Our caring futures

To ensure a flourishing of life we need to build a new society based on a model of universal care writes The Care Collective

May 29, 2021 · 6 min read
Hands in solidarity mural, Chicago, by Dan Manrique Arias (Credit Terence Faircloth CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Covid-19 has illustrated both the potential and the need for communities to self-organise mutual support. Today’s necessities are stimulating us to discover the ways people have organised in collective solidarity long before the pandemic. Alternative forms of collective care – from food and PPE provision to emotional support and education initiatives – are, in effect, a means of creative resistance, of progressive agency, disrupting and sometimes superseding the need for the inadequate and conditional care offered by some states and institutions. These networks of care, based on solidarity not charity, form what we can think of as the solidarity domestic economy.

‘Our caring futures’ is part one of three from a collection of essays on ‘social solidarity’ that were originally featured in issue #231 ‘People, Power, Place’, published in March 2021.

Care has long been feminised in our hetero-patriarchal imaginaries and, as a result, degraded and devalued. It is women, and especially migrant and ethnic minority women, who mostly perform our societies’ hands-on caring duties – childcare, nursing, care work – and are paid pitifully for doing it, if paid at all. In recent decades, care has become even more marginalised under an increasingly entrenched neoliberalism that transforms human subjects into specks of human capital and has only the most impoverished vocabulary for care. Under this logic, the NHS and the care sector are seen as economic opportunities for rentier capitalists, no longer vital institutions that care for citizens.

In The Care Manifesto we argue that we urgently need to turn this situation around and build a new society based on a model of ‘universal care’. This understands care as all that is necessary to ensure the flourishing of life on our planet. In order to arrive at this model of universal care – in which care is the organising logic of all scales of life – we looked for alternative models of care to the diminished forms that currently prevail.

AIDS activism

One of the alternative models that we were particularly struck by came out of AIDS activism in the US in the 1980s. One of the reasons the AIDS crisis became such a catastrophe during this period was because it spread among groups of people that society cared so little about – Haitian immigrants, intravenous drug users and gay men. The government response was negligible until some years after the virus had spread. As a result, grassroots organisations such as ACT UP sprung up to fill the gap.

Formed in New York in March 1987, ACT UP – the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power – described itself as a ‘diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis’. Uniting previously disparate social groups – gay men, lesbians, trans people, second wave feminists, people of colour, IV drugs users – ACT UP led a multi-pronged strategy to deal with this catastrophic failure of care. Primarily a direct-action group that organised ‘zaps’ to draw attention to government negligence over the AIDS crisis, ACT UP also organised diverse healthcare initiatives. It played a major role in pushing for the speedy and effective trials of HIV/AIDS medication and went into hospitals to care for people living with AIDS in the absence of adequate nursing.

One of the ways we made sense of ACT UP’s work around caring was by turning to an essay, ‘How to Have Promiscuity in an Epidemic’, by one of its members, the curator and academic Douglas Crimp. Crimp critiqued the idea that gay male promiscuity was at the root of the AIDS epidemic. He argued that the promiscuity of post-Stonewall sexual cultures meant that gay men multiplied experimental sexual practices beyond the penetrative sex that was the most common route of HIV transmission in gay men. In this respect, he argued, promiscuity led to safer sex practices that were in fact saving lives and not ending them as some at the time would have it.

Promiscuous care

In this spirit, we might call the multiplication and experimentation of such forms of care ‘promiscuous care’. We argue that not only at the level of kinship, but at every scale of life, we need to act in line with an ethics of promiscuous care, multiplying and experimenting with modes of caring for, about and with others, well beyond the shrivelled forms of care that are hegemonic today.

At the community level we need to cultivate local cultures of mutual aid, universal solidarity and radical democracy. We have seen this recently in Covid-19 mutual aid groups and the ongoing movement of radical municipalism. We also need to continue experimenting with and scaling up alternative, sharing economic arrangements such as those found in the solidarity initiatives of austerity-hit Greece or Spain. Promiscuity here extends not only to the ways we connect with one another but also to our engagement with inanimate objects, embracing alternative forms of collective joy that disrupt materialistic and possessive individualist imaginaries. Such initiatives therefore prefigure new forms of caring for one another and the planet.

What this means in practical terms is that we must normalise an egalitarian model of care in which everyone can care for everyone, including our communities and the wider world – not just relying upon hyper-exploited, feminised or racialised subjects – while developing a radically democratic state that can resource these experimental caring arrangements. We must therefore proliferate and expand our circles of care beyond our families and those designated as our fellow citizens, rebuild our communities and think globally, if we are to stop both the mounting refugee and environmental crises, reimagining the stranger and the non-human world as kin.

The Care Collective is Andreas Chatzidakis, Jamie Hakim, Jo Littler, Catherine Rottenberg and Lynne Segal. This essay first appeared in issue #231 ‘People, Power, Place’. Subscribe today to get your copy and support fearless, independent media

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