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Global Economies of Care

Without care the global economy could not function, yet care is rarely recognised as a key economic driver of value.

Professor Beverley Skeggs

This research theme will run from April 2019 to September 2022 and is led by Professor Beverley Skeggs

Global Economies of Care involves LSE colleagues from the Departments of International Development, Law, Anthropology, Gender Studies and Social Policy.

The inequalities problem this theme addresses is the global crisis in care. Without care the global economy could not function, yet care is rarely recognised as a key economic driver of value. Without care, workers would not be born, fed, educated and replenished. But care is not just a labour issue, not just caring for but also caring about. Care is about how we relate to others, the fundamental social relations that underpin our lives and survival. Caring is also intimately connected to the politics we get. We are currently experiencing a cruel, brutal age where children can be ripped from their mothers and caged. The care theme will examine different scales, spaces and experiences of care. From the increased financialisation of care provision by national states, to the increasing privatisations of welfare states, to distributions of care worker across the globe as a result of structural adjustment policies, to the conditions for formal and informal care, to family structures and moral duties. Care is the crisis of our times and this theme will insist that we pay close attention to its significance.

This research theme will address the crisis in care that is facing most countries. Without care the global economy could not function, workers would not be born, fed, educated and sustained. Social reproduction would halt. For instance, domestic workers comprise a significant proportion of the global workforce in informal employment and are among the most vulnerable groups of workers. Approximately 21.5 million domestic workers – or 41 per cent of the estimated global total – are employed in Asia. They work for private households, often without clear terms of employment, and are usually excluded from the full protection of labour legislation and social security. 

We recognise that care is a huge encompassing term with tendrils reaching into many places, ubiquitous but rarely recognised as a key economic driver of value. Caring is also intimately connected to the politics we get. We are currently experiencing a cruel, brutal age where children can be ripped from their mothers and caged, and where a great deal of the population have forgotten how to care for others as they protect their own interests.

What we do know is that care is usually performed by women, it is a gendered politics and economics, with the burden of elderly, domestic and child-care disproportionately attributed by gender. It is also racialised, as a global care chain exists to export migrants, the brutalised subjects of inequality, who usually do the work of care: global structural adjustment policies organised the world into senders and receivers of care.

The provision of care not only generates gendered and racialised structural divisions but also always classed divisions which cut through gender and race. Middle-class people in the global north have been enabled to enter the labour market through the transfer of their responsibilities for workforce replenishment, of child, domestic and elderly care to working-class/migrant women. This theme will focus on both informal and formal care provision, always conscious of the permeable boundaries and traffic between them. The other key issue, connecting supply and provision of inequality that underpins the thematic analysis, is the increasing significance of illegal labour and the role it plays in sustaining household economies.

Theoretical issues: 

This theme will move from abstract economic theories, through understanding social relations, political and legal structures to policy recommendations. 

1. Firstly, we aim to build a better economic understanding: it will ask how do we modify our current economic thinking in order to account for social reproduction. Fundamental to this question is how we understand value. Traditionally value has been located in the singular individual who engages in exchange in a market of commodities and labour. The care economy is global. The significance of remittances from care labour plays a major role in the global economy: according to the UN, migrants sent home approximately $600 billion in remittances in 2017, a figure that is 3 times all official development assistance. This generates relationships of global economic dependence that are frequently overlooked. What happens when the global economic model of abstract of monetary flows incorporates care? What happens to the model of the greedy self-interested individualist if we factor in the dispersed act of care giving? Care also enables the increased financialisation of everyday life. The major companies providing care in the UK for instance, are global multinational private equity companies. The industrialisation and privatisation of care will be subject to scrutiny, as differences between different care regimes are examined. As part of the financialisation research digital platforms will also be investigated (see below). This interest in the monetary aspects of care links to the III theme on Wealth. This wake up call to traditional economic models will also address the significance of the geo-political condition of surplus populations (through war, forced migration), through institutional structures (nation states, care industries), asking who has a right to life, the ultimate question of social reproduction: How should we care for vulnerable children, people and populations? This also leads us to question “alternative” economic models, always asking where is “care” and social reproduction in Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposals. Do they assume that unpaid care is locked in by Universal Benefits? Who is likely to have responsibility? Does it re-traditionalise?

2. Secondly, we will investigate how social reproduction re-figures our understandings of class, gender and race. We know, for instance about social schemes that exist (in Holland for example) to encourage migrant women to undertake volunteer care work as a step towards national integration. As research has shown this places migrant women in the role of enabling European women to undo traditional gender and reinforce a racial and classed division of labour by allowing legal ‘national’ women to become workers in the ‘productive’ labour market, whilst migrant women are re-contained in another’s home for free. The theme will investigate the significance of migrant women’s labour to uneven gendered and raced development theories exploring labour deportability, pointing to the significance and routes of colonial histories of mobility. 

3. Thirdly, the experience of care will be investigated. In the Dutch case cited above the migrant women were highly resistant to performing care work in the households of other women. Just as the experience of carers in the UK shows high levels of alienation and high turnover rates of employment. The contradictions between caring for and caring about have long been documented and are growing. Furthermore, while “care” as a moral value is often understood as overwhelmingly positive, we argue for a more nuanced interpretation which acknowledges the associated layers of support, such as “caring with”. Care may also be experienced alongside violence, vulnerability, control, and in some cases coercion.

4. Fourthly, we bring together these issues in an exploration of digital care platforms, which are rarely discussed in the “gig economy” debates. People ask about the future of work but what about the future of social reproduction? Work is impossible without its supporting infrastructure of care and sustenance. Care platforms operate globally and enable digital competition for wages and services. Most are Tinder-type (marketplace) models where employers can search for the ideal care match. The workers on offer are all self-employed with no employment protections. It is rare to see caring labour discussed by researchers of digital platforms. This aligns with the interest in the future of labour theme of the III.

In the future we want to address planetary care, because without air, water and food, how will we live? The absolutely fundamental life infrastructure is being extracted and destroyed with little care for life. We welcome connecting and developing research in this area. 

All this research develops conversations across academic silos, with cross-disciplinary perspectives. We hope to build in conversation with the LSE Care Evaluation Policy Centre (CPEC). We are also building in a global network, connecting to international Atlantic programme initiatives eg Global Brain Health (US, Ireland), Health Equity (Vietnam and Bangkok) and the Cuba Platform. The Atlantic Philanthropies have been central in supporting this research. They introduced us to Sarah Anderson at the International Policy Studies organisation in Washington who has already established a care blog and Ai-Jen Poo, leader of the US Domestic Worker’s Alliance. We have also been working with Unison North West UK. Our Atlantic Fellows have begun scoping research on care organisations in Africa, campaigning organisation in South Africa and Nepal. We hope to develop this more widely and build an archive to share research. 

To date we have brought together researchers from within the LSE and London. 

Ultimately we want to put the issue of social reproduction at the centre of new economic thinking. To make it an unavoidable issue for policy makers, not just siloed in ‘welfare’ or women’s issues but to make it integral to all economic thinking, planning and policy. To do this we will provide robust research that can inform interventions. 


Podcasts and blogs

We have begun to make an impact via LSE, such as: 

LSE May day Event 2018 on The Labour of Care Work, Law and Finance, with Professor Nickie Lacey, Dr Lydia Hayes, Dr Insa Koch and Kevin Lucas (unite), Chaired by Bev Skeggs

Following her publication of “Formations of Class and Gender” ( a study of the making of caring subjectivities), Bev has been blogging about the crisis in social care.

Bev Skeggs also writes about the financialisation of care on the AFSEE global blog 


People

Our current care research collective involves the scholars below who have all been major players in the field of social reproduction. We aim to extend:

LSE

Professor Mary Evans                                                                                                            LSE Centennial Professor at the Department of Gender Studies                 Department of Gender Studies

Professor Deborah James
Professor                                                                                                                              Department of Anthropology

Professor Naila Kabeer                                                                                               Professor of Gender and Development                                                              Department of Gender Studies

Dr Insa Koch                                                                                                                   Associate Professor of Law and Anthropology                                                  Department of Law

Professor Nicola Lacey                                                                                                 School Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy                                        Department of Law

Dr Erica Lagalisse                                                                                                                      Visiting Fellow                                                                                                              International Inequalities Institute

Professor Diane Perrons                                                                                                Professor Emerita in Feminist Political Economy                                              Department of Gender Studies

Dr Ania Plomien                                                                                                              Assistant Professor in Gender and Social Science                                                   Department for Gender Studies

Dr Huda Tayob
Huda is currently working as a post-doctoral fellow on Susanne Hall’s migrations research.

Dr Susanne Wessendorf                                                                                           Assistant Professorial Research Fellow                                                           International Inequalities Institute

Key research scholars outside of the LSE

Professor Bridget Anderson
Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol and Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship Professor at of Sociology, Politics and International Studies                  University of Bristol

Dr Camille Barbagallo
Post Doctoral Research Fellowship                                                                                   Leeds University Business School                                                                                     University of Leeds

Professor Agnes Bolsø
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture                                                          NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Professor Andreas Chatzidakis
Professor in Marketing                                                                                                       School of Business and Management                                                                                   Royal Holloway, University of London

Dr Sara Farris
Senior Lecturer                                                                                                                      Department of Sociology                                                                                                            Goldsmiths, University of London

Dr Ana Gutierrez
Ana works on Latin American women migrants who take up domestic and sex work in London. She is currently based in Aberdeen.

Dr Jamie Hakim                                                                                                             School Of Art, Media and American Studies                                                                    Film, Television and Media Studies Department                                                        University of East Anglia

Asiya Islam 
PhD Candidate, Christ's College, Gates Cambridge Scholar                                           University of Cambridge

Professor Prabha Kotiswaran                                                                                 Professor of Law and Social Justice                                                                                Dickson Poon School of Law                                                                                                the Dickson Poon Transnational Law Institute                                                                       King’s College London

Dr Jo Littler
Reader in Culture and Creative Industries                                                                              Department of Sociology                                                                                                      City, University of London

Dr Catherine Rottenberg 
Associate Professor in American and Canadian Studies, Faculty of Arts                  Department of American and Canadian Studies                                                           University of Nottingham

Professor Lynne Segal
Department of Psychosocial Studies                                                                              Birkbeck, University of London

Professor Imogen Tyler FAcSS                                                                                        Head of Department, Professor of Sociology                                                                    Department of Sociology                                                                                                          Lancaster University

Dr Simon Yuill
Independent researcher and software engineer, who has begun a scoping project on digital care economies and Visiting Researcher with the Digital Culture Unit            Goldsmiths, University of London


We are keen to hear from anyone who would like to be involved in the future.