Note: I last edited this entry on June 15 (but I had started it at least a week before that). As I indicated in this post, I have decided to shift my attention away from this mash-up and towards another one. Before I completely shift my attention, I want to post this entry. I am adding a few more ideas at the end…
So, my big issue in my latest blog mash-up is this: how to frame what I already have in relation to some of the literature within feminist ethics about care. In my last entry, I came up with a promising approach: focusing on “daring to be bad” and its connections to troublemaking/troublestaying and ethics. In that entry, I briefly discussed Marilyn Frye’s essay in which she rejects ethics and its call to be good by arguing that being good is too mired in a desire to please others/be seen as acceptable. Such a desire, she cautions, encourages “good little girls” to reinforce/support oppressive structures. For Frye, the solution is to grow out of this need and to stop looking to ethics for guidance.
It is interesting to note her word choice. She writes that we should grow out of ethics instead of grow up beyond ethics. Could we read her growing out instead of up as something akin to Kathryn Bond Stockton’s growing sideways, which I discuss here?
In encouraging us to reject ethics, Frye reinforces a popular understanding of ethics by many feminists (and those engaging in queering theory too): ethics, which is created by those in power, a. is based on rigid rules/structures that regulate behavior and reinforce oppressive structures and b. is in opposition to politics (and political resistance/justice). I like this idea and all day yesterday I thought about how it might work for this essay. Then, I stopped thinking about it. I realized that I am trying to do too much. I need to focus in, at least for this paper, on how I fit my thinking about troublestaying as care into feminist care ethics.
As I struggle to polish up some of my ideas for publication, I am struck by how much more difficult traditional academic writing is then blog writing. When I start to put together an essay, I think I panic a little. I think about all of the ideas that I should include and then worry about how I might be leaving something out or not exploring something else enough. How much of this anxiety is helpful (as in, helpfully reminding me to to be “rigorous” and thorough in my thinking/research/writing) and how much of it is damaging (as in, damaging to my ability to ever produce something of publishable quality? And, how much of this anxiety is just a necessary part of trying to really do something with my ideas (and produce something that is fixed and finished)?
The question I need to ask myself is, what original ideas do I want to present and how I can use the background literature to support/clarify/explain those ideas? I am interested in thinking about troublemaking/troublestaying as a form of care (or, if not a form, at least connected to it) and I want to think about it in relation to Foucault and his use of care in the essay, “The Masked Philosopher.” I want to think about care as a willingness to:
- see the world strangely/differently
- pay close (and serious) attention to what exists or might exist
- maintain a critical awareness of limits/problems
- act on what one cares about
- question/challenge/reject traditional hierarchies
These descriptions all point to care as curiosity and making/staying in trouble. I want to read this vision of care in relation/against/next to Joan Tronto and Berenice Fisher and their definition of care. Here’s the definition:
On the most general level, we suggest that caring be viewed as a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web (103).
In addition to their general definition, Tronto and Fisher offer up four different phases of care (which Tronto also discusses in greater detail in Moral Boundaries and which I discuss here): caring about, taking care of, giving care and receiving care. Tronto/Fisher are interested in giving serious attention to care and providing a detailed description of how it is practiced. I appreciate their efforts here and find their analysis to be very helpful as I try to think through what I mean by care and troublemaking as care. (In fact, I always really appreciate it when scholars develop clear, concrete and detailed definitions of terms/ideas. Clarity, what a concept!) So, I want to use this definition as a starting point and as something to work with and against.
In their definition of care, Tronto and Fisher emphasize care as being about maintaining, continuing and repairing our world. Where do I fit making and staying in trouble into this definition? Is staying in trouble a form of repair? Interestingly enough, I wrote about this problem right after posting my entry on Tronto. In that entry, I pose the question:
Is it possible to imagine making trouble–disrupting the status quo, challenging ideas that are assumed to be givens and emphasizing the brokenness of ideas/images/visions–as actually contributing to the sustaining and repairing of the world?
Since writing that entry, I have checked out and skimmed Elizabeth Spelman’s book, Repair. Her book is really great. I especially appreciate her writing style which is fairly relaxed and less-academicky (and mind-melting) than most philosophy books.
For Tronto, the notion of care as repair is all about solving problems and fixing things/people/needy situations. While I agree that these are important activities (we do need to find solutions, even if they are temporary, for meeting the needs of various groups), I don’t think that this is the only way to imagine what we could do with care. What if care wasn’t just about identifying problems and then solving them, but about giving focused and careful attention to how those problems get created and why they are problems in the first place? Here’s where Foucault and his notion of care (and problem posing) could come in. And what if repair was not only about fixing things or restoring them to their former glory, but about reworking them in new ways?
My understanding of the implications of repair as taking care of a problem (Tronto’s second phase) was enhanced after talking with STA about a computer/web problem he needed to fix. He wasn’t able to get rid of the problem (which was the desired, and potentially achievable, goal), so he had to work around it. This solution was less than ideal because he really wanted to finally and fully take care of the problem. Now this sort of language concerning repair–taking care as getting rid of–makes a lot of sense when you are talking about computer bugs or code breakdowns. But, does it make sense to use this language when we are talking about people and their needs? Is it possible to take care of their problems once and for all? How can we think about care-as-ongoing repair? Or, how can we think about care as tinkering and experimenting instead of solving?
When I return to this mash-up later in the summer, I want to make sure to start with Elizabeth Spelman’s idea of the tinkerer as one who repairs, in her chapter, “From Bricolage to Invisible Mending.“