Four decades of neoliberal approaches to the provision of care (medical care, mental health care, childcare, and eldercare, to name a few) have resulted in a crisis of care so ubiquitous as to appear natural. Among the unanticipated consequences of the redirection of women’s labor from the unpaid sites of family and community into the paid labor market during second-wave feminism (coupled with an unprecedented privileging of commercial values with the emergence of neoliberal market fundamentalism) has been the social problem of a care deficit. What sociologist Lynn S. Chancer has called a “stalled revolution” and historian Kirsten Swinth describes as “feminism’s unfinished business” has precipitated an array of care fixes and patches: persons suffering from the consequent care deficit (either exhausted from providing care at home and the office, or lacking in care for themselves, or both) are advised to engage in self-care and self-improvement. University students, staff, and faculty are advised to use counseling and meditation apps, seek out wellness opportunities, and/or employ coaches and advisers to manage their lives and well-being. This article takes these three ready-at-hand examples of neoliberal care provisioning as a point of departure, revisits an analysis of the political economy of care labor vis-à-vis political theorist Nancy Fraser, traces the transitions in the self-care proposals proposed in US self-improvement literatures from the 1960s through the present, and offers a set of suggestions regarding radical care emerging from the author’s experience with academic labor organizing and an engagement with anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s model of emergent possibilities amid the disasters of capitalist accumulation.
Capitalism’s Care Problem: Some Traces, Fixes, and Patches
Micki McGee is associate professor of sociology and American studies at Fordham University. She is the author Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life (2005) and is currently at work on a book about neurodiversity and neoliberalism.
Micki McGee; Capitalism’s Care Problem: Some Traces, Fixes, and Patches. Social Text 1 March 2020; 38 (1 (142)): 39–66. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-7971091
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