What Makes a Caring City?

Blog post by Angelina Kussy, David Palomera and Daniel Silver

21 Dec 2022, 9:26 a.m.
Angelina Kussy, David Palomera and Daniel Silver

We are currently living through a ‘crisis of care’, where the crucial activities sustaining people’s lives, such as childcare, mental and physical health services, elderly social care or the maintenance of physical spaces are unrecognised, undervalued, and under-resourced. As well as inequalities that structure how people receive care, the crisis is underpinned by an unequal allocation of care responsibilities. Allocation of care through the market or the state leads to a care and democratic deficit. There is an urgent need to develop a coherent alternative political strategy to address the crisis of care.

But how should we develop alternatives?

This is the question we ask through our paper, 'The caring city? A critical reflection on Barcelona’s municipal experiments in care and the commons'.

Organising care on the logic of the commons provides an alternative paradigm rooted in democracy and solidarity - where there is more control from the community. Municipalism aims to build institutions to enable the commons. Municipalism provides an institutional framework to enable the commons to develop and democratically transform how care is organised. As Federici explains, ‘we cannot exercise any form of collective self-government unless our reproduction has a territorial basis’.

In our paper, we reflect on Barcelona en Comu’s (BComú) municipal experiments in care to build upon what Dowling has termed ‘care municipalism’. Our case study focuses on domestic care work as a domain that reflects the core inequalities of the crisis. Through our analysis we have identified three key features of care municipalism:

Firstly, a narrative of care has been produced through which BComú have framed their strategies with a feminist ethos. Transforming the narrative of care to include a more gendered perspective demonstrates the value of care work in the city. It emphasises how women have always participated – in one way or another – in the public and productive spheres, as well as how reproductive and care activities not only take place in the household but extend to the public sphere.

Secondly, new forms of organising care have been created. BComú had aimed to bring the externalised home care services into municipal control, but have encountered legal, structural, and political barriers. Instead, BComú’ have tried to support cooperatives made up of carers. There have been pilots in low-income neighbourhoods of care superblocks that aim to empower care workers by creating small teams that self-manage their work on a smaller territorial basis, providing them with physical space to meet and plan their activities, and reducing their commuting times between homes.

And thirdly, social infrastructures have been sustained. Many care workers experience the effects of the crisis of social reproduction in their everyday lives. Domestic care workers often need to access assistance from other areas of social services – and so it is crucial that any strategy of care municipalism always considers these wider needs.

Our paper closes with a reflection on the limitations of Barcelona en Comu’s experiments in care from a perspective of the commons, before outlining a future research agenda to contribute towards more caring cities. 


Read the accompanying paper: The caring city? A critical reflection on Barcelona’s municipal experiments in care and the commons


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