The First Swiss Roundtable Discussion for a Care-centered Economy

In the late afternoon of Saturday, 25th of January 2019, the first roundtable discussion for a Care-centered Economy took place in the gorgeous 18thfloor of the Sankt Gallen University of Applied Sciences. It was organized by WiC #economyiscare and the department of social work of the said university.  For several months WiC had tried to find a faculty or department of economics to cooperate in the organization of the roundtable, but had failed. Three of the addressed faculties had declared themselves disinterested, eight incompetent. The Economics faculty of the University of Zürich has not sent an answer yet.

It was typical that in the end a department of social work of a university of applied sciences was the only party who showed interest in organizing an expert talk aiming to answer the following questions:
– Will the economists of the future return to their core business, creating a theory and praxis of fulfilling human needs?
– Will they, finally and consequently, include not only paid, but all need-fulfilling human activities?
– What will a Need-and-Care-centered Economics and economy look like?
– How can we foster its evolution?
For there is an apparent yet seldom mentioned latently gendered division of work and responsibility in the traditional architecture of sciences: Economics, especially in traditional universities that are proud of their excellence in theory and basic research, is generally understood as an objective mathematical discourse dealing with impersonal numbers, statistics and money, done mainly by high-paid white men. Whereas departments of sociology, social work, gender studies, cultural studies, nursing studies etc. in universities of applied sciences tend to be less funded and to take the traditionally “female” “practical” role of healing and compensating the damage done by hardcore theory and business.

Eight women* and five men* participated in the roundtable discussion, all of them active in different ways in research and in the civil society movement towards a sustainable and humane world. We all agreed that the inclusion of care not on the margins but in or as the center of economic thinking and acting is necessary. But how will we proceed? The first important insight for me was that we lack not only an institutional center but also a common language. While everybody seemed to understand that the notion “care” somehow touches our common concern, some of us, in their actual speaking and everyday work, refer to Marxist analysis speaking of a (crisis of ) “reproduction”, others chose the notion of  (critical) “diversity management” that seems to be compatible with neoliberal politics, still others speak of “feminist economics” honoring the historical origin of the care movement, yet simultaneously tending to reduce the topic of human neediness and dependency to a “women’s question”.

Do we refer to the same reality just using different words? Or do the divergent terminologies stand for different approaches that cannot easily be reconciled? How could and should the transdisciplinary institutional center we are longing for be named? Arriving from different edges and streams of academia and the political spectrum, how can we find common ways of acting towards our common goal of a sustainable and humane globe?

I am confident that we will find such ways as I can feel a strong drive towards something new that is very old at the same time and can be named differently: Shalom, eudaimonia, a good life for all… As a next step we, the organizers and the participants of the first Swiss roundtable discussion for a Care-centered Economics and economy are looking forward to an overarching lecture series addressing different questions and aspects of the Care-centered Economy, and to the next roundtable discussion that will hopefully take place soon in another Swiss city.

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