Tronto and Fischer define care as ‘a species activity that includes everything we do to maintain, continue, and repair our world so that we may live in it as well as possible’ (Tronto, 2015, p. 3). Thus, we can understand care as a foundational aspect in societies, an aspect which is vital for the structures of societies to function, and can even enable the potential to thrive, under the condition that care is valued. However, as Fraser (2016) argues, care work often goes ‘on outside the market…and relatively little of it takes the form of wage labour’, yet ‘productive’ labour relies on low-wage and unpaid social reproduction work and care work to further accumulate capital (Fraser, 2016). Yet, capitalism’s tendency toward ‘unlimited capital’ weakens the structures necessary to accumulate wealth, which include social reproductive labour and other forms of care and caring relations (Fraser, 2016). Therefore, care is both essential to capital, as well as weakened by capital. Thus, the question remains, what kind of ‘care economy’ can resolve the crisis of care and enable care work and care relations to be both valued and strengthened? The following will address this question firstly by presenting two approaches to a ‘care economy’; the first approach marketizes and privatizes care work and relations, and the second centralizes and democratizes care work and relations. This essay will then argue for the latter approach of a ‘care economy’ in order to present how a centralized and democratic care economy both strengthens and values care and caring relations.
One of the roots of the crisis of care is neoliberal market-driven logic, which prioritizes the individual, the economy, and productivity over well-being and collective care whilst relying on care to maintain productivity. Thus, the tendency to seek market-driven solutions is intrinsic in dominant economic responses to crises, an approach that would, and has, resulted in a marketized and privatized approach to the crisis of care. A marketized and privatized approach to care already exists in various sectors, which Chatzidakis et. al. refers to as ‘carewashed markets’. One illustration of a carewashed market is the capitalization of care via the gig economy and platform-based economies which provide services such as babysitting, pet care, education, elderly care, and house cleaning. (Chatzidakis et. al, 2020, 27). Though platform-based care economies monetize care work and place care in the realm of ‘economically valuable’, market-based care is privatized and thus makes care accessible only to those who have economic means. Market-based and privatized care also weaken structures of social and communal care, ‘triggering the dismantling of some of the most essential forms of social provision and resources’ (Chatzidakis et. al, 2020, 32). Thus, a marketized and privatized care economy results in exclusive access to care, based on one’s socio-economic status, and destroys forms of comprehensive and inclusive care. Therefore, the market-oriented and privatized approach to a ‘care economy’ cannot effectively address the crisis of care and enable care work and relations to be both valued and strengthened as it erases the relationality of care and makes care a luxury only available for some.
In order to effectively address the crisis of care, the rest of this essay will be devoted to making the case for a centralized and democratized care economy. A centralized and democratized care economy underscores that care does not only exist in our private lives, nor only in privatized market-oriented spheres such as the gig-economy. Instead, care is involved in all aspects of our life, from work and home, to the planet and our relationalities to one another. Thus, centring care in the economy enables a recognition of our need for one another, both human and non-human alike. An economy that values the care necessary in all relations (as opposed to only in the market and for the individual) can also lend to revitalizing and equitable work in which our worth and value is not measured by productivity nor capital, but is measured, instead, by the capacity and accessibility to care, health, and work that can support our local and global community. In a centralized and democratized economy of care, care is valued not as a (feminized) ‘gift’ but rather as the work, effort, and labour which we all partake in to sustain, not capital, but rather our connection to ourselves, our families, and our communities.
As David Graber states, ‘most work is…about maintaining things, it’s about care’ (Graber, 2021). Thus, in order to further the case for a centralized and democratized care economy, it is necessary to shift the definition of economy from production, trade, and distribution to a new definition based on maintenance, care, repair, restoration, support, and sustenance. It is also necessary to shift away from ideologies of individualism and neoliberalism, which result in the systemic erasure of public and community care through the appropriation and extinguishment of public funds. A centralized and democratized care economy would, instead, shift toward a fundamental recognition that we are all relational beings who both need care and give care throughout our lives. Understanding ourselves as relational would then support the need to address ‘global inequalities of wealth and value through progressive taxation’ (Chatzidakis et. al, 2020, p. 144). Restoring our financial institutions to invest in the care of both human and non-human life, as opposed to threatening ‘freedom’, is a vital effort toward freedom as progressive taxation provides comprehensive access to care, community, and connection for all. Thus, the centralized and democratized approach to a ‘care economy’ effectively addresses the crisis of care and enables care work and relations to be both valued and strengthened as it recognizes and enhances our reliance on and relationalities with one another, and makes care available and accessible for all.
This essay has sought to answer the question; what kind of ‘care economy’ can resolve the crisis of care and enable care work and care relations to be both valued and strengthened? In order to do so, I presented and evaluated two approaches to a ‘care economy’. The first was a market-driven and privatized care economy, and the second was a care economy that centralizes and democratizes care, thus underscoring care and care relations in all aspects of our life. Through an analysis of these two approaches, the centralized and democratized approach to a care economy revealed a greater capacity to value and strengthen care work and caring relations in a way which effectively combats the crisis of care. The marketized and privatized approach to care fails to effectively address the crisis of care as it erases social and communal care and restricts access to inclusive care. A centralized and democratic approach to care, however, reveals transformative potential, which fosters revitalizing work and working relations, inclusive access to care, and relational connections through a recognition of our interdependence on both human and non-human life. Therefore, what is needed is progressive action and taxation to further enhance and support existing care structures, as well as to build caring relations, communities, and infrastructures that are inclusive, relational, democratic, sustainable, and equitable to support caring relations for all.
Elisabeth Pedersen is a Master’s degree student of Sociology
This post was written in conjunction with the master’s sociology course “Writing Sociology,” at the Faculty of Social Studies of Masaryk University, taught by B. Nadya Jaworsky.
Chatzidakis, A., Hakim, J., Litter, J., & Rottenberg, C. (2020). The Care Manifesto: The Politics of Interdependence. Verso.
Fraser, N. (2016, August 1). Contradictions of Capital and Care. New Left Review. https://newleftreview.org/issues/ii100/articles/nancy-fraser-contradictions-of-capital-and-care.
Graeber, D. (2021, March 11). From Managerial Feudalism to the Revolt of the Caring Classes. Open Transcripts. http://opentranscripts.org/transcript/managerial-feudalism-revolt-caring-classes/.
Tronto, J. (2015). Who Cares?: How to Reshape a Democratic Politics. Cornell University Press. Retrieved April 6, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt18kr598.