Troublemaking with social media?

Just saw this photo from the Occupy London facebook page. Very fitting, considering I’m currently trying to finish an article on how twitter might enable us to be more engaged citizens. In my article, tentatively (and very boringly–is that a word?) called “Twitter, Authenticity and Ethical Engagement,” I plan to examine three different twitter projects from (or that started) last year that were used to spread awareness and transform understandings about abortion: Angie Jackson’s live-tweeting of her abortion in February of 2010; the hashtag #ihadanabortion, first used in the fall of 2010; and the twitter handle, @IamDrTiller. One of my key arguments is that these three examples need to be taken seriously and closely examined to explore their potential for encouraging us to be more engaged, caring and ethical citizens. Originally I had planned to focus only on Jackson’s live-tweeting of her abortion (via the RU486 pill), however after doing some more research, I’ve decided to also include the hashtag and twitter handle, both of which were created by Stephanie Herold from abortion gang (we’re talking about this issue and Herold in my feminist debates class this semester). I want to think about these three examples in relation to Joan Tronto and her feminist ethic of care (specifically, her ideas of caring about, giving care and receiving care). It is interesting to think about this idea of caring about and giving/receiving care in relation to the image from occupy london. Revolution seems to be about disruption, destruction and struggle while Tronto’s definition of care is grounded in care, repair and the maintaining of the world (see my discussion here). Is it possible to think about these things together? Well, that’s one thing that I’m trying to do in my own work by (re)imagining troublemaking as a form of care and maybe care as a form of troublemaking?

On another note, I’m planning to discuss the occupy movement (is it a movement? what else should we call it) in my queering theory class next week. We’re discussing the concept of the abject and reading some Butler (from Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter), Dorothy Allison (“A Question of Class”) and various online sources about occupy wall street (including this awesome site: History is a Weapon). In that discussion, and in my own critical reflections on the occupy phenomenon and the ethical/political value of twitter, I want to think more about what it might mean to use twitter as a revolution tool? How? And in tandem with what other tools? What are its limits as a tool? Possibilities? How specifically has it challenged/disrupted/made trouble for the system?

Okay, I need to finish a draft of my article soon. I better start writing!

blog mash-up #1, part 3: shifting my attention

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.

Linking care with troublemaking, part 1: Defining Care

It is spring break and I am taking a few days to think through some ideas that keep coming up in my reading, researching and teaching. One idea that I have been experimenting with for some time now is that of troublemaking as a form of care. I can’t quite remember where or when I first started to think that care and troublemaking could (or should) be connected, but this idea seems to be bothering/inspiring/haunting/provoking me lately.

I think one reason that I like connecting care and troublemaking is because much attention (some positive, a lot negative) has been given to the concept of care within feminist ethics. In the context of feminism and feminist ethics, care is popularly understood as being closely tied to nurturing and the re-valuing of women’s work/women’s roles/women’s ways of knowing/women’s practices as mothers and care-givers. This focus produces a narrow framing of the issue: Care = Nurturing = Comfort = Maternal = Women. While this framing does not accurately represent how many feminist ethicists reflect on and use care in their own projects, it can be hard to think of care as a feminist practices outside of the frame of the nurturing mother. I think that linking troublemaking with care could enable us to rethink how we understand care and feminist ethics and how we frame their relationship. At the very least, just thinking about troublemaking (which emphasizes discomfort and uncertainty) as a form of care makes some serious trouble for care and feminist ethics!

Note: Why, you may ask, am I using the language of frames/framing here? Last week in my grad class on troublemaking, we read the introduction to J Butler’s latest book (May 2009), Frames of War. So the idea of framing is fresh in my mind. I really like Butler’s use of framing as a way to focus (to frame?)  her own discussion of grief, war and the livable life. She not only uses the concept of framing as a way to think about how we represent/structure/understand an idea, issue or norm (the frame), but she also argues that we need to spend some time troubling that framing instead of quickly moving to create new frames. At one point in the essay (pages 8-12, to be exact), she traces the meaning of “to be framed” and encourages us to engage in a troubling/calling into question of our frames in order to expose how they always produce an excess/outside that doesn’t fit (drawing upon Trinh T. Minh-ha, she calls this a “framing the frame”). She understands this excess/outside in two different ways: a. (negatively) as a necessary part of the process of framing that functions at the limits and helps to define what one is (A), by what one isn’t (not A) and b. (positively) as the uncontrollable part of the process of framing that always exceeds (breaks with) that framing and enables it to take on new meanings/new contexts. Hmm…does this fit with my discussion of the framing of feminist ethics and care. Yes! But, how? Well, I can’t quite articulate that right now. I will leave it to fester–in my brain and on this blog–for a while…

This discussion and reflection on care, troublemaking and feminist ethics is a big project (a book, perhaps?). Right now I want to focus in on some definitions of care offered by those engaged in feminist ethics. Bypassing the definitions offered by Nell Noddings or Carol Gilligan, I want to begin with Joan Tronto’s four part definition of care as it is articulated in chapter 4 of Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care (but also coming out of her work with Berenice Fisher who wrote a fabulous book, No Angel in the Classroom, that I use whenever I teach Feminist Pedagogies).

Tronto begins her essay by revisiting the definition of care that she created with Berenice Fisher:

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 offering this definition, Tronto wants to highlight several features. Caring:

  • implies a reaching out beyond the self (relational)
  • requires action
  • is not limited to human interaction
  • is not exclusively dyadic (relationship between 2 people)–not just about mother/child relationship
  • is largely defined culturally
  • is an ongoing process, not a single act or type of activity
  • is a practice and a disposition
  • are those practices that have maintaining, continuing, repairing the world as their end

Tronto offers four phases of care that are analytically separate but interconnected in the ongoing process of care:

Phase One: Caring About
Phase one involves the recognition that caring is necessary. It is about paying attention to issues/individuals/communities/nations/regions and identifying their needs.

I am particularly interested in the phase of caring because it resonates with my own linking of care with curiosity and paying attention. I think of caring-as-curiosity as more than just paying attention and recognizing that there are needs to be met through practicing care. Is this phase always (and only) phase one in a larger process of practices? Why is it important to distinguish it analytically from other forms of care? What are the limits or dangers of doing so?

Phase Two: Taking Care of
Phase two involves assuming responsibility for those needs and developing ways to respond to them. This second phase goes beyond identifying a need to the recognition that action is needed and can be taken.

When I think of taking care of something, I often think of solving (or getting rid of) a problem. Tronto doesn’t address the (sometimes) negative tone of this phrase or the potential conflicts between solving a problem (taking care of it) and the need for ongoing care. She does, however, discuss how it is often connected with men and the power/privilege they have in being able to address and solve problems (121).

Phase Three: Care-giving
Phase three involves the actual physical labor that is necessary for taking responsibility and meeting the needs of others. Tronto offers the following as examples: nurse administering medication, repair person fixing a given thing, mother (or father?) talking with her child about the day’s events, a neighbor helping a friend to set her hair (107).

I am struck by her examples here. These activities seem to be overwhelmingly feminine–can a father engage in these caring activities? Or, when a father cares is he engaged in mothering? Tronto does suggest that these are the examples that most quickly spring to our minds–is this true? Is this how we envision care?

Phase Four: Care-receiving
Phase four involves the responses of the person/community/object who receives care.  Tronto believes this phase is necessary because focusing on how the object of care responds to that care enables the care giver to assess whether their actions were effective and productive.

Is this another form of paying attention? So, it is not just that we pay attention to the need for care but that we pay attention to our practices of care and the limits and possibilities of that care. Hmm…so maybe paying attention (and caring about how we care) is important for multiple phases of giving care.

After providing her definition and phases of care, Tronto devotes the rest of the essay to exploring how care (as a practice and disposition) is marginalized; is gendered, raced, and classed; and contained as work and as weakness. In terms of containment (and the connections between race/class/gender and containing care), Tronto writes:

…caring about, and taking care of, are duties of the powerful. Care-giving and care-receiving are left to the less powerful (114).

Tronto also discusses the importance of thinking about care as a disposition and a practice. She suggests that envisioning care only as a disposition reduces care/caring work to emotions and the private individual’s emotional investments and intentions. This suggestions troubles me a little as I think about my own interest in promoting troublemaking as a virtue/attitude/approach. It also troubles me as I think about the role of emotions in terms of Sara Ahmed and her discussion of collective feelings. Ahmed is not interested in drawing such a strict division between emotions/feelings and actions. In “Collective Feelings: Or, the Impressions Left by Others,” she argues that “emotions do things” and that “rather than seeing emotions as psychological dispositions, we need to consider how they work, in concrete and particular ways, to mediate the relationships between the psychic and the social, between the individual and the collective” (27). Hmm….

It is helpful for me to work through Tronto’s definition here. In part 2 of this linking care with troublemaking, I want to read chapter 5 of Moral Boundaries–“An Ethic of Care” and think about what this might mean for my exploration of care and for Michel Foucault’s use of care in “The Masked Philosopher” (which I discuss here) and in The Care of the Self: The History of Sexuality, Volume 3.