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Global Carework Summit 2017

Different perspectives on care work

2017 Carework Summit: coming together of feminist economical, political and sociological views on care work.

This June, scholars, policymakers and members of societal organizations gathered during the three-day conference 2017 Carework Summit in Lowell, Massachusetts in the United States. Together, they inquired and discussed problems in the field of Care Work – a field that focuses on researching, advocating, policymaking and institutional transformation of care work.  Inge van Nistelrooij and Merel Visse attended this conference on behalf of the Care Ethics group of Utrecht, The Netherlands. Below, we highlight two conference themes: 1) care on a global level, seen from a United Nations perspective; 2) care from a feminist economist perspective.

Care Work

But let us first explore what the field of Care work is concerned about. Most speakers strive for equality and justice in both paid and unpaid care work in all kinds of areas, like long term elderly care, child care and home-based elderly care either provided by family cares, formal carers, non-migrant and migrant carers. We noticed that the majority of the attendees have a background in sociology, political science or economy.

As care ethicists, we learned about how they perceive and conceptualize care in the context of the research field of ‘care work’. Although there seemed to be little attention for philosophical ethical views on care work, we believe care ethicists could deepen thinking about ‘what care is’ and how to inquire ‘good’ care work.

Care work on a Global Level: United Nations Programs

The keynote address of the conference by Shahra Razavi, Chief of Research & Data Section at United Nations Women, focused on numbers in care work. She is a specialist in gender dimensions of development, with a particular interest on work, social policy and care. The United Nations Program on Sustainable Development proposes an Agenda that explicitly addresses care work and the importance of gender equality.

Concurrent sessions varied from discussions on qualitative methods to research care work, to contributions by feminist economists on the benefits and costs of investing in care. At the UN, a normative framework is being developed to assess and promote care work.

A feminist economist, intersectional perspective

Nancy Folbre
Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre, director of the program on Gender and Care Work at Umass in Amherst, was deeply concerned about care work. Her feminist care economist perspective aims to counterbalance developments like outsourcing, offshoring, immigration and privatizing. These threaten the equal division of care work.
Collective identities and interests based on gender, race, income level shape our institutions and economic inequality. According to her, we should begin by rethinking the care paradigm by understanding the origins of patriarchical systems.

Bargaining power

“These developments have reduced the bargaining power of care workers and undermine the democratic apparatus,” according to her. Other factors that reduce bargaining power of care workers, are: the relational vulnerability of care workers (often women); the characteristics of consumers who often have a lack of agency and even if they have agency, it’s often difficult for them to access the right information; characteristics of the services themselves.

The bargaining power of care workers is not just determined by assets, information or income level, but by social norms as well. These social norms should be collectively contested and re-negotiated. Attention for an intersectional approach is crucial here, she argued. These can have risks, but can also be seen as an opportunity to create progressive alliances: e.g. create beter rules for distribtion of care work.

Focus on high power groups?

To solve problems in care, Folbre searches for how we can bargain collectively with powerful groups to reduce inequality. “We have a tendency to focus on low paid, marginalized groups. Now we need to focus on how to challenge groups with high power”. This could be interesting for us as care ethics, as we are often focused on processes of inclusion by providing marginalized groups with power.

Social spillovers

As care ethicists, we noticed that just a few of the speakers during the conference, actually spoke about what ‘care’ is. Folbre was one of them. She clarified care as ‘not just relational work’ motivated by concerns for others, not just ‘work’, but as also inclusive to financial support and other resource transfers. She stressed that care is tending to the needs of those who cannot care. Care work is not tangible.
Folbre speaks about ‘social spillovers’: “the marginal social product of care is far greater than marginal private products”. Care gives numerous contributions to human and social capital.

Soon: the global meaning of Tronto’s Caring Democracy, with a contribution by dr. Inge van Nistelrooij.

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