Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Earth & Environmental Sciences


Cindi Katz

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Geography | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Autonomy, Mutual Aid, Neoliberalism, Race, Gender, Class, Social Reproduction, Urban Social Movements


New York City's neoliberal restructuring has fundamentally transformed the city's labor market and privatized many important aspects of a once robust municipal welfare system. In this research I examine one radical response to these changes: anti-authoritarian mutual aid groups that blend Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture with direct action politics. These are projects where activists attempt to build strong communities of resistance by organizing collective forms of social reproduction. I find that these projects are a threat to neoliberal urbanization because they reorganize reproduction beyond the household scale while simultaneously criticizing the social relations of capitalism as the root of household insecurity. At the same time, this research reveals that mutual aid projects coming out of the white North American anarchist social movement culture are filled with conflicts and contradictions. Activists who create "geographies of autonomy" often struggle to reconcile their imperative against hierarchy with needs for a horizontal management of the commons. Additionally, I find that although these projects take social reproduction as an object of struggle, they are prone to undervalue gendered and racialized work in a way that mirrors the same neoliberal social relations which mutual aid groups seek to escape. The conflicts that ensue from these contradictions can and often lead to women and people of color (and others) withdrawing energy or support in order to create stronger forms of mutual aid. These cleavages between activists can be best understood through black feminist and Marxist feminist theories of care in social struggle. Conflicts reveal the need for mutual aid groups to develop a social practice that revalues reproduction work in social movements and celebrates those who have done it in the past and continue to do it today.