O.P. Recommends: ‘Capitalism’s Crisis of Care’ – Sarah Leonard interviews Nancy Fraser for Dissent Magazine

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Capitalism’s Crisis of Care is a discussion between Sarah Leonard of Dissent magazine and critical theorist and feminist Nancy Fraser, which focuses on Fraser’s concept of today’s ‘crisis of care’, which, as she explains, is a product of capitalism. In capitalist societies, ‘social reproduction’, the social and family bonds necessary for raising families and caring for the elderly, have ‘no monetized value. They are taken for granted, treated as free and infinitely available “gifts,” which require no attention or replenishment’ and which, like nature itself, is ‘an infinite reservoir from which we can take as much as we want and into which we can dump any amount of waste.’ Capitalism, unjustifiably and artificially, splits ‘economic production off from social reproduction, treating them as two separate things, located in two distinct institutions and coordinated in two different ways.’ This leaves us with this crisis of care, in which working people are stretched to the breaking point, trying to make a living while trying to maintain the level of care and attention that children, the elderly, and social bonds in general need as much as ever.

Fraser outlines the history of the development of this crisis of care, ‘trac[ing] a historical path from the so-called liberal capitalism of the nineteenth century to the state-managed regime of the mid-twentieth and on to the financialized capitalism of the present day. In a nutshell: liberal capitalism privatized social reproduction; state-managed capitalism partially socialized it; financialized capitalism is increasingly commodifying it.’

If we are to resolve many of the most pressing social problems we face today, from funding health care to adequately providing for the elderly, ill, and disabled to giving working families sufficient time and resources to raise the very families society depends on, we need to start by examining our assumptions and habits with the same care and rigor Fraser reveals in her analysis.

Here’s another excerpt from this absorbing and enlightening interview:

Leonard: Many of the questions that you raise about social life and the family have come to seem utopian again, like some remnant of the 1960s, and not necessarily central to a socialist program. And yet, you argue that we’re actually at a crisis point—these issues must be central. The challenge of social reproduction is so fundamental to everyone’s lived day-to-day experience that it’s been surprising to me that it’s often absent in the current revival of socialism.

Fraser: I agree very strongly with that. Given the acuteness of this crisis of social reproduction, it would be utopian, in the bad sense, for the left not to be focusing on this. The idea that we could somehow bring back manufacturing, that’s what’s utopian—again, in the bad sense. Unlike the idea that you could build a society that assumes every adult is a person with primary care responsibilities, community engagements, and social commitments. That’s not utopian. It’s a vision based on what human life is really like.’… Read more

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