By Camille Allard and Obert Tawodzera

In a meeting with members of the Sustainable Care programme research team, Professor Joan Tronto from the University of Minnesota (USA) shared her insights into the ethics of care, democracy and neo-populism in care as well as why care is an essential part of politics.

Professor Joan Tronto profile picture

Drawing on her life work and publications Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care (1993) and Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality and Justice (2013), Professor Tronto gave us her consideration of Care Ethics, an initial consideration of the complexities involved in care. Tronto first questioned the concept of democracy which she said did not resonate well with care as its neoliberal agenda was not about equality but patriarch, gender norms and marketisation. Tronto felt uncomfortable with what she considered to be the hasty essentialisation of care as part of women’s morality and the aim of her work has been to show that care goes beyond gender expectations and takes part in our human experience. She argued that the condition of dependency is specifically human, and when society despises it and makes it invisible, then it creates conditions of inequality and unfairness. She added that, when social norms are built without taking care into account, certain people find themselves literally enslaved to care or have their lives fall into precarity due to the invisible nature of care. This leads to the unequal distribution of care meaning some are cared for better than others.  A situation like this leads to people reverting to the old gendered patriarchal way of care were women and the less privileged are left to care for those in need and the ‘privileged irresponsibility’ of the rich as they feel they have it all to be care about care. Tronto points out that to be democratic, care and caring cannot only be for the unfortunate but for everyone.  Consequently, implementing relevant and democratic support is then an emergency issue. If care is not democratically organised it could create hostilities towards others as they are blamed for the care deficit.

Tronto gave compelling evidence relating to the election of Donald Trump in America and the rise of neo-populism around the world. She said many people voted for Trump out of fear and insecurity and that they might not be adequately cared for if other people come and compete for the same care. She also highlighted how neoliberalism makes care difficult as the neoliberal economy has a winner-takes-all attitude and relies heavily on the breadwinner caregiver model – bringing back the traditional gendered patterns. Tronto argued that, in a democracy, the distribution of care should not mean others have to leave their jobs in order to care and those in need of care should not receive care. Receiving less adequate care means that individuals will not be able to fully participate in a democratic society and carers who shoulder the burden of caregiving miss out on participating in a democratic society. For example, the literature shows that whilst paid carers (care workers) are more devalued and stigmatised by society, on the other hand, informal carers (e.g. working carers, migrant’s workers having care duties in another country) are at risk of facing higher levels of burden and stress, encountering more precarious jobs and greater gender and age discrimination, therefore are not fully participating in a democratic society.  Also prevalent is the misunderstanding of what care is and what care implies for carers. Tronto asserted that each care relationship is different, varying in both care longevity, geographical space, and care experience, which can be unpredictable, good, or bad.

During the meeting, Professor Tronto also stressed the importance of taking into account the specificities of the care relationship and the ordinary experience it implies. She said care is best conceptualised as relational, involving those who give care and those who receive care, and the relationship is one of interdependence. Therefore preserving the person’s capability of choice and action, either that of the caregiver or the care receiver, as well as preserving the singularity of the context and of their relationship, is also essential. Professor Tronto’s talk was inspiring and led to some good debates amongst Sustainable Care members. The most important lesson learnt on the day was how it is important to not ignore politics when talking about care.

Camille Allard and Obert Tawodzera

Camille and Obert are PhD students and part of the Sustainable Care programme. To find out more about their research on the programme, click on their images.