Care in Just Transitions

Care in Just Transitions

Deirdre Carolan04/03/2024

The care referendum takes place on the 8th of March. It seeks to amend two clauses in the Constitution which situate the work of women and mothers in the home and replace this with text recognising the care provided by family members. From the initial insertion of this text in 1937, it has caused anger among women’s groups and been some of the more controversial articles of the Constitution. Feminist activist Hanna Sheehy Skeffington called it a ‘fascist model in which women should be relegated to permanent inferiority’ (Beaumont, 1997).

Care within the Constitution and care as it is currently practiced is highly gendered. More women engage in care work than men. Care-based professions are termed ‘pink-collar work’. Feminist perspectives have long shown how care is taken for granted and devalued. Care is seen as the work of women existing primarily in a private domestic setting. In this setting, it is invisible. Defining women in their roles of wives, mothers and carers functions to maintain privilege. A privilege that was acutely felt with the legalised gender discrimination of the marriage bar. When care is paid for, it is underpaid and often in the informal economy.

Within a growth-based economic system, care is seen as unproductive work. The marginalisation and invisibility of care propels the myth of neoliberal individualism; of being ‘self-made’. This serves to obscure the role of care in our world.

We all give and receive care. Care work and care relations are central to our lives and societies. Care is the necessary but mostly dismissed labours that make up the everyday maintenance of life. Berenice Fisher and Joan Tronto (1990, p40) define care as ‘everything that we do to maintain, continue and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible’. This includes not just caring interactions with others or self-care, but also care for objects and for the environment. Care work and care relations take place in our homes, but also in social and political life, and in the natural world. The complexity of which makes them difficult to reduce to a schedule or enclose in fixed tasks that ‘start here and end there’ (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017 p54). Care work is made up of tasks that are often seen as unimportant and unproductive. Yet this is essential for liveable relations. It is the work of interdependent actors, that need and provide care in a variety of ways and have interests and activities outside the realm of care (Tronto, 1993). Care is not an unquestionable ethical norm or moral good but can be problematic. It can at times be joyful and at times burdensome.

In our world of multiple crises, engaging with care as a living terrain opens up possibilities. This starts by reclaiming care from idealised meanings, as a form of an unmediated work of love accomplished by idealised carers (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017). Instead, we can see that care is vital to the fabric of life. It is the work that is required to maintain our living world; food production, water procurement, childcare, eldercare, healthcare, animal care, housing keeping and waste management, recycling and water, air, soil and biodiversity protection (Di Chiro, 2019).

Widening our understanding of care, in the current referendum, from something undertaken by women, in the household, to recognising the care provided by all family members, is a starting point. Yet, as several groups have stated, this does not fully recognise nor provide the necessary support for care within the wider community, as a shared responsibility, in which the state is actively taking part in. Nor does it address the rights of people with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to participate in socio-economic life.

 

In imagining a post carbon flourishing society, it is care work that forms the basis of this. It is a society where the care for humans and nature that produces, reproduces, and sustains life and livelihoods is prioritised over a growth-based economy (Mellor, 2009). This includes recognising that jobs that involve care and subsistence should be seen as ‘low carbon’ green jobs and invested in. These include jobs in nursing, teaching, food production, eldercare, childcare, caring for people with disabilities and ecosystem management. This also means critically addressing the role of the state in supporting care as we transition to a just and sustainable world.

Situating the work that people do, to care for, repair and maintain their communities, and the people who live in them, provides an alternative pathway for human and planetary wellbeing. These collective acts of care can be seen as cornerstones in moving away from growth-based economic structures and extractive human-nature relations. Both of which serve to perpetuate environmental destruction and human inequality. Stepping away from neoliberalism's stranglehold on our imaginations, we can re-think what a low carbon economy grounded in caring would look like (Di Chiro, 2019). It would start by both valuing and fully supporting the essential work of care in our mutually networked world.

 

References:

Beaumont, C. (1997) Women, citizenship and Catholicism in the Irish free state, 1922-1948, Women's History Review, 6:4, 563-585,

Di Chiro, G. (2019). "Care not growth: Imagining a subsistence economy for all." The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 21(2): 303-311.

Harcourt W and Nelson I (2015) Practicing Feminist Political Ecologies: Moving beyond the ‘Green Economy’. London: Zed Books.

Mellor, M. (2009) Ecofeminist Political Economy and the politics of money. In Salleh, A. (ed) Eco-sufficiency and Global Justice. London and New York. Routledge

Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2017), Matters of care: speculative ethics in more than human worlds, Posthumanities, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press

Tronto, J. C., & Fisher, B. (1990). Toward a Feminist Theory of Caring. In E. Abel, & M. Nelson (Eds.), Circles of Care (pp. 36-54). SUNY Press

Tronto, J.C. (1993) Moral Boundaries A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. Routledge, New York

Deirdre Carolan

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Deirdre Carolan is a Climate Justice researcher with TASC and IRC funded Ph.D candidate in the Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin.

 


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