THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF CARE: GLOBAL AND LOCAL CHAINS
A longstanding criticism of mainstream political philosophy centres on the denial of care work and the assertion of an autarkic, self-sufficient subject. However, in addition to this (rather academic) criticism by care ethics, an extensive body of literature has emerged from lived experiences of political and social struggles, primarily from feminists (of colour) that put friendship, love, and coalition-building center stage (Ahmed, Anzaldúa, Black Lives Matter, Care Collective, Combahee River Collective, Dalla Costa, Federici, hooks, Lorde, Precarias a la deriva, Puig Della Casa, Sandoval, etc.). This crisis of care reveals and acknowledges multiple dimensions of structural, relational, and interpersonal violence and oppression at the intersections of class, gender, and race.
The Covid-19 pandemic highlights once again that care work in most countries is rendered almost exclusively by women who are poorly paid and insufficiently valued for their labour. While some attempt to juggle job and family responsibilities at the expense of their own mental and physical health, others risk criminalization and destitution due to insecure residency status or lack of permission to work. Indeed, the chains of care have increasingly acquired a transnational character and exploit the indentured labour of those who cross borders to care for others. Take, for example, women from the Philippines and other south-east Asian countries who provide cleaning services and take care of children elsewhere in the world in order to afford the nourishment and schooling of their own; or, care work for the elderly and sick in western Europe that is done by eastern European women who rarely get to see their own relatives. Whether paid or unpaid, care work is disproportionately carried out by racialized and gendered groups in precarious positions. Finally, in an attempt to protect their own populations and to compensate for the austerity of public healthcare provision, so-called developed countries actively recruit medical professionals from former or current colonies, who then staff hospitals and risk their lives during the pandemic while separated from those care networks that sustain their work. The acquisition and accumulation of PPE and vaccines further exacerbate global inequities in public healthcare. Read more.