Care Commons: Infrastructural (re)compositions for life sustenance through yet against regimes of chronic crisis

Blog post by Isabel Gutiérrez Sánchez

25 Jan 2023, 9:08 a.m.
Isabel Gutiérrez Sánchez

Increasingly recurrent capital-driven crises are accelerating the collapse of the systems of eco-social reproduction on a planetary scale. Importantly, ruling elites are capitalising on this state of affairs with reworked modes of extraction and accumulation of capital. Infrastructures constitute key components of this crisis scenario and regime. Emerging infrastructural configurations, particularly in the urban, are raising questions about the possibilities and challenges that these transformations may bring regarding more just and sustainable modes of social provision. Attention is being drawn to the grassroots, where experiments with novel forms of organisation are bringing about new collective contexts and political conceptions. In this context, infrastructure has been proposed as a concept to both examine contemporary crises and imagine ways to cope with breakdown that can gesture toward living alternatives at the service of life.

I engage this transdisciplinary debate in my paper, ‘Care Commons: Infrastructural (re)compositions for life sustenance through yet against regimes of chronic crisis’.

I do so through an ethnographic study of two grassroots initiatives, namely a social clinic and pharmacy and a community centre, which were established in Athens (Greece) in response to austerity and the renewed EU border regime. My account and arguments draw on ethnographic fieldwork from 2016 to 2018, comprising observant participation and semi-structured interviews.

In the paper, I characterise these bottom-up organisational as modes of infrastructring care through commoning. This conceptualisation affords an analytical lens that facilitates connections across scales while drawing attention to questions of sustenance, relationality, affects, ethics and agency. The comparison with institutions further helps dig into questions concerning alternative modes, structures, actors, governing mechanisms and spaces for (re)organising social reproduction and providing care that can open up avenues towards eco-social transformation in the face of systemic breakdown.

Through the analysis I show that these people-driven initiatives (re)compose social, material and affective systems through which care is provided in dynamic, flexible, distributed, plural and rather open manners. Namely, platforms that enable and sustain everyday life, which are rooted in people´s active participation and actual governance of them. By networking with others in solidarity as part of a dynamic geography of multiple intersecting networks across the metropolitan territories and beyond, these initiatives build political power creating a foundation from which to articulate collective demands claim rights and organise bolder strategies of resistance. This way they mobilise people contributing to the (re)composition of struggles and the (re)activation of political life, composing relevant forces of delegitimisation and contestation of crisis politics and opening up the realm of the political possible as active (reproductive) actors in the city.

I argue that infrastructural systems of care commons contribute to an infrastructural imagination that moves away from modern ideals toward values of relationality, conductivity, care and repair, which may nurture a transformative politics for a world in crisis, yet against crisis regimes. To contribute to this potential and prolong these openings, critical researchers engaging these modes of infrastructural care might explore research methods that, without compromising an ounce of criticality, self-reflexivity and ethical positionality, can nonetheless facilitate a commitment with the possible becomings of the engaged fields, perhaps through affective, speculative exercises that suggest (non-normative) openings toward more caring worlds.   


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here


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