COVID-19 pandemic: A Crisis of Care

By Andreas Chatzidakis, Jamie Hakim, Jo Littler, Catherine Rottenberg, Lynne Segal (Care Collective)

The novel coronavirus outbreak is a new global crisis. Yet the current crisis is not only the result of a new pathogen circulating around the world. It is also a crisis of care. Here the Care Collective (Andreas Chatzidakis, Jamie Hakim, Jo Littler, Catherine Rottenberg, Lynne Segal) outline the contours of the crisis of care, and how we can think care work different.

We are in a global crisis: a new historical moment. The days pass, the virus expands its reach, fatalities rise and the world goes into unprecedented lockdown. Yet the current crisis is not only the result of a new pathogen circulating around the world. It is also a crisis of care, the result of decades of neoliberal policies prioritizing profit over people. Years of austerity measures, deregulation and privatisation, alongside the devaluing of care work has meant that neoliberal nation states—particularly countries like the US, the UK and Brazil —are unable to cope with the spread of coronavirus. Governments, which have for too long based their policies on the needs of the few and ‘economic growth’, are scrambling to find solutions. 

Yet this global calamity is also a moment of profound rupture where many of the old rules no longer apply—and where governments can change our reality in a blink of an eye. As with all moments of rupture where norms crumble, the current one also provides us with a critical opportunity: an opportunity to imagine and create a different world—not just in the immediate but also in the long term. And if the pandemic has taught us anything so far, it is that we are in urgent need of a politics that puts care front and centre of life.

In the midst of this global crisis we have all been reminded of how vital robust care services are. Care is not only the ‘hands-on’ care people do when directly looking after the physical and emotional needs of others. ‘Care’ is also an enduring social capacity and practice involving the nurturing of all that is necessary for the welfare and flourishing of human and non-human life.

What, then, would happen if we were indeed to begin to place care at the very centre of life, not just for short term crisis, but the longer term?


To imagine a world organised around care, we must first begin by recognising the myriad ways in which our survival is always contingent on others. A caring politics must first and foremost acknowledge our interdependence alongside the ambivalence and anxiety these connections routinely generate. Recognising our needs both to give and receive care not only provides us with a sense of our common humanity, but also enables us to confront our shared fears of human frailty rather than project them onto others. Acknowledging the complexity of shared human dependencies enhances our ability to reimagine and participate more fully in democratic processes on all levels of society, because working with and through contradictory emotions are key to building democratic communities everywhere.  Although we can never eliminate care’s difficulties, we can certainly mitigate them through building more caring kinships, communities, economies, states and worlds.

Caring Kinships

The traditional nuclear family with the mother at its centre still provides the dominant prototype for care and kinship. This is true even as same-sex couples have been increasingly incorporated into the traditional nuclear family model. Our circles of care have not broadened out in recent decades but actually remain painfully narrow.

Yet it is only by proliferating our circles of care—in the first instance by expanding our notion of kinship—that we can achieve the psychic infrastructures necessary for building a caring society that has universal care as its foundation. Diverse forms of care between all human and non-human creatures need to be recognised and valued. This is what we call ‘an ethics of promiscuous care’.

Promiscuous care means caring more and in ways that remain experimental and extensive by current standards. It means multiplying who we care for and how. Building on historical formations of ‘alternative’ care giving practices, we need to create the capacity for a more capacious notion of care. This is challenging because neoliberal capitalism’s underfunding and undermining of care have often led to paranoid and chauvinist caring imaginaries – looking after only ‘our own’. With adequate resources, time and labour people can feel secure enough to care for, about and with strangers as if they were kin. Such capacities are flourishing at the moment via the Covid-19 Mutual Aid groups, sprouting up in local areas during the pandemic, just as they did with AIDs support networks in the 1980s.[i]

Promiscuous care recognises that we all have the capacity to care—not just mothers, and not just women—and that all our lives are improved when we care and are cared for, and when we care together. To encourage promiscuous care means building institutions that are both capacious and agile enough to recognise and resource wider forms of care at the level of kinship. It means ending financial discrimination against single mothers,[ii] teaching boys emotional literacy and housework, and expanding care across communities.

Caring Communities

Questions of care are not just bound up with the intimacy of very close relationships. They are also shaped in the localities we inhabit and move through: in local communities, neighbourhoods, libraries, schools and parks, in our social networks, and our group belongings. But the deliberate rolling back of public welfare provision, replaced by global corporate commodity chains, have generated profoundly unhealthy community contexts for care. We see this in the UK in the decimation of the social care system and local hospitals cutting 17,000 beds over the past decade alone.

Communities that care stop the hoarding of resources by the few. Instead, caring communities need to prioritise the commons. Communities based on care ensure the creation of collective public spaces as well as objects: they encourage a sharing infrastructure. This means reversing neoliberalism’s compulsion to privatize everything.

Corporate control over increasingly atomised, impoverished and divided communities produces organised loneliness. Instead, the local spaces we traverse need to be built upon the desire for mutual thriving. This means cheap or free p­ublic transport and public lending facilities—local libraries of tools and equipment in addition to books. It means ending the costly and damaging outsourcing of care and other services by bringing them back into the public sector, or ‘insourcing’. In many countries this is process is happening on a temporary basis right now. These caring infrastructures need to become the new normal, supported by the state—not simply a product of crisis to be abandoned afterwards.

Instead of rewarding large corporations at a time of crisis, we need to deepen democratic participation and create co-operative communities: communities that enable us to connect, to support each other in our complex needs and mutual dependency.  This means using progressive forms of municipalism to expand public space, support co-operatives and shared resources; and it means being supported by caring states.

Caring States

A state can be caring if notions of belonging are based on recognition of mutual interdependencies rather than on ethno-cultural identity and racialised borders. A caring state is one in which the provision for all of our basic needs and a sharing infrastructure are ensured while, at the same time, participatory democracy, rather than authoritarianism, is deepened at every level, and the health of the environment is prioritised. This, of course, means turning the current priorities of the state on their head as well as renewing models of welfare and social provision, which even the most neoliberalised states are revamping to deal with the current pandemic. The UK, for instance, has now introduced sweeping, yet temporary, forms of welfare provision to “save the liberal free market”[iii].

The caring state, however, refuses the post-war Welfare state’s rigid hierarchies and sexual and ethnic division of labour, as well as all racialised policies.  Caring states need to rebuild and safeguard affordable housing, along with high-quality public schooling, university education, vocational training and health care. Public provision in the caring state does not revolve around cultivating dependences but what disability activists call ‘strategic autonomy and independence’, premised upon everyone receiving what they need both to thrive, with some sense of agency in the world. In other words, the state, while necessary to ensure the smooth provision of services and resources, must also be responsible for facilitating greater democratic engagement among communities. 

By prioritising a care-based infrastructure based upon recognition of our interdependencies and vulnerabilities, while ensuring all the necessary conditions for the mutual thriving of all, a caring state undermines the conditions that produce economic and environmental refugees and migrants. While no state can ever completely eliminate human aggression, relations of domination, or natural and human-made disasters, only a caring state provides the necessary conditions for the vast majority to flourish.

Caring economies

We need caring exchange arrangements that focus on cooperative networks of mutual support and which redistribute social and material wealth according to everyone’s needs – what we call a “universal care” model – at the local, national and, ultimately, international levels; and in which essential goods are collectivised. Markets should be regulated, democratically governed, and as egalitarian, participatory, environmentally sustainable, and caring, as possible. Wherever possible they also need to be locally embedded, since local markets are better suited for cultivating relationships among producers, traders and consumers, promoting green processes and stimulating community-making.

More democratic and egalitarian modes of ownership and governance are crucial, then, as is the collectivisation and nationalisation of key industries as well as the protection of our vital care infrastructures from the forces of marketisation and financialization. Caring markets can only be imagined as part of economies that prioritise people and other living creatures over profit. In the current pandemic, this need to put people first has become crystal clear, and even reluctant governments have now been forced to call upon manufacturers and those with relevant expertise to help make ventilators as part of a national effort.

Care for the World

A caring world can only be built from the understanding that we are all dependent upon the systems and networks, animate and inanimate, that sustain life across the planet.  Creating such a world entails broadening out from rebuilding and democratising social infrastructures and shared spaces at local, community and national levels into expanding alliances with progressive movements and institutions everywhere.

This means first and foremost rolling out a Green New Deal on a transnational level, while working toward the creation and democratisation of transnational institutions and networks whose goals are centred upon ensuring that the world’s population and the world itself are cared for.

Despite Trump’s pronouncements, the pandemic highlights the permeability of all borders. While caring states would provide all their inhabitants with a sense of safety, their borders need to be co-ordinated to ensure that, for instance, the current inevitability of migration does not drain certain parts of the world of needed population whilst overcrowding others. This will only be possible if care informs all other dimensions of our lives, diminishing the conditions that propels people to flee their homes out of economic necessity, war or climate emergency.

Caring states with sustainable economies and porous borders are the best possible route to global care and to transnational conviviality and cosmopolitanism, which sees through the hollow certainties of nationalism and cultivates a transnational orientation of care towards the stranger.  Our caring imaginaries must move beyond the nation state and to the furthest reaches of the ‘strangest’ parts of the planet.

This brings us full circle.  In the end, it is only by valorising rather than disavowing our global interdependencies that we can create any kind of caring world. Powerful corporations have often been the first to profit from the disasters their careless ways have helped to produce and exacerbate. But historically the opposite has also been true. Ruptures have paved the way for radical progressive change, as happened in the wake of WWII with the growth of welfare in many Western states and with successful independence struggles in former European colonies.

The challenge today is to build upon both those earlier moments of radical change and the current optic of what might, in fact, be possible in order to wrest back control from the power-grabbing 1% and their tyranny of social carelessness. For once, care for the vulnerable is being taken seriously, but this will disappear overnight—till the next crisis—unless we start to build more enduring and participatory infrastructures of and for care at every scale of life.

Ideas from The Care Manifesto, by the Care Collective, forthcoming with Verso.

This article was originally published on Verso (re-posted on with permission).

[i] See also Pirate Care syllabus:



How South Korea copes and its impact on care

Hee-Kang Kim
Hee Kang Kim – Korea University

Hello all,

I am Hee-Kang Kim from Korea University. Here is a short piece of information on how the government of South Korea is coping with the Corona virus and its impact on care. So far, Korea has rather successfully dealt with the Corona virus. Childcare facilities and schools are now suspended, but in the rest of social lives, people are spending their normal daily lives without the need for city closures or travel bans.

1. Currently, 80 percent of Corona confirmed cases have been caused by group infection in Korea. One of major group infection cases is occurring at nursing homes (nursing hospitals). Care receivers and caregivers are both the source of infection for each other and at the same time, the most vulnerable infection targets. Therefore, the government is strengthening special prevention management for nursing hospitals and care facilities across the country. In particular, several local governments have conducted full Corona virus infection tests on ALL persons (doctors, nurses, care receivers, caregivers, and other employees) involved in ALL nursing hospitals and care facilities.

2. Korea suffers from a shortage of masks, and the state regulates the supply and demand of masks (all Koreans can purchase two public masks a week.) The Seoul city government is distributing free masks to care workers (both institutional and home-based care workers). So far, the Seoul city government has been very active in improving the treatment and support of care workers in general. For example, in Korea, children and the elderly (12 or younger, 65 or older) are given free flu vaccines. In addition, the Seoul city government has been giving free flu vaccines to care workers since two years ago.

3. Childcare facilities and schools are closed. However, in case the child cannot be cared for at home, childcare facilities and schools are currently implementing the ‘emergency care’ system: from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., lunch and snacks are served to the children on government support. My child, who is in the second grade in the elementary school, is currently using ’emergency care.’ 

Because of the difficulty of using childcare facilities, if a worker uses family care leave, the original unpaid family care leave can be used as paid at present on government aid.

4. In addition, the national government and some local governments plan to provide emergency living funds (or disaster basic income) or are currently under discussion.

The above are short facets of Korea’s handling of the situation. More effort will be needed in the future. Also, since this is not a matter limited to a country, international cooperation and networks seem to be more needed.



Spreading the Care: The Call for Global Solidarity

by Merel Visse and Bob Stake

Fragile City Installation by Priscilla Stadler. Photo: Marianne Barcellona.

In the course of a few weeks, our response to COVID-19 changed the world as we knew it. Suddenly, we became potential ‘vectors’ and ‘victims’ of the virus. We are forced to make small and large-scale decisions that affect our private and public lives. Hard decisions. Most of them are steered by doing everything in our power to prevent the virus from spreading. Bodies are framed as precarious biological and social bodies. All suitable framings and decisions, but more hard choices, need to be made. Choices on how we care. How could a caring approach help us to find our way of responding to the pandemic?’(1)

Concentric circles of care
To untangle and reflect upon what is happening, let us start with three concentric circles of care (2). This is an imagery: in reality, the circles intertwine, their boundaries are open. The first care circle is our intimate circle. It consists of the life-sustaining web of our family and friends, no matter if they are living in the same house, or far away. The second circle is the community that we are part of. Here, the web extends to our colleagues at work, acquaintances in our neighborhood, the cashier at our local supermarket, friends of friends, our spiritual or religious communities. The third care circle seems more distant and abstract, but is actually very nearby. It is the tapestry of all those who reside in respective countries, closely connected with the rest of the world. This circle is a national ánd global circle. In all circles, we are entangled with non-human livings, animals, gardens, rainforests, oceans, atmospheres: our ecology. 

First circle: listening and responding to our needs
In the first circle, care begins by connecting with ourselves, by closely listening to our bodies. Next, allying ourselves with reliable sources on our health and well-being. Organizations such as the Center for Disease Control teach us about what is happening, how it may affect our health and well-being, and what we can do. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the American immunologist who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and is a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has become one of those reliable sources. So far, the media gave most attention to our physical health. We also need to care for our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Next, in our immediate care circle, care is about paying attention and listening to our own needs and the needs of close ones. Remember: needs are not always clear-cut or visible. Some may not tell us what they need, either because they do not know, or they have difficulty speaking up. Pay close attention when you sense something is ‘off’ with someone that you know. Ask. Probe. Ask again. Gradually, you will know what to do, but it may take time. Especially with COVID-19, people may be fearful to admit that they have symptoms. What if they are judged or blamed? Why not do our very best to refrain from any judgment, and instead show compassion and understanding as a form of care? Here, care is also about responding to our needs and to the needs of others. By responding and by taking action, we show and take responsibility. We do something for ourselves or others. We may buy them groceries, we may bring them to the doctor, we may even advocate for them, but many times simply sitting down with someone and taking the time to listen, can be a significant act of care.

Second circle: who we are together
In the second care circle, the circle of our community, we may need to revise our view on how to make the right decisions. Decisions on who needs care the most urgently, how to better protect nurses and doctors, or what should be done for the elderly or chronically ill, cannot be made from one stance only. We are connected with each other. Decisions are always culminations of who we are together.

We cannot expect that other people will take responsibility for situations that we are responsible for together. Who decides about who needs most the last pack of toilet paper? Instead of hoarding toilet paper, every one of us is called to care about the others by not buying all available goods. We need to practice solidarity. We need to trust. Share products with those who need it the most, trust that we will have enough for ourselves. There are no clear-cut ethical guidelines for us follow, the situation is too complex for general rules (but many are working hard to develop protocols) (4). We already see many stores putting a limit on products that people are allowed to buy. No more than three packages of medicine. But what if someone suffers from a chronic illness and is more vulnerable to infection than others? Should people without a chronic illness share their packages? Reaching decisions on what is the best path to follow, should take these subtle differences into consideration. Trust the pharmacist. Trust the receptionist.

Fragile City Installations by Priscilla Stadler. Photo: Priscilla Stadler

Third circle: a pandemic and caring society
On a national and international  level we are expected to be a ‘pandemic’ citizen (3). We are called to follow regulations by being a responsible citizen. We are demanded to act in the interest of the collective. Compliance, self-mastery and self-protection align with that vital view. This view is challenging too, because people are assumed to be rational beings, capable of compliance and self-mastery. The last few weeks show that reality may be different. People are capable, and vulnerable too. They cannot fully ‘self-master’ their lives all the time and in every situation. Some of us carry particular responsibilities that conflict with these expectations. For example, the care-worker who is exhausted but who carries on because nobody else is able to stand in. Who takes care of her?  Just as some citizens have gone crazy with gun violence, and just as some attempt to buy companies for exclusive rights on vaccines, we cannot predict how others will respond to the virus, nor can we predict how the virus will develop in the future. From a care perspective, we are open to learning about how to relate to this uncertainty in a meaningful way.

A care lens also invites us to acknowledge that we are caring citizens. Being a caring citizen, in line with Joan Tronto’s work on the homines curans (caring people), demands for us to see the human being as being closely interconnected with others in webs of care. Others as in other human beings, but also as in non-human others. Some of those others are more vulnerable and precarious. Yes: as a pandemic citizen, social distancing is crucial. As a caring citizen, we also search for ways to stay connected with close and distant others. To keep social distancing healthy, we need an outlook on how to support people who are living in isolation. How they can preserve and maintain their relationships, whilst complying with regulations. For many, being in isolation, at least for a while, may come with the gift of time, silence and solitude. But what if some do not experience this as a gift at all? What if our jobs are on the line? What if we miss graduation day? What if we lose that which makes us human: the experience of being close to someone or someplace we care about? Care in this third circle means expanding our response to the virus with a vision on how to protect the notions that are central to a global, caring society: solidarity, equity and trust.

Entwined solidarity
This is a call for a global solidarity. A solidarity that is not restricted to us as humans, but that respects our entanglements with matter and all living creatures. An entwined solidarity that assists us in responding to what is unravelling in and around us.

Learn more:
Laena Maunula, The Pandemic Subject.
Joan Tronto, Caring Democracy.

We want to thank Carlo Leget and Joan Tronto for reading and commenting on earlier versions of this text, and Priscilla Stadler for sharing images of her Fragile City Installation.

(1) Care is an interdisciplinary field of research that, in addition to public health, may offer us another perspective on our personal, communal and (inter)national well being (Leget, Van Nistelrooij, Visse, 2019).
(2) Emily Abel and Margaret Nelson used ‘circles of care’ in a different way in their book Circles of Care: Work and Identity in Women’s Lives, 1990.
(3) The pandemic citizen as a concept from critical health literature (Maunula, 2017)
(4) National Academy of Medicine;

What Do You Care About? Contributing to the COST Action Stream.

At Bournemouth University on 25th April, a community meeting was arranged to bring together people to talk about what they care about. The purpose of the meeting was to contribute to a European network application for funding to the COST Action stream. That application is a partnership between members of CERC: BU Dr Tula Brannelly, and Professor Carlo Leget at Utrecht and Professor Petr Urban in Prague. Bournemouth University Pump Prime funding supported this community meeting. The application is based around renewing how major societal challenges are framed by using a different way of seeing and thinking about them with care.  read more

UPDATE on the 2021 Conference: Decentering ethics: Challenging privileges, building solidarities.

May 3rd – May 7, 2021. Decentering ethics: Challenging privileges, building solidarities. Keynote speakers: Vrinda Dalmiya (University of Hawaii) and Sandra Laugier (Université Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne), as well as a Special Panel in honour of Professor Joan Tronto. . University of Ottawa, Ontario (Canada).

Local organizers: Sophie Bourgault (University of Ottawa) and Fiona Robinson (Carleton University).

The Care Ethics Research Conference will now be held from May 3rd to May 7th, 2021.  The conference has moved to a fully online format, with concurrent panels to be held using Zoom.  Plenary sessions will include talks from our two keynote speakers – Vrinda Dalmiya (University of Hawaii) and Sandra Laugier (Université Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne), as well as a Special Panel in honour of Professor Joan Tronto. 


Unfortunately, registration for the CERC 2021 conference is now closed for the regular panels. But should you wish to attend our webinars (i.e. roundtables and keynote speeches), please write to with “Webinar Links Please” in the title of your email.


Care ethics first emerged as an attempt to ‘decenter’ ethics; feminist philosophers like Carol Gilligan argued that women’s moral experiences were not reflected in the dominant, masculinist approaches to ethics, which were centered on a rational, disembodied, atomistic moral subject, able to self-legislate or engage in moral calculus to determine principles of right action.  Care ethics challenged this model by positing ethics as relational, contextualized, embodied and realized through practices, rather than principles.  Over the past decades, many care ethics scholars have sought to further this project by considering care politically, in relation to the various intersecting hierarchies of power and privilege that inhere in the context of modernity.  At this time of political and ecological crisis, there is an even more urgent demand to reflect on this project of decentering ethics and to ask what further work there is to be done.  To what extent has care ethics been (un)successful in decentering ethics, challenging privilege and building solidarities?  How can ethics – and care ethics in particular – address questions of race, indigeneity, class and gender?  How can a care ethics approach help us to reflect on the question of privilege – of moral subjects and of moral/political theorists – while also creating spaces to build solidarities? 

CERC 2020 organizing & scientific committees: Sophie Bourgault, Monique Lanoix, Stéphanie Mayer, Inge van Nistelrooij, Fiona Robinson, Joan Tronto, Merel Visse

Call for Presentation Abstracs