Care

Megha Amrith

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

April 2019

If care is in some way fundamental to understanding how we relate to one other and the world around us, then it has always been intrinsically a part of the anthropological endeavor. Yet it is only recently that we are starting to work through what an “anthropology of care” might look like.

My approach into thinking about care emerged through an ethnography with migrant care workers from the Philippines—how they performed, understood, and contested care in its multiple forms and ambivalent meanings, and importantly across borders. This also meant engaging with a vast and rich literature on the labour of care, as well as family and medicalised care. Yet the anthropological fascination with care goes far beyond these spheres—from thinking about care and political borders, to care for the self and distant “others,” care in precarity, and care in more than human worlds, just to offer a few examples.

While much of the work on care (its practice, ethics, politics, affects) reflects on its connecting and sustaining dimensions, anthropologists are also keenly attentive to how certain forms of care are entangled with historically situated expressions of power, violence, and inequality. In exploring these multivalent meanings, we see how care moves beyond being something normatively “good” to revealing more complex and uneven processes of relating.   

In putting together this reading list, I wondered about where the boundaries of “care” might be drawn. Or perhaps its potential and possibilities lie in this very openness? Here are some texts within and beyond anthropology that I have found inspiring to think through these possibilities with.

Death and the Migrant: Bodies, Borders, Care (2013) by Yasmin Gunaratnam

Yasmin Gunaratman writes her book “for all those facing and caring at life’s borders.” She illuminates questions of ageing, dying, and personhood among a post-war cohort of migrants in contemporary Britain. Through oral histories, texts,and images, she argues how these times of illness and death see “the coming together of two of the most radical thresholds of bodily estrangement and vulnerability: the movement across territories and from life to death” (2013: 2).

Caring and Being Cared For: Displacing Marriage, Kinship, Gender and Sexuality (1997) by John Borneman  

What if we let go of the institutionalising, normalising and constraining labels long associated with gender and kinship and focus instead on “a concern for the actual situations in which people experience the need to care and be cared for?” (1997: 583) John Borneman calls for greater attention to ethnographic accounts of how people express what care could mean in all of its diversity.

Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds (2017) by Maria Puig de la Bellacasa

Here is a thought-provoking intervention to “displace care” beyond the realms in which it has typically been understood. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa calls for a radical rethinking of care through more than human worlds, bringing in science and technology studies and posthumanist philosophy to bear on our conceptualisations of care.

Care Across Generations: Solidarity and Sacrifice in Transnational Families (2017) by Kristin Yarris

Kristin Yarris’s ethnography on transnational Nicaraguan families draws our attention to how care is articulated across borders and generations. She argues for understanding care as an intergenerational practice and resource that is historically and locally situated, as well asintertwined with wider cultural, social, political, and economic transformations.  

Enduring Time (2017) by Lisa Baraitser

Hearing Lisa Baraitser deliver a compelling keynote at a symposium entitled ‘Why Care?’, her talk has stayed with me ever since, not least because of the way she delivered the talk with pauses, always attentive to her listeners’ responses. Her book reflects on the intersections between care and temporality, considering “time’s suspension” and modes of waiting, staying, maintaining, and remaining as forms of care (2017: 1-2).

Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France (2011) by Miriam Ticktin

In Miriam Ticktin’s work with undocumented migrants in France, we see how questions of “deservingness” permeate immigration and humanitarian politics. How do particular “regimes of care” construct the “morally legitimate suffering body” in need of care and protection (2011: 3)? Care here is bound up with the hierarchies and inequalities of citizenship, race, and gender.

Thinking with Dementia (2018-2019) Somatosphere

This blog series reflects on care relations and connections in everyday life with dementia. Ethnographically, we read about ex-offenders in Japan, transnational Indian families and a nursing home in Norway, among many other spaces. The series, as the editors write, is “part of a larger endeavor to open up matters of care that are in urgent need of careful words, especially when it is a struggle to find them.”

Care and Control in Asian Migrations (2019) by Mark Johnson and Johan Lindquist

This is an introduction to a special issue that aims to ethnographically theorise on the dynamic entanglements between care and control in the socio-political context of Asian migration. Unpacking both care and control and their taken-for-granted meanings, the authors shed a more nuanced light on the ethics of mobility.