Annual Research Theme

2019-2021 Theme: Revaluing Care in the Global Economy (RCGE)

The theme for 2019-21 centers on the Revaluing Care in the Global Economy (RCGE) project, led by GSF director Jocelyn Olcott. RCGE is an international, interdisciplinary research network focused on interrogating the underlying ethics and beliefs that have fostered the widespread undervaluing of the care labors required for the survival of what we purportedly hold most dear:  our families, communities, cultures, and environments. This project rests on two basic principles: first, that social, cultural, and ecological care are deeply imbricate; second, that societies where liberal ideologies have become commonsensical — particularly exemplified by faith in technological, market-based, and state-sponsored solutions — can learn from societies where liberalism has been treated with greater suspicion. Our research network focuses on three main areas: metrics, governance, and social practice. 

In Fall 2019, Professors Olcott and Ara Wilson co-led a seminar, Rethinking Care in the Global Economy, that included graduate students, postdocs, visiting scholars, and faculty from all over the world. Professor Olcott and the two postdocs for 2019-20, Ingrid Meintjes and Riikka Prattes, co-lead a Bass Connections team of ten undergraduates and four graduate students from a broad range of backgrounds and disciplines. Although a conference planned for April 2020 was cancelled due to COVID-19, students organized and executed a series of online workshops around the theme “Care in the Time of COVID-19” that they are editing into a podcasts. The COVID-19 pandemic has accomplished what decades of feminist activism and scholarship could not: draw nearly universal attention to the vast amounts of paid and unpaid labor required simply to sustain ourselves and our planet.

For 2020-21, as part of a Mellon-supported Humanities Unbounded lab, we will focus on four specific topical questions:  carceral care, food security, what constitutes “essential work” and who are essential workers,” and the renewed role of mutual-aid organizations and other intentional communities. This lab, co-convened by Professors Olcott and Jessica Namakkal, will also include two postdocs, Riikka Prattes (who has stayed on for a second year) and Farren Yero, as well as a visiting scholar, Meghan McDowell, from Winston-Salem State University.

The robust feminist scholarship on care and carework highlights three important lessons. First, we need solutions that do not rely on commodification, ecological predation, and social inequities. Even universal childcare programs often reinscribe racial and gender patterns, and they are unavailable in the current crisis. Second, the nature of this pandemic has offered a stark reminder of the costs of policing too chauvinistically the boundaries around our communities of care. A coronavirus, much like a climate crisis, impacts people differentially but ultimately does not respect national borders or status differences or family allegiances. Finally, addressing both the short- and long-term aspects of crisis of care demands a wholesale reconsideration of how we measure economic wellbeing, devising strategies to measure sustainability and caretaking rather than simply productivity and efficiency.