Across varied institutional settings (public health, juridical, environmental, humanitarian, educational etc.), “care” for a given population is translated into service with specific, often idealistically determined, goals. Care, as the “the way someone comes to matter and the corresponding ethics of attending to the other who matters,” has become a core object of anthropological interest (Stevenson 2016). However, the practices of care, and the ethics that inform those practices, can serve as an affective double-bind in which we form attachments which, themselves, serve as obstacles to our goals (Berlant 2011). Grounded in the complex entanglements between caring, service provision, idealism, and outcome based metrics, this panel uses the theorization put forward by Berlant in Cruel Optimism to interrogate the efficacy of how policy makers, advocates, and institutional actors “care.” Given that “Berlant argues that the social-democratic promises of political and social equality and upward mobility are unachievable fantasies within liberal-capitalist societies that can no longer provide such opportunities” (Edwards 2015) we ask, what purpose is served to continue to aim for unreachable goals? How might institutions and institutional actors plan around normative narratives of success? How might we move away from the constantly elusive hope that a focus on injustice will create lasting change in order to design programs, policies and interventions that center alternative methods for determining, adjusting and interpreting outcomes? Given the recent and unprecedented breakdown of infrastructures designed to address the varied needs of communities, it is even more pressing that we question a cruelly optimistic attachment to the perfectibility of our systems as we imagine alternatives for producing a liveable future. The papers in this panel explore these central questions through an ethnographic attentiveness to diverse institutional settings. From philanthropy in Flint Michigan to environmental policy in Brazil, post-prison reintegration programs in New Orleans, refugee health care in Philadelphia, and immigration courtrooms throughout the U.S., each author explores the emergent intimacies, implications and impossibilities of “care.” We probe the entangled responsibilities of institutions, our interlocutors, and ourselves in systems whose logics seem to paradoxically produce the very conditions they strive to upend. Each paper probes novel forms of constraint generated through practices of care that aim to produce alternative possibilities. As a whole, this panel is both a reflection on myriad efforts to achieve justice and a call to imagine what it might look like to repair the present.
Next from AAA Annual Meeting 2021
Humanitarian Anthropology: Complicity & Action in a Time of Crisis
AAA Annual Meeting 2021
18 November 2021