Why Cultures of Care?
“The difference between giving and receiving care is very much timing.”
— ELLIOT KUKLA
Cultures of Care celebrates people that practice collective care in unconventional and insurgent ways. Care is an essential, immediate and practical way to create belonging. Perhaps most vitally in our urgent times, at the heart of each profile you will find provocations that are seeds for reshaping society and how we relate to each other and the world.
Cultures of Care was initiated in the fall of 2020 as we faced a deepening pandemic and economic inequality, popular uprisings against state-sanctioned violence against Black people, an expanding border wall and a deluge of traumatic climate events. These conditions continue to grow today. In the chaos, isolation and fear of these multiple storms, we also witness beautiful points of shelter. These practices center an ethos of collective care in the face of multiple forms of overlapping othering and oppression. Some of these are new and emergent, like harnessing technology to adapt to social isolation. Others are long-standing, such as stewarding ancestral lands through fire. Most, if not all, are an evolving mix of new and old ways to practice collective care. Cultures of Care are practices that create belonging in the context of othering. A Culture of Care is an affirmative, generative form of resistance and adaptation.
As many of the practitioners noted, care is undervalued in society. This is a direct result of capitalism and its intersections with patriarchy, ableism and white supremacy. Capitalism chases profit in large part through increasing efficiency. This means moving faster and lowering costs. One of the main ways to lower costs is to erase externalities from the balance sheet—to make someone else pay for something that is essential to the profitable business. Care work is one of the largest erasures.
Care work includes the daily labor that it takes to survive—changing diapers for babies, taking seniors to appointments, doing the dishes, cooking, fixing the broken window, organizing daily medicine or helping your sibling with homework. Through a combination of unpaid labor and low wages we end up covering private sector costs while devaluing care, one of the core acts that connects us to our humaneness.1 This type of care-giving labor (also called reproductive labor) is seen as “naturally” outside of the economic sphere, and therefore of less value. This is not accidental. As Kristina Wong’s Auntie Sewing Squad reminds us, care-giving labor has historically been—and continues to be—done by women, people of color, and especially women of color. These groups fill in as stopgap workers in the absence of a functioning social safety net or government response. The political and economic power of care workers is growing (see for example, the National Domestic Workers Alliance) and comes from a long legacy of organizing, but still remains limited and under attack. To say it another way, care doesn’t pay, care workers and those who need care do. This is intimately connected to who does care work.
“What the world will become already exists in fragments and pieces, in experiments and possibilities.”2
— RUTH WILSON GILMORE
Cultures of Care learns from and builds on the legacy of care work. The practices in Cultures of Care might take the form of a party, a social space, work culture, the grief circle, or a previously unseen image. These practices are innovations that respond and adapt to needs by creating systems and knowledge. For the practitioners profiled here, their collective care practices arise out of a need to protect against forms of violence perpetuated by multiple forms of othering. They have reclaimed the value of care not just as a practice of love, but as explicit and implicit refusals of our dominant economic and political systems.
It is not insignificant that many of the practitioners we profiled have had to combine multiple sources of income and become exceptional in their craft in order to maintain and grow these practices.3 Many did not name care as an explicit element of their work but resonated deeply with it in the process of the interview. This doesn’t mean that cultures of care are limited to exceptional individuals. Quite the opposite. We drew from such a wide set of activities in order to expand upon the boundaries of what is considered care and reflect upon the transformative power of care in practice. We know that you are engaged in or have been part of a culture of care. We hope these materials help you grow care wherever you are now.
A society where all belong requires that we are cared for in the ways that we need. It is by following this thread through cultures of care—the one that centers love and relationship while refusing exploitation and isolation—that we can imagine a path from the dance floor to a society rooted in belonging. These are evolving and responsive forms of care that center rest, joy, intimacy, trust, reciprocity and cultural sovereignty. This is not to say that these cultures of care are perfect or utopian—they don’t claim this and neither do we. But their work is a testament to care finding a way even under enduring, oppressive conditions. It is with these understandings that we have come to see how the growth of the cultural power of collective care—and the myriad practitioners who center it—is intrinsically tied to social transformation. For this reason we celebrate cultures of care.