Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Social movements
Secondary Theme: Inequality
“Care” has rapidly emerged as a central analytic term in cultural anthropology. First appearing as a keyword in the AAA conference program in 2012, by 2015 hundreds of presentations listed the term. In the wake of neoliberal ideologies that figure the individual as the locus of social life, arguments and practices surrounding care are the sites where people resist, adapt, and create resilience rooted in social relations. Yet as scholars have shown, by mobilizing care to resolve these dilemmas in some arenas, social actors often deepen inequalities in others (Buch 2013, Ticktin 2011, Muehlebach 2012). Anthropologies of care attend to how care practices create connections and disjunctures across scales and temporalities.
This roundtable explores the consequences of this rapid turn to care as a central focus for anthropological thought. Gathered under the heading of “care” are multiple, sometimes conflicting, anthropological conversations: critiques of neoliberalism; calls for an anthropology of ethics; invocations to witness suffering; celebrations of an anthropology of the good; critiques of power within gendered and kinned relations; debates about ageing and social reproduction (Borneman 1997, Kleinman 2013, Kowalski 2014, Mol 2008, Robbins 2013). These theoretical conversations take place in dialogue with ethnographic findings where care emerges as an urgent empirical object: shifting social welfare policies around health care and elder care; surges in transnational migration and accompanying humanitarian dilemmas; everyday struggles to provide for a future in the face of economic precarity (Brodwin 2013, Heinemann 2016, Livingston 2012, Mulla 2014, Robbins-Ruszkowski 2017, Seaman 2018, Yarris 2017). “Care” has offered anthropologists a heading under which to gather urgent conversations of materiality, reproduction, personhood, relatedness, resilience, and social transformation across historical and geographic scales. Indeed, given the productivity of “care” as analytic and empirical label, care can seem to be both everywhere and nowhere (Buch in press).
Care is on the agenda. But what next? If care is to become a central analytic category for our discipline’s future, it is necessary to clarify what kinds of conversations “care” enables—and just as important to imagine what conversations a focus on “care” might erase or foreclose. This roundtable takes a keywords approach to develop an anthropology after care. We focus on building what Raymond Williams called an “active vocabulary” of terms that related to care, whose contested meanings are “inextricably bound up with the problems [they are] used to discuss” (Williams 1985: xxvii). The meaning of “after care” is threefold: an anthropology in pursuit of care as theory; an anthropology developing in the wake of a turn to “care” as valorized topic; and an anthropology responding to empirical transformations in how human beings around the globe conceptualize their obligations to care and be cared for. During this roundtable, in light of their own research, each participant will discuss a keyword that critically engages contemporary anthropological discussions of “care.” These include age, burden, consent/coercion, gender, generation, humanitarianism, inequality, interdependence, kinship and relationality, migration, obligation, and temporality.