COMMENT: This entry continues reflections prompted by Hanne Marlene Dahl’s recent book Struggles in (Elderly) Care: A Feminist View (Palgrave Macmillan 2017) (see 21 January, 2018, for previous entry).

One of Dahl’s projects is to consider existing research on care and how to develop a new analytic. She notes that for some years feminists have worked assiduously to ensure that “care” is treated seriously as a political issue. Her Chapter 3 provides a helpful review of many of these interventions.

Drawing on Mol (The logic of care – Health and the problem of patient choice, Routledge, 2008) Dahl endorses the need for a new question to guide research on care. It is time, she suggests, to stop asking “What is care?”, a question that risks essentializing “care” (p. 61). Instead we need to reflect on how we think about care, asking: “How are the changing conditions of care and an attention to power and struggles reframing our theorizing about care?” (p. 62; italics in original). Here the point is that how we talk or theorize about care reflects the changing political landscapes we inhabit. Hence “care” is a “moving feast”; it is unwise theoretically to speak about “it” as a “thing”.

Along similar lines Mol et al. (“Care in Practice: on Normativity, Concepts and Boundaries”, Technoscienza, 21(1), p. 84) refuse to define “care”. The authors explain the limitations imposed by definitions. Put (much too) simply, if we provide a definition of an apple, from that point in time we see, as apples, only those things that fit that description. The same is the case with “care”. How confining!

Changing the target of analysis from “care” as a “thing” to how we talk about or theorize care means examining critically the concepts we use – asking what they allow us to see and what they (may) leave out. This reflexive or self-problematizing approach to research is highlighted in Step 7 of the WPR approach, which states: “Apply this list of questions to your own problem representations”.

One concept that may deserve more scrutiny of this nature is “vulnerability”. A good deal of current feminist analysis deploys this concept or close synonyms (e.g. “precarity”; Puar J 2012. “Precarity talk: a virtual roundtable with Lauren Berlant, Judith Butler, Bojana Cvejic, Isabel Lorey, Jasbir Puar, and Ana Vujanovic”. TDR: The Drama Review 56(4): 163–177).

Work I have undertaken with Chris Beasley suggests that such languages (e.g. “vulnerability”, “precarity”) carry within them an unstated hierarchy between those presumed to be “weak” and those who are considered to be “strong”. Even if the argument is made that we are all “vulnerable” at different stages in our lives, it is important to challenge the weak/strong dichotomy (see Dahl on the importance of trying to avoid reproducing dichotomies; p. 14). To this end Chris Beasley and I have developed the concept of “social flesh”, which draws attention to shared human reliance on social space, infrastructure and resources. In our view this shift from “vulnerability” and “dependence” to embodied interconnection provides grounds for a radical democracy and challenges taken-for-granted privilege (C. Bacchi and C. Beasley, “The Limits of Trust and Respect: Rethinking Dependency”, Social Alternatives, 24(4), 2005: 55-59; see also C. Beasley and C. Bacchi, “Envisaging a new politics for an ethical future. Beyond trust, care and generosity – Towards an ethic of ‘social flesh’”, Feminist Theory, 8(3): 279-298).

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