities of the Americas as rational, forward-thinking models. These cities influenced his theories of urbanization, and he went so far as to describe urbanización as the “general colonization of our country.” For an in-depth discussion on the relation between colonization and Cerdá’s theories of urbanization, see “Circulation Unbound: The Urban” in Adams, Circulation and Urbanization, 183–210.

  54. 54

    Many have argued that this “distinction” is artificial and necessary for capitalism to function. Leopoldina Fortunati writes: “It is the positing of reproduction as non-value that enables both production and reproduction to function as the production of value.” See Leopoldina Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Work and Capital, trans. Hilary Creek, ed. Jim Fleming (New York: Autonomedia, 1995), 9. For more on the contemporary use of the family as an ideological tool of the neoliberal state and its outsourcing of public resources, see Melinda Cooper, Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism (New York: Zone Books, 2017).

  55. 55

    See the preface in Federici, Caliban and the Witch, 7–10.