The Care Manifesto: The Politics of Interdependence

by The Care Collective (Andreas Chatzidakis, Jamie Hakim, Jo Littler, Catherine Rottenberg and Lynne Segal), London and New York: Verso, 2020

Reviewed by Thalia Kidder

Published in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic which launched ‘care’ into public discussion, The Care Manifesto: The Politics of Interdependence provides a radical vision of ‘universal care’ and the politics required for achieving it, from the levels of kinship, to economies, to the planet. The Care Manifesto convincingly elaborates on what universal care would entail and require, while staying impressively concise. For some readers, the Manifesto will be out of the ordinary in that it avoids the mainstream emphasis on the ‘care economy’ and transcends the familiar focus on hands-on care and gender (in)equality in paid and unpaid care work. I was fascinated by propositions that are not commonly brought into discussions of care, such as the ‘new municipalism’ that is reclaiming publicly owned spaces, the need for porous national borders, the psychology around human frailty, and broader Native American understanding of caring and kinship ‘not tied only to blood or family but extend[ing] to land, water and the animals’ (p. 40). These make The Collective’s capacious vision of care both appealing and compelling.

The Collective started as a London-based reading group of authors and activists, addressing crises of care across multiple academic disciplines. Self-described as ‘feminist, queer, anti-racist, eco-socialist’ (p. 96), the authors skilfully unify diverse analytical frameworks. The Manifesto is constructive and positive, spending little time re-counting innumerable ‘care crises’ – of elders, children, and of real support for care workers – that are so well-documented elsewhere. The authors celebrate the research and thinkers that have inspired them: Joan Tronto, Paul Byron, Nancy Fraser, and Kate Raworth, to name just a few. They effectively ground their vision on a wealth of examples of ‘care-in-practice’. However, as my primary focus has been on care policies in the global South, I felt that the preponderance of references to Northern and European experiences and research would leave gaps for readers in developing countries.

After an introduction reviewing examples of how ‘carelessness reigns’ in state policy, capitalist markets, and uncaring communities, the book is organised into six chapters delving into propositions about care in various spheres of life: politics, kinships, communities, states, economies, and the world.

Caring Politics extends Joan Tronto’s concepts of ‘caring for’, ‘caring about’, and ‘caring with’, introducing the themes of ‘capacious care’ – caring for strangers and distant others – and ‘universal care’ which involves ‘cultivating and prioritising the social, institutional, and political facilities that enable and enhance our capacities to care for each other and … the natural world’ (p. 26). The authors make a fascinating contribution by exploring the psychology behind careless politics. They propose that dependence on public care services has been pathologised due to our shared fears of our human frailty, as well as due to the sexist and racist devaluation of caring labour. Only when we recognise our ambivalence about care, they suggest, can we establish a new narrative. Sufficient (public) resources for care enable autonomy and independence, as disability rights activists have long argued – a challenge to the idea that public spending always creates pathological dependency.

I valued this insight, and contribution to the debates about how society perceives ‘care’. Recent reports, including the Care Manifesto by Public Services International, also advocate a narrativechange: ‘reclaim the public nature of care services’ and declare ‘the right to care’. I find it perceptive that advocates must also explore how to replace the story that care services ‘deepen dependencies’, with new narratives that public services create ‘strategic autonomy’ (p. 64). However, the authors don’t cite well-known examples about how narratives can change, the sequencing of activities or the required movement building. Oxfam’s successful experience with its WE-Care programme’s public messaging in towns in the Philippines, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere drew from a wealth of research on narrative change in public health and gender equality. Thus, I echo one author’s acknowledgement that The Collective’s Manifesto can be abstract and may remain too aspirational for readers designing practical action. Likewise, the detailed examples of care-in-practice in Northern states and municipalities could have been balanced by experiences from the global South, where, for example, the priority public services to facilitate care may be as basic as strengthening water and energy systems, more than libraries and public arts centres.

The chapter on Caring Kinships argues for multiplying the numbers of those we care for, grounded in examples of African American ‘birth mothers’ and ‘other mothers’ sharing child care (citing Patricia Hill Collins), LGBT ‘families of choice’, and Native Americans’ affirmation of kinship with non-human beings. In Caring Communities, the authors celebrate examples of mutual support networks, time banks, and co-operatives, as an antidote to current hyper-individualised, competitive social systems reinforcing isolation. Furthermore, a helpful local policy agenda emerges, emphasising the importance of public spaces that are held in common (the Greater London Council’s Southbank Centre), ‘in-sourcing’ public service provision (Preston Council, England), and ‘re-municipalism’ (Barcelona).

In line with widespread and long-standing care advocacy, The Collective affirms the critical role of the state in providing and ensuring care. However, readers are challenged to go beyond a basic demand for national care systems: ‘state provision of care is not enough without transforming its modes of delivery’ (p. 65). The authors’ vision of Caring States is based on belonging – not exclusion of non-citizens – on reparations, and on decolonisation, critiquing welfare states based on paternalism, racism, and commercialised services. Likewise, the vision in the chapter on Caring Economies is expansive, an economy that includes all activities that enable care, and advocating re-regulation, de-marketising key economic areas, and ‘in-sourcing’ care infrastructure.

The last chapter, Caring for the World, highlights the emergent politics of interdependence in the context of the pandemic, stressing the need for progressive transnational networks and ‘porous borders’ to achieve ‘universal care’, including caring for strangers and non-human beings.

In their wide-ranging analyses, The Collective proposes innovative concepts that some readers, including myself, might consider overly opaque, while others might find them inspiring and radical. For example, ‘promiscuous care’ is not used to convey ‘casual and indifferent’, instead it signifies ‘unselective’ care, expanding the numbers of people we care about and experimenting with ways we care. Whatever the terms, the Manifesto’s assertion that we must ‘care across difference’ is a powerful challenge to advocates of nation-state care systems, where policymakers may assume that only citizens – or only humans – should be included. The Collective’s extensive thinking may be exceptionally aspirational for some contexts, and overall it provides a radical vision to stretch the designs of our practical action and advocacy.

© 2022 Thalia Kidder