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Geographies of Care and Responsibility

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Across the decades geographers have been concerned with questions of our ethical responsibilities to care. It would seem that care is nothing new in geography. I argue however, that contemporary societal shifts are extending market relations into caring realms of our lives and that we are witnessing reductions in public provision of social supports. These twin trends have made care a more pressing concern and have simultaneously marginalized care from view. Geographers are well positioned to draw attention to these trends and I urge us to think about our responsibility to care about these issues, and the geographies that they make. I ask us all to think about our responsibilities as geographers to pose questions in the face of (i) market extensions, (ii) currently pervasive discourses of personal responsibility (for poverty, inner city decline, unemployment, etc.), and (iii) the withdrawal of public support from many crucial arenas. Care ethics focuses our attention on the social and how it is constructed through unequal power relationships, but it also moves us beyond critique and toward the construction of new forms of relationships, institutions, and action that enhance mutuality and well-being. I consider how our research, teaching, and professional practices might shift in conversation with care ethics. Care ethics suggests that we build spatially extensive connections of interdependence and mutuality, that we attend to the ways in which historical and institutional relationships produce the need for care (extension of market relations; famine, unnatural disasters, environmental and cultural destruction), and that we take up social responsibility in our professional practices.

Nearly all of us care, because we ourselves know what it means to have our hearts cut away by life…

—( Kingsolver 2002)
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Keywords: feminist ethic of care; responsibility; spatial extensiveness of care

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Washington

Publication date: 2007-03-01

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