Who lives, who dies, who cares? When the Covid-19 pandemic struck it viciously exposed the brokenness of our care systems. While lockdowns generated a new sense of community for some, it reinforced conflicts and inequalities for many others. The next issue of engagée explores both the violence and ambivalence of care, as well as the possibility to expand our imagination and build alternatives.
The pandemic has revealed once again that societies do not protect all lives equally. Similarly, it made visible the uneven distribution of care-work. Pandemic induced inequalities turn care into a question of life and death, of biopolitics and necropolitics. While numbers have become the primary mechanisms for the validation of government’s intervention, they have also been weaponised to obscure differences. Missing datasets about the number of infections and deaths by race are reinforcing existing injustices – something activists of Data for black lives are determined to challenge.
With health services weakened by decades of budget cuts, attacks on the welfare state and hostility towards unions, the exploitation of care labour has intensified. Often invisible, undervalued and feminised, care work is consistently exploited by a rising number of profit-driven “care industries”. At the same time, we see women migrating to high-income economies, a process often referred to as “care drain”. This raises deeper questions about the relation between care and work, one that asks: How can care work be properly resourced and democratically organised?
As ideas of social welfare and community are pushed aside by individualist notions of “wellness”, “resilience”, and “self-improvement”, the rise of “self-care” industries relegates care to something for sale and for personal use. Platforms like care.com, for example, seek to match gig-economy workers with those in need of care, creating “care on-demand”, while simultaneously undermining communal resources. Meanwhile, corporations spend billions on what the Care Collective terms “carewashing” to present themselves as socially responsible.
Ultimately, we see that local governments invest in policing and surveillance technologies rather than social provision – putting racialised and migrant communities most at risk. The defunding of care has reinforced narrowed caring imaginaries of “care for one’s own”, such as in the context of the nuclear family or far-right movements. How can we rethink care across differences? How can demands for family and police abolition unlock new imaginaries?
Against these attempts of policing and restricting care, alternative imaginaries of queer utopianism and trans-liberation have gained new traction. Yet thinking about care beyond the family is, as Sophie Silverstein explains, “less about taking away safety and cosiness than it is about extending those very same conditions to everyone regardless of how they live and love”.
If we want to understand care as a collective organising principle – something proposed by political scientist Joan Tronto – where do we start? In theoretical terms, this means restoring care at the centre of our political vocabulary, starting by recognising shared vulnerabilities and interconnectedness. In practical terms, we have to demand that we put care at the very heart of our social relationships and politics.
From mutual aid groups to shared resources and local democracy, from “libraries of things” to time banks and skills-share sessions, from digital infrastructure that we co-own to housing as an infrastructure of care, from reproductive to climate justice, from universal health care to workers’ rights, from community care-building to practice of self-government: Who Cares?