Joan Tronto : "Stand up and do your part"


If humans thought more in terms of care rather than profit-seeking, they’d enjoy better living, a healthier planet, and, yes, greater GDP.

UCLouvain Human Sciences Sector Honorary Doctor and University of Minnesota Political Science Professor Joan Tronto researches care from a global perspective.

You helped define care as a species activity that includes everything we do to maintain our world. Why extend care to the planetary scale?
Because it exists on that level. The point we wanted to make was care had been completely overlooked as an aspect of human life. Nature was treated as something to use and otherwise ignore. That was also true of humans. A human life is invisible from the standpoint of work. Flipping that on its head, after-work activity is what matters most in human life: who and what we care for, what relationships of care we’re in, and we’re always in a relationship with nature.

Who and what we care for, what relationships of care we’re in: that is what matters most in human life

Socare begins with childcare, healthcare, elderly care, and then…?
Expands from there, because if you pay attention to those areas, you realise there’s a whole other level where decisions make it either easy or impossible for people to care well for anything.

Like the planet. It seems the species hasn’t cared a whole lot.
The problem is a mode of economic life where we extract from nature, pay nothing back, use up all the natural resources in order to make profits and build wealth.

While the species belittles care yet can’t exist without it. How can this paradox exist?
Because not everybody in the species is equal. There’s a huge gender divide between who’s responsible for caring - mostly women - and who isn’t. And a class divide. Throughout history upper classes have forced their caring responsibilities onto lower classes. My concern has been democratising caring relations and responsibilities.

If the species truly cared, wouldn’t that amount to a major evolutionary step? So many people are against care, it’s almost a political stand.
Yes, it is. But the “evolution” is actually a “devolution” to indigenous peoples’ ideas of a living natural world and being part of it. We need to go back to a respectful interrelationship with the natural world. Once we start to think about our own relationships and how much care we take each day, we begin to see care, and its absence, everywhere.

Care’s scope seems gigantic.
A Norwegian sociologist said everyone wants to protect themselves from realising how big the environmental crisis is. The truth is, you don’t have to. You don’t have to care for everybody else’s children as you do our own, but you do have to ensure everybody else cares for theirs. Stand up and do your part. Now expand that: colonialism is a deeply uncaring relationship that needs to be repaired. Americans have responsibilities toward Latin Americans in a way people from Armenia don’t.

We need to mainstream care like we’ve mainstreamed profit-seeking

What will allow care to occupy a central place in society?
Supporting people who do care work, noticing unpaid care work and finding ways for society to support it; thinking of how to allocate resources, time, and people to ensure our environment is well cared for. My colleagues in German-speaking countries say we need to mainstream care like we’ve mainstreamed profit-seeking. We need to ask always: How does this policy impact care? How is this a care question? And they’re all care questions.

Who’s going to pay for all this care?
It’s relatively free: if men did their share of care work, GDP would increase, because women could work too. If we stop thinking of wealth as an end in itself and think of care as what humans should provide for each other and the planet, we’ll make very different decisions. We’ve been told for the last 50 years that the market is the only way for these decisions to be made. That’s wrong. There are much better ways to make these decisions.

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