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.