Call for Papers
October 1, 2017
Area Studies, Humanities, Philosophy, Race Studies, Sexuality Studies
Call for Papers for a proposed issue of Social Text
Title: Radical Care
Deadline for abstracts: October 1, 2017
Please submit abstracts, 250-300 words in length, via email to
Today, to care for oneself or others can be a radical act. This special issue investigates the meaning and power of care in different forms and on various scales: the digital, the infrastructural, the personal, the environmental, and the governmental. While caring has long been considered an individual practice, its transformative power becomes possible within collective efforts. We must look no further than the labor force of paid and unpaid care workers, activist groups and collectives, and disparate kinship networks to see how care is mobilized toward survival strategies. Radical care is, however, not a straightforward or uncomplicated process. What underlying cultural assumptions regarding race, class, gender, and sexuality associate care with radical politics? How does the social reproduction of inequality inflect perceptions and acts of care? This special issue seeks to define “care” in social breakdowns of labor, pain, and duress, in order to locate and analyze the mediated boundaries and structures of what it means to feel and provide care, survive, and even dare to thrive while facing down an existential threat.
Following recent theoretical interventions into the importance of self-care (Ahmed 2014, Penny 2016), this issue extends the potentialities of self-care outward to include other forms of care embedded within our current political concerns, including the American Health Care Act, global climate change, Black Lives Matter, and ecological destruction brought on by capitalist development. In response to these everyday threats to human and non-human survival, care, tenderness (Todd 2017), allyship, and protectorship (Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua 2017) have become critical. Given the high stakes placed upon precarious communities and environments today (including the recent Collateral Afterworlds special issue of Social Text), we ask: then what? Because such manifestations of care have emerged, viscerally and urgently, throughout the academy and contemporary politics, it is necessary to speak across registers of the individual and the collective to carefully interrogate care’s radical potential as a strategic response in times of precarity, vulnerability, and loss.
In this special issue, we seek to articulate the historical roots of radical care and their reverberations in the present day. During the Civil Rights era and Women’s Movement, self-care and self-knowledge became a political means of resisting racist, sexist, colonialist, classist, and homophobic medical expertise (Murphy 2004). Meanwhile, autonomist feminists pushed for the recognition of domestic and reproductive labor in the 1970s Wages for Housework campaign (Federici 1975). While care and care work are not new to activism – the Black Panthers’ free school breakfast program and the environmentalist movement’s role in the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency are two major examples – the digital age has brought with it new emotive possibilities that permit more networked expressions of care and self-defense. In the 1980s, Michel Foucault identified the “care of the self” as the basis of social morality, extending from the Greco-Roman tradition; by turning inward, humans may constitute themselves as ethical subjects (Foucault 1988, p. 16). Colloquial rhetorics of moral self-care have since changed. In November 2016, self-care re-entered the popular lexicon as a means of coping with despair. College campuses offered time with puppies or free massages, while mainstream blogs provided a range of tips for handling post-election grief, including drinking tea, unplugging from social media, and doing yoga. While right-wing pundits mocked “snowflakes’” need for coddling and alt-right trolls and bots overtook Twitter feeds, the US saw a major uptick in hate crimes against Muslims, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and immigrants. Audre Lorde’s famous words -- Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare -- are imbued new life as weary individuals and fragile communities (to use Sara Ahmed’s term) cope with an uncertain political reality.
It has become increasingly clear that care is about more than individuals. While also engaging with critiques of self-care’s neoliberal co-optation and issues pertaining to care and social reproduction, this special issue aims to acknowledge care’s radical potential in both traditional and digital social networks. Instead of simply acting as a force for self-preservation, care is about the survival of marginal communities because it is intimately connected to modern radical politics and activism. Care signals investment, reciprocity, and attentiveness to the inequitable social dynamics that characterize our current social landscape. To care is to recognize often-invisible forms of labor. We might look to the work carried out by queer women of color activists, from on-the-ground organizing and hashtag activism to mourning the dead. Or the unpaid or devalued domestic work which underpins the American health care system. In each case, attentive care and attention-to-care is life sustaining, even if it is at times perilous. To care is to be vulnerable, and thus can easily be instrumentalized and abused by corporate-owned platforms, multinationals, or the medical establishment. Thus, we aim to bring conversations about self-care in activism together with feminist and critical disability studies theories of care work infrastructures. What technologies and social support systems enable individuals to care for themselves and others?
Potential themes that we invite contributors to address are suggested below, but they are not exhaustive of the range of possible contributions that engage with questions of radical care.
· Immigration bans, border-crossings, mobilities
· Environmental care, ecological crisis, and the anthropocene
· Health care, terminal illness, and the medical industry
· Domestic care work, motherhood, and home health
· Care through kinship, genealogical networks, and human/nonhuman relations
· Advocacy work, support networks, and allyship
· Hashtag activism and digital publics
· Feeding, food labor, and agricultural care
· Biopolitics, microbiopolitics, and governmentality
· International aid and the refugee crisis
· Self-care, cooperatives and collectives, and community health centers
· Wellness ideologies and fitness under neoliberalism
· Survivorship narratives and communities of survival (cancer, rape, abuse, etc.)
· Activist burnout
· Craft and art practice as care