Home > affect/care > Kathleen Lynch, John Baker, Sara Cantillon and Judy Walsh: “Which Equalities Matter? The Place of Affective Equality in Egalitarian Thinking”

Kathleen Lynch, John Baker, Sara Cantillon and Judy Walsh: “Which Equalities Matter? The Place of Affective Equality in Egalitarian Thinking”

September 24, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Which Equalities Matter? The Place of Affective Equality in Egalitarian Thinking”
Kathleen Lynch, John Baker, Sara Cantillon and Judy Walsh

Affective Equality: Love, Care and Injustice. 2009. [PDF]


There is a deep ambivalence in Western society about caring and loving
generally (hooks, 2000). This ambivalence has found expression in the
academy. In both liberal and radical egalitarian traditions, love and care
have for the most part been treated as private matters, personal affairs, not
subjects of sufficient political importance to be mainstreamed in theory or
empirical investigations, while the subject of solidarity is given limited
research attention. Sociological, economic, legal and political thought has
focused on the public sphere, the outer spaces of life, indifferent to the fact
that none of these can function without the care institutions of society
(Fineman, 2004; Sevenhuijsen, 1998; Tronto, 1993). Within classical economics
and sociology in particular there has been a core assumption that the
prototypical human being is a self-sufficient rational economic man (sic)
(Folbre, 1994; Folbre and Bittman, 2004). There has been little serious account
taken of the reality of dependency for all human beings, both in childhood
and at times of illness and infirmity (Badgett and Folbre, 1999). That fact
generates two very important forms of inequality: inequality in the degree
to which people’s needs for love and care are satisfied, and inequality in
the work that goes into satisfying them. These are the core of what we call
‘affective inequality’.1

In Equality: From Theory to Action (Baker et al., 2004: 57–72) we tried to
address the affective equality deficit. We identified four major social systems
within and through which equality and inequality can be produced, namely,
the economic, the political, the socio-cultural and the affective. We argued
that the four sets of social relations endemic to these systems are central
to the organisation of any society, and thereby exercise an extremely powerful
role in determining the levels of inequality in a given society. Of these
four systems, the affective system, which is concerned with providing and
sustaining relationships of love, care and solidarity, has received the least
analysis. The aim of this book is to make a contribution to that analysis. The
point of this chapter is to provide a sense of how the affective system, and
inequality within it, have been treated by the ‘social’ sciences, particularly sociology

and education, and by economics, law and political theory. Obviously
each of these fields is too vast to be fully surveyed in one chapter, but what we
hope to do here is to illustrate the relative neglect and general biases that have
characterised mainstream work in these disciplines as well as to indicate some
of the contributions recent scholarship has started to make.

Affective inequality in sociology, education and related disciplines
The importance social scientists attribute to economic, political and cultural
relations in generating inequality is predictable in social scientific
terms. Both Marx and Weber agreed that it was within the economy that
basic material inequalities in wealth and income are generated (although
they clearly differed in how they interpreted the operation of class relations
within it, and the role they attributed to the economy in determining other
inequalities). In addition, Weber, and scholars in the Weberian tradition,
have shown how cultural and political systems operate in many ways relatively
independently of the economy, and at times generate discrete forms
of inequality.2

Talcott Parsons, working within a Durkheimian, structural functionalist
perspective, also attributed primacy to the economy, the polity and culture.
Neither Marxist, functionalist nor Weberian social scientists identified any
major role for the affective system of social relations independent of the
economy, polity or status order. The affective domain was defined as being
dependent on other social systems; it was regarded as a by-product of economic,
political and cultural action, not an autonomous site or field of social
behaviour. Moreover, because it was defined as a private, highly feminised
and emotionally-driven sphere, it was not seen as a priority subject for social
scientific investigation.

The subordination of the affective domain found expression in the hierarchically
organised division of labour within the social sciences. Social
work, social policy and social care research did address issues of care but
this work lacked the status of research focused on the economy, culture or
politics.3 In the policy field, research on care gained most credence when it
was focused on the interface between the public and the private sphere,
most especially where it focused on the relationship between care and the
state. Thus, the relationship between unpaid informal care and the welfare
state was a major theme in social policy research on care throughout the
1970s (Williams, 2001: 475–478). Due to the growing influence of feminist
scholarship within established disciplines in the 1980s, social science research
began to pay attention to gender relations within caring and in particular
to the role of women as carers (Finch and Groves, 1983; Waerness, 1987).
The work of Graham (1983) and of Gilligan (1982) purported to highlight
differences in women’s and men’s sense of social and moral identities and how

each of these interfaced with care, while Finch (1989) focused attention
on the normative structures that impacted on care work. The rise of
the disability movement generated a critique of the dependency narratives
in care discourses in the 1990s. The unequal power relations between
the providers and recipients of care was a major subject of research among
disability studies scholars including Oliver (1990), Finkelstein (1991), Morris
(1993) and Oliver and Barnes (1991).

The role of the state in determining the dynamics of care provision never
left the policy frame however. As state investment in public services and
welfare supports was challenged with the emergence of neoliberal policies
from the early 1990s onwards, there was a renewed focus on the role of the
state, including its role in determining relations of care and gender (Daly,
2000, 2002, 2005; Glendinning and Millar, 1992; Leira, 1992; O’Connor
et al., 1999; Ungerson, 1993, 1995, 2000). The gendered character of care
was increasingly recognised in social policy therefore, albeit often through
a state lens.

Mainstream sociology was and is more male-dominated than social policy
and social care research. The primary focus of sociology has always been
on matters in the public sphere; it is a highly gendered discipline (Smith,
1987), although it is also a discipline that feminists recognise for its contribution
to the development of feminist thought (Jackson, 1999). The
dominance of the so-called ‘founding fathers’ (Marx, Durkheim and Weber)
in the early phases of sociological thinking was replicated at the end of the
twentieth century with the emergence of a new set of male leaders: Bourdieu
reinterpreted Marx, Parsons followed in Durkheim’s footsteps, while Randall
Collins, Goldthorpe and Giddens, among others, were closely aligned with
the Weberian tradition.

The ‘fathers’ of sociological thought in each generation imposed (often
unwittingly) a male cultural arbitrary4 on alternative voices, be these female,
disabled, ethnic or from some other marginalised group. The net effect was
that certain questions were not asked, or if asked, not taken seriously (Oakley,
1989). The deference to the male voice meant that the worlds that women
controlled and inhabited in a way that men do not, the care world in particular,
were interpreted through a patriarchal lens. This practice was exemplified
in the sociology of the family, where power inequalities within
households and the unequal division of care and other forms of domestic
labour were largely unproblematised in early work (see Parsons and Bales,
1956 and Hannan and Katsiaouni, 1977 for two different examples). There
was a deep symbolic violation of the feminine in this practice although it
went largely unnoticed until pro-feminist scholarship began to challenge
the received wisdoms of mainstream sociology (Connell, 1987; Delphy and
Leonard, 1992; Oakley, 1976).5

The emergence of postmodernist thinking with the work of Foucault
in particular did break up the coherence of the sociological framework; it
focused attention on issues of power and its operation and circulation
in cultural spaces. While it did not open up issues of affective relations
in particular, it did create a space for challenging the grand narratives of
social scientific thought, including the grand narratives that had trivialised
affective relations and the emotional work within them.

Influenced by the publication of Foucault’s work in English (The Birth of
the Clinic, 1973; Discipline and Punish, 1977; The History of Sexuality, 1978),
sociological research expressed growing interest in the human body and
mind as sites of disciplinary control at the end of the twentieth century.
The ways in which the disciplinary technologies of the state and other
powerful social institutions were employed to monitor, shape and control
human consciousness generated an interest in the sociology of the emotions,
which is closely linked to the affective system because so many emotions are
embedded in relations of love, care and solidarity or their opposites. Research
on the affective domain gained increasing recognition in sociological thinking
in the late twentieth century (Barbalet, 2002; Hochschild, 1983, 1989;
James and Gabe, 1996; Kemper, 1990; TenHouten, 2006). Scholars such as
Reay (2000), Sennett and Cobb (1977) and Skeggs (2004) have documented
the ways in which social class inequalities are not only experienced economically
but also emotionally, as social judgements on tastes, lifestyle and
values. Sayer (2005) has linked the lack of attention given to normative
issues in the social sciences to the failure to investigate the emotional
impact of injustices, particularly the way social class injustices are experienced
as negative moral judgements.

While the opening up of the emotions and emotional work to social scientific
investigation has been a significant development in the social sciences,
it cannot easily undo the long-standing neglect of affective relations as a
fit subject of research. Connell (1995, 2002), Kimmel (2005) and Seidler
(2007) have documented how the neglect of the affective domain has contributed
to the lack of research on masculine identities and hegemonic conceptions
of masculinity in particular. One area of social scientific research
where the neglect of affective relations has not only had an impact on
scholarship but also on public policy is the field of education.

Affective relations and education: an exemplary case
The trivialisation of the world of love, care and solidarity, and of feeling
and emotion more generally, has had a profound impact on thinking in
education. As ‘fallible’ emotions were not taken seriously in social scientific
research, neither were they taken seriously in education. Education was and
is defined as being about the development of reason (Callan, 1997, 2004;
Dewey, 1916; Rousseau, 1911). Under the influence of Piaget, formal education
increasingly focused on the development of abstract reasoning, notably mathematical reasoning.

The primacy of abstract reasoning was
underwritten by Bloom’s (1956) educational taxonomy of educational
objectives (cognitive domain) which ranked modes of cognition on a hierarchical
scale. Bloom’s taxonomy was widely disseminated and set the agenda
for evaluation and testing in the post-war era. His equally important taxonomy
of educational objectives for the affective domain (Krathwohl et al.,
1964) was never developed either by educators or governments.
Contemporary educational thinking continues to draw heavily from
Piagetan thinking, emphasising the development of logical mathematical
intelligence and abstract reasoning (Gardner, 1983). Even the growing
recognition of emotional and personal intelligence within developmental
psychology (see Gardner, 1983, 1993, 1999; Goleman, 1995, 1998; Sternberg
et al., 1986; Sternberg, 2002) has not unsettled the focus of education on
the development of the logical mathematical and linguistic capabilities for
servicing employment. There is a strong focus on the relevance of emotional
intelligence for measurable achievement; it is generally defined as a
capability that enhances and supplements other marketable capabilities
including academic attainment (Cherniss et al., 2006; Goleman, 1995; Grewal
and Salovey, 2005; Lopes et al., 2006; Vandervoort, 2006).

There is a strange irony in the development of academic interest in
defining and measuring emotional intelligence. Despite the obvious ways
in which emotional intelligence is crucial to the development of human
capabilities to love, care and engage in solidary relations with others, and
to moral education (Cohen, 2006), the advance of neoliberal thinking has
led to defining it as yet another measurable and testable public sphere skill,
to be deployed largely in the development of the public, market-led persona.
At the heart of this shift is an assumption that the ideal human being is not
only a self-sufficient and rational citizen, but also quintessentially an economic
citizen (Lynch et al., 2007). The focus of the Lisbon agreement on
preparing citizens for the ‘knowledge economy’ within the EU exemplifies
this trend, as knowledge is reduced to the status of an adjective in the
service of the economy. At the individual level, the purpose of education is
defined in terms of personalised human capital acquisition, making oneself
skilled for the economy: ‘the individual is expected to develop a productive
and entrepreneurial relationship towards oneself’ (Masschelein and Simons,
2002: 594).

Why educators neglect the affective domain
The neglect of education for emotional work, particularly for love, care and
solidarity work, arises for a number of reasons. First it arises because the
model citizen at the heart of classical liberal education is a ‘rational’ (in
the narrow sense) citizen and a public persona; thus the student is being
prepared for economic, political and cultural life in the public sphere but
not for a relational life as an interdependent, caring and other-centred human being.

Cartesian rationalism, encapsulated in the phrase ‘Cogito
ergo sum’,6 succeeded in embedding an understanding of ‘the person to
be educated’ as an autonomous, rational and increasingly economised
being, one who largely ignores the relational caring self (Noddings, 1984).7
The dependant citizen is left outside the educational frame in the Rational
Economic Actor (REA) model (Lynch et al., 2007).

The close and growing link between formal education and employment
also contributes to the neglect of the affective. Because educationalists tended
to take the definition of the person-to-be-educated from mainstream social
and psychological thinking, they also tended to adopt these disciplines’
core assumptions as to what constitutes work. Within the social sciences,
only work for pay, or work within the market economy, has been defined
as real work (Harrington Meyer, 2000; Pettinger et al., 2005). The equating
of work with economic self-preservation and self-actualisation through interaction
with nature (Gürtler, 2005) meant that education is seen as preparation
primarily for economic productivity.8 What is seen as ‘private’ care
labour can easily be ignored within this paradigm, while training for paid care
labour, because it is assimilated to other forms of employment, emphasises
professional detachment rather than emotional involvement.

A further reason why care has been ignored in the academy and in education
is because of the way scholarly work itself is produced; it is a byproduct
of the domain assumptions of dominant researchers across disciplines
(Gouldner, 1970).9 The social relations of research production and exchange
operate on the premise that one has sufficient personally-controlled and carefree
time to think, to write and rewrite: one needs freedom from necessity to
be an academic (Bourdieu, 1993). Given that not all caring (especially love
labour: see Lynch, 1989, and Chapter 2 below) can be delegated without
being transformed, those who have non-transferable dependency demands on
their time and energy either cannot write, or cannot write much. They are less
likely to be care commanders, people who are in positions of power and can
delegate essential care and love work to others. In contrast, those who are in a
position to globalise their point of view are generally people who have time to
do the promotional work that international academic scholarship requires,
not only writing and research time, but care-free travel time, networking
time, conferencing time and general self-promotional time. Those who have
named and known the world academically are disproportionately people
(mostly men) whose paradigmatic and domain assumptions are formed in
relatively care-free contexts. The domain assumptions of research production,
distribution and exchange have been care-free assumptions and these have
determined priorities both social scientifically and educationally.

Concluding remarks
While sociologists have examined issues of inequality in depth, the focus
of much of this work has been on economically-generated inequalities, especially

class inequalities (Grabb, 2004; Romero and Margolis, 2005).
Affective inequalities constituted by the unequal division of care labour
within and outside households, and by unequal access to love, care and solidarity,
have only become the subjects of research under the growing
influence of pro-feminist scholarship. Feminist scholars have moved sociology
and related disciplines away from their fixation with the Weberian
and Marxist trilogy of social class, status and power as the defining terms of
inequality and exploitation. They have drawn attention to the way the
affective domains of life are discrete spheres of social action, albeit deeply
interwoven with the economic, political and cultural spheres.

Economics and the affective domain
Like sociology and education, economics has not traditionally been concerned
with the affective domain and issues of love, care and solidarity. The
emphasis in neoclassical economics, the dominant approach within economics,
on methodological individualism, rational choice theory and the distinction
between the public and private spheres helps to explain not only the
neglect of the affective domain but also the marginalisation of women’s economic
contribution. Notwithstanding this, quite a number of areas of theoretical
and empirical work within economics implicitly touch on the affective
domain including labour market theory, reinterpretations of work and the
division between paid and unpaid labour, efforts to incorporate non-market
activity in national accounting systems, the use and critiques of the concept
of altruism, particularly as it relates to the household, the emergence of new
home economics of the family and the subsequent application of game theory
to the economics of the family. It has, however, been with the rise of feminist
economics from the 1980s onwards that issues of care labour have been
explicitly addressed in a comprehensive manner.

Part of the agenda of feminist economics is to investigate the apparently
‘value free, politically neutral, gender blind’ assumptions and values embedded
in the neoclassical paradigm, particularly in those areas that cross the
affective domain and bear directly on women’s lives and experiences. For
example, in examining the wage gap between men and women, neoclassical
economics focuses on women’s rational choices as the explanation that
justifies the higher earnings of men, whereas gender analysis examines how
gender-specific social expectations about women’s roles and caring obligations
affect their labour market experiences (Barker, 1998). Similarly, Strassman
(1993) examines the often implicit assumption that people are responsible for
taking care of their own needs and take only their own needs and wishes into
account, arguing that while it may fit the profile of a select few, it fails completely
to recognise the economic reality for children, older people, those with
disabilities or many others who do not have independent, or sufficient access
to economic resources.

Paid and unpaid labour
Conventional economic analysis defines ‘work’ as paid employment. This
view is increasingly contested as producing a one-sided picture from which
distorted and inefficient policy outcomes result. Economic life depends on
both paid work and on the unpaid activities undertaken in the ‘private’/
domestic sector. In recent years data collection on unremunerated work,
currently outside most national accounting systems, has been undertaken
in several countries with a view to explicitly recognising and incorporating
the economic contribution of unpaid work. But the emphasis on market
activity remains, epitomised in Pigou’s (1932) view that gross domestic product
decreases when a man marries his housekeeper, and the crucial interdependency
between paid and unpaid economic activities is underplayed.

The unpaid domestic sector provides caring services directly to household
members, as well as to the wider community, that contribute to individual
socialisation and to the production and maintenance of human
capabilities, thereby developing ‘the social fabric, the sense of community,
civic responsibility and norms that maintain trust, goodwill, and social
order’ (Himmelweit, 2002). Caring services are also provided by employees
in the public and private sectors of the paid economy. Obviously some of
this paid work takes place within households and there is both paid and
unpaid work in the voluntary sector, which is a significant provider of care
services and a net contributor to the social and economic infrastructure. A
key issue however is that while both men and women work in all arenas,
there is a marked gendered division of labour and it is predominately
women’s time that is stretched between work in the unpaid economy and
the paid economy. The terms ‘double day’ and ‘second shift’ have been used
to describe the phenomena of increasing numbers of women who are income
earners yet at the same time continue to perform their traditional roles as
household managers and care providers.

While the paid and unpaid economies are interdependent there are also
fundamental differences. A key difference is the motivation to care for
others. Gendered social norms play a significant role in creating a sense of
responsibility which may compensate for or even outweigh monetary reward.
The motivation of self interest, the extent of which is exaggerated even in
the paid labour market, makes little sense when applied to situations
in which work is not directly rewarded at all (Folbre and Weisskopf, 1998).
Again, unpaid labour is distinctive insofar as a lot of the work cannot be
delegated to others. As discussed later in this book, many aspects of caring
work are non-commodifiable. Caring labour is relational – it entails not
only the performance of physical tasks but also the development of a relationship.

Parents can pay someone to care for their children and those
entrusted with the task may do it very well, but the relationships they are
building with those children are their own: they cannot build the parents’
relationship (Himmelweit, 2005). So, insofar as the aim of caring is to develop a particular relationship, it cannot be contracted out to others.
Finally, productivity increases in caring labour are difficult to achieve. As personal
relationships form the basis of care there is a limit to how far they can
be stretched. It is unlikely therefore that society can reduce the total amount
of time devoted to caring labour across the whole economy without damaging
the quality of care provided. An example of this aspect of quality is the
educational sector, where the desire to reduce the ratio of teachers to children
is sometimes put forward as an economic efficiency objective.

Despite the differences between paid and unpaid labour at individual and
household level, the decisions made about caring and employment are
entwined, an issue which labour market theory and labour market policy
are increasingly being forced to acknowledge. Care is increasingly being
recognised as a significant economic issue (Himmelweit, 2005), not just in
terms of its contribution to the economy but in light of the more conventional
point that unpaid care labour presents a practical limit to the growth
of the economy, by being an obstacle to the expansion of employment and
especially to increased female labour market participation. Care responsibilities
for children and elderly parents remain the most significant variable
affecting women’s labour force participation and hours of employment
(Gardiner, 1997).

Economics of the family
A significant interface between economics and the affective domain is
in what can be generally classified as the economics of the family, which
is concerned with the way decisions are made and resources are allocated
within families. This field of study draws together different areas of economic
enquiry such as unpaid labour, female labour force participation, population,
social policy, game theory and bargaining models. It has also exposed a
key weakness in methodological individualism, which for consistency has had
to resort to a false dichotomy between selfishness in the market place and
altruism in the family (Folbre and Hartmann, 1988).

Economic theories of household behaviour are commonly divided into two
types – unitary and collective models (which incorporate co-operative and
non-co-operative bargaining models). The former assume that a household
behaves as if it were a single individual decision maker maximising the total
utility of the household whereas the latter tries to recognise the potentially
conflicting preferences of individual members and posits a form of decision
making which takes into account the differing positions and choices of individual
members. Both of these models conceptualise the family unit as a producer
as well as a consumer, so that a household acts like a firm insofar as it
produces outputs, invests in real assets and generates non-commodifiable
goods such as children, care and happiness for the welfare of the family.

The most well-known and frequently cited example of a unitary model is
Becker’s New Household Economic Theory (Becker, 1981). Becker’s model is problematic for reasons that are well-documented (for example, see Bergmann,
1995; Lundberg et al., 1997; Nelson, 1994). These include his assumption
about women’s economic dependency; the necessity of the head having
enough control of income for others to depend on him for transfers; the
assumption that the head cares about other family members while they themselves
are completely selfish; the assumption that household decisions depend
on total income and it is irrelevant who receives that income; his analysis
of time as a scarce resource; and his theory on the specialisation of labour
and classification of non-market work as leisure, which makes invisible and
devalues the care work and love labour carried out within the home. Furthermore,
the unitary model is not supported by empirical evidence (Browning
et al., 1994; Cantillon et al., 2004; Cantillon and Nolan, 1998; Woolley and
Marshall, 1994).

The shortcomings of the unitary model have led to a number of alternative
approaches that focus on the individuality of household members
and explicitly address the questions of whether, and if so how, individual
preferences lead to a collective choice. These models, based on game theory,
draw attention to the process of co-operation and conflict in families and
in particular to how that conflict is bargained over and negotiated. These
models attempt to correct the pervasive gender bias of earlier models such
as the ‘benevolent male dictator’ or women’s supposed comparative advantage
in household work. They provide more plausible explanations of household
expenditure patterns and of how inequality in the labour market
reinforces inequalities in the home and they identify factors influencing
the division of resources such as divorce legislation and social policy. However,
while these models may be an improvement on unitary models they
still have many shortcomings. In particular the ideology of individualism
which underlies these models has been increasingly questioned. Sen (1990)
argues that women and other oppressed people may not have an accurate
sense of their own interests while Nelson (1996) argues that a parent’s care
may be better understood as a ‘commitment’ rather than an action motivated
by their own interests. While still a long way from a well-developed,
non-individualistic model of the family, the game theoretic approach has
begun to shift economists’ views of the household so that inequalities in
power and wealth among household members cannot be as easily ignored
nor can the household be treated as an undifferentiated optimising unit
(Folbre, 1994).

Non-monetary work and national accounting systems
Unpaid household work has not, by and large, been included in national
accounts, with the resultant undervaluing of the contribution of women’s
work. The exception to this has been the Nordic countries, which since
the 1930s have included unpaid household work in their national account
estimates in a desire to provide a comprehensive picture of all economic activity in society and to explicitly record women’s economic contribution.

In the Anglo-American tradition only goods and services that were exchanged
for money were included in the first international standard of national
accounts published in 1953. As the limitations of using Gross Domestic
Product or other systems of national accounts as a welfare indicator became
clearer in the 1970s, particularly in relation to environmental concerns, the
issue of non-market activities and the question of women’s unpaid labour
in the household came onto the agenda. Waring (1988), Eisner (1989), Ironmonger
(1996) and others pioneered approaches to computing the value
of unpaid work into satellite accounts that are consistent with the national
account framework. In addition to the restrictive definition of economic
activity in national accounts, part of the problem is the notion of value
itself. In economics, value is defined in terms of market value, making it
difficult to assign a value to goods and services that are not marketed. This
is solvable for goods and services that could be sold on the market, such
as subsistence crops or garden vegetables consumed by the producers, as a
market value can be imputed for them. The same approach can be taken for
some other non-market activities, including a lot of household work and
also some caring work. However, some of this work transcends market value
in that it makes a vital contribution to satisfying human needs that cannot
be captured by its market value. Some of the work on developing ‘quality
of life’ indicators represents an attempt to measure such values (Nussbaum
and Sen, 1993). Other aspects of these contributions to social reproduction
and the fabric of society, such as fostering friendships and other relationships,
are of such intangible quality that it is impossible to place a market value on
them. That is, not all work of value, in a sense that is clearly relevant to the
economy, has a market price.

Concluding remarks
This very brief overview shows that there is interesting work being done in
economics on issues of love and care, but also that this whole field is only
beginning to be developed. Feminism in particular has put care work and
its value on the agenda of economics. Yet economics continues to have difficulties
dealing with unpaid labour, with modelling economic relationships
within families, and with constructing adequate ways of assessing the value
that unpaid care work contributes to the economy.

Affective inequality and law
Law is deeply implicated in constituting and perpetuating the social institutions
that shape affective inequality. Until fairly recently, however, legal
scholarship has neglected this fact. As in other fields, feminism has been the
key influence in drawing attention to the role of law in sustaining affective
inequality, but feminists are divided on its capacity to address this inequality, particularly in terms of legal rights. Although the affective system extends
well beyond the family and into many other social institutions, the family
plays a key role in this system and is our main focus here.

Affective inequality in legal theory
As Michael Freeman (1994) observes, legal theorists generally neglected the
affective context until the arrival of feminism. Martha Fineman (1995: 23–24)
also notes that ‘the family has been only marginally evident in legal theory
or jurisprudence, including feminist legal theory’ and comments on the
scholarly tendency for ‘those relationships conceptually contained in the
private sphere [to receive] little sustained critical attention except as they
relate to the public domain’.

Recent work in feminist legal theory has gone some way towards redressing
this neglect of the family and of the affective system more generally.
Feminist theorists have not just critiqued a host of laws that impact upon
the affective, but have probed the role of the legal system in generating and
sustaining affective inequalities. Such scholarship has tended to focus on
the consequences of unpaid caregiving for (female) care providers (Fineman,
2004), prompted by a concern that such labour is a site of gender inequality
that has not been tackled by the major law reform efforts of the past few
decades. More generally, a body of legal writing, such as that concerning
children and sexual minorities, has begun to engage with the conditions of
access to relationships of love, care and solidarity.

An example of this new approach is Fineman’s (2004) view that care
must be reconstituted as a public good. Responsibility for ensuring that
care work does not lead to poverty and social exclusion should be taken
out of the private sphere and reframed as a collective responsibility. Under
this renegotiated ‘social contract’ each individual engaging in caring labour
would have a range of socio-economic rights met by the state, rather than
by family members. Fineman (1995) also argues that the legal category of
marriage should be abolished; instead the relationship which should be
valued and protected is that of Mother/Child, where ‘Mother/Child’ is taken
as a metaphor for all relationships that involve intimate caring (e.g. son/
elderly parent).

O’Donovan (1989: 146) notes that all of those who go to law find a language
imposed upon them, and that this language incorporates certain
values. In liberal legal systems, the values contained in that language have
been identified as liberty and autonomy. These are values of sharply defined
commitment, not of open-ended obligation; of free choice, not of family
duty; of contract not of trusting relationship. She maintains that women’s
concern for others and for continuity and connection is an alternative
model of justice. The idea that women have a ‘different voice’ (Gilligan,
1982) has played an important but controversial role in the debate over the
importance of legal rights in promoting equality.

Law’s presence in the affective domain
Because of its regulatory role in society, law is implicated in many social
practices. Law both reflects and constitutes social relations (Ewick and Silbey,
1998; Gordon, 1984; Hunt, 1993; McCann, 1994). It promotes certain ideals
at the expense of others (for example, by telling us what types of ‘families’
deserve recognition) and plays a powerful role in shaping and regulating identity.
Legal discourse is said to construct gender identity by, for instance, applying
notions of the ‘good mother’ (Biggs, 1997) or ‘good father’ in custody
disputes, the ‘deserving housewife’ or homemaker in family property disputes
and so on (Smart, 1989). As Brophy and Smart (1985: 1) put it:
Law sets the parameters to what is considered ‘normal’, for example
marriage, sexual relations, the way we care for our children. … We cannot
‘opt out’ of these legal parameters by adopting unconventional
lifestyles or by avoiding heterosexuality. The law still has something
to say about our domestic lives and intimate relations, and we cannot
assert its irrelevance by ignoring it.

An example of this process is the distinction between the ‘public’ and the
‘private’. As Yuval-Davis (1997: 80) puts it, the ‘construction of the boundary
between the public and the private is a political act in itself’. In law, the
public/private distinction is used in different ways in different contexts. As
Karl Klare (1992: 1361) observes:

There is no ‘public/private distinction’. What does exist is a series of ways
of thinking about public and private that are now constantly undergoing
revision, reformulation, and refinement. The law contains a set of imageries
and metaphors, more or less coherent, more or less prone to conscious
manipulation, designed to organise judicial thinking according to
recurrent, value-laden patterns.

Feminist scholars have exposed law’s contradictory and complex relation to
the affective context. The affective is in fact highly regulated. Laws proscribe
certain forms of sexual contact, prescribe ideal family forms largely through
privileging heterosexual marriage, and regulate abortion and other reproductive
technologies. Non-intervention is itself a form of regulation because it
protects established practices (Freeman, 1994; O’Donovan, 1989).

How family law reinforces inequality
The manner in which law constitutes families has implications for both
primary forms of affective inequality – the unequal distribution of care work
and the care deprivations experienced disproportionately by certain groups.
For a start, law has been complicit in conveying the ideological message that
certain aspects of the ‘private’ should remain outside the preserve of state action and regulation. For example, male dominance was shielded by case
law and statutes that explicitly excluded women from the public sphere
and did not extend individual rights into the domestic sphere to which
they were confined (Olsen, 1983; Taub and Schneider, 1998; Vogel, 1988).

In this way, law has acted to preserve existing power relationships and social
arrangements and to reinforce the status quo. Liberal legal doctrines such
as the social contract and its attendant liberal rights sheltered certain forms
of interpersonal oppression while sanctioning governmental interference in
the lives of poor and deviant families. In Ireland, for example, severe forms
of affective inequality were experienced by women who gave birth outside
marriage and by the (mostly) working class children who were effectively
incarcerated in various homes and institutions while theoretically being in
the care of the state (Feeley, 2007; O’Sullivan, 1998; Raftery and O’Sullivan,

Feminist writers have exposed the devaluation of care within the legal field,
objecting to the interpretation of work performed in homes as unproductive
love and affection rather than as productive labour (Fineman, 2004; Roberts,
1997; Siegel, 1994; Silbaugh, 1996; Williams, 2001). Assessment of what types
of activities or work should be ‘rewarded’ with a share in the family home
has been a highly contentious issue before courts in several countries (e.g.
Khadiagala, 2002; Siegel, 1994; Wong, 1999; Yeates, 1999). Where provision
is made for the redistribution of property between (married) family members,
some recognition is afforded to the value of care work at a horizontal
level. Such measures, however, ensure that the costs of social reproduction
are largely privatised (Boyd, 1999), a pattern that has become concentrated
and (re)formed under neoliberalism (Cossman and Fudge, 2002). For example,
the World Bank’s land reform agenda is, according to Manji (2003, 2005),
premised on the continued exploitation of women’s unpaid work. It treats the
household as an undifferentiated unit, overlooking the fact that the family
often functions as an ideological and material site of gender-based oppression.

Much legal practice assumes the inevitability, or at least primacy, of
the family centred on heterosexual partners. Stychin (1995: 7) argues that
‘legal discourse is an important site for the constitution, consolidation and
regulation of sexuality and, in particular, the hetero-homo sexual division.’
While the European Court of Human Rights has adopted a more progressive
stance, it has done so on terms that cling to a binary model of
gender difference (Grigolo, 2003). Gay and lesbian people are posited
as individuals with immutable characteristics that mark them out as ‘different’
and as deserving of toleration. The background norm against
which these ‘others’ are measured – the heterosexual family unit – is not
problematised (Gotell, 2002; Stychin, 1995).

Another way the law has reinforced affective inequality is in its rules concerning
adoption. Traditionally adoption was predicated on an exclusive
model, under which what was effectively ownership of the child passed exclusively from the birth parents to the adoptive parents. The effect of
this practice was to completely sever the tie between birth mothers and
children and to place the child with a new nuclear family, often with
severe emotional costs to all of the parties concerned. Open adoptions that
enable ongoing contact between birth parents and children are now routine
practice in many jurisdictions.

Of course, it is not just in the affective sphere that family law has served to
reinforce inequality. Throughout its history, the effect and to a large extent
the purpose of family law has been to ensure that children inherit the socioeconomic
status of their parents. Family law has also played an important
role in perpetuating racism, for example by prohibiting interracial marriages
and sexual relations (particularly those between white women and black men)
and by racialised laws of descent’ (Pateman and Mills, 2007: 141–147).

The debate over rights
Rights play a central role in the operation of the legal system, but feminists
have had very different views about the potential of legal rights for addressing
inequality. MacKinnon (1987), for example, believes that a key mechanism
for the institutionalisation of male power is the law’s claim to gender
neutrality and objectivity, epitomised in the appeal to abstract rights. Naffine
(1990) shows how the ostensibly autonomous, contracting individual is gendered:
men’s dependencies and needs are met within the unacknowledged
private sphere, thus women’s domestic work sustains the ‘paradox of the man
of law’ (p. 149). By equating liberty with state non-interference, the right to
privacy including the decisional autonomy of the family cordons off aspects
of this important sphere of life from public scrutiny. Separation is valorised
above connection leading to the devaluation of care work in judgements
pertaining to both interpersonal relationships and the state-individual axis
considered in socio-economic rights jurisprudence.

Gilligan and MacKinnon have both argued that an emphasis on rights
reflects male values and male power. In Gilligan’s (1982) view the ethic of
rights comprises the male voice, whereas the female voice is the ethic of care.
Her research leads her to the conclusion not that the male voice should be
suppressed to make way for the muted female voice, but that properly adult
moral conceptions integrate both ethics. Her work has generated much debate
and criticism in feminist legal theory. For example Scales (1986: 1381) comments
that Gilligan’s work ‘tempts one to suggest that the different voices of
women can somehow be grafted onto our rights and rule-based system’. Scales
is opposed to what she sees as the facile idea that incorporation of the female
voice into a rights-based system could be anything other than mere incorporation,
arguing that the inevitable result is the further repression of the contradiction
between the two voices: ‘Incorporationism assumes that we can whip
the problem of social inequality by adding yet another prong to the already
multi-pronged legal tests’ (Scales, 1986: 1382).

Another argument regularly advanced against rights is that they promote
an adversarial stance instead of the sort of co-operation that makes for
good social relations. Mary Ann Glendon (1991), for instance, argues that
the proliferation of rights goes hand-in-hand with the impoverishment of
political argument, with every person asserting their private entitlements
against each other or the state instead of trying to come to a mutual agreement
or compromise on matters that affect all parties. A related objection
concerns the ‘implicit individualism of the liberal legal subject’ (Lacey,
2004: 21). Feminists such as West (2003, 2004) and Naffine (1990) problematise
the abstract individual rights-bearer at the heart of liberal legalism,
maintaining that rights discourse obscures the extent to which we are
interdependent and valorises separation instead of connection.

Moreover, as Scheingold (1974: 76) persuasively argues, a problem with
articulating rights claims is that they ‘cut both ways – serving at some times
and under some circumstances to reinforce privilege and at other times
to provide the cutting edge of change’. Measures designed to transcend
the public/private dichotomy to some extent, such as the recognition of
domestic violence as a harm that should be cognisable as a legal wrong,
have met with quite a degree of success. Yet the entry of liberal rights into
the private sphere did not result in equality of power, resources or other
dimensions (Minow, 1990). Many early successes in the arena of reproductive
rights were not based on egalitarian arguments but rather derived
from rights to marital privacy which were heavily imbued with patriarchal
assumptions (Flynn, 1995). Constitutional anti-discrimination guarantees
have been deployed to remove the remaining vestiges of formal status
hierarchies between married men and women (Doyle, 2004, ch. 7), but have
not altered the substantive position of spouses, as becomes apparent in case
law on the value of care work.

Robin West (2003: 90) starkly proclaims: ‘Rights have never been viewed,
within liberalism, as a source of support for caregivers.’ While historical
justifications of gender roles rested on women’s nature, contemporary liberalism
seems to base their justification on women’s choice. The minimal
protections afforded to caregivers derive from a conception of charity as
opposed to validating such work as a matter of right. West does suggest,
however, that liberalism can be expanded to embrace a right to care.
Despite these criticisms, many feminist legal scholars continue to believe
that rights have an important potential for promoting gender equality. Minow
(1990: 301) argues that we need not dispense with citizenship, equality,
and other human rights because of their limitations, but that we should ‘reconceive
rights as a notion that upholds the rights in relationships among
mutually dependant members of the community’. Rights also retain their
appeal as a means of ensuring that the self is not effaced by adherence to communitarian
norms, which can lead to erasure of the female as subject within
the family (Minow and Shanley, 1996).

In reply to the charge that rights discourse generates conflict between
individuals and so threatens co-operative social relations, one response is
that rights themselves do not fuel adversarial positions but are in place in
the event that relations break down (Waldron, 1993). In addressing marriage
Waldron (1993: 374) writes that formal rights and duties do not constitute
the relationship but rather operate as a type of safety net. Minow
(1987: 1874) further argues that those who invoke rights discourse actually
affirm community because in doing so they ‘invest themselves in a larger
community, even in the act of seeking to change it’.

The case for rights is strengthened by reflecting on the distinction drawn by
liberal legal systems between rights and needs (Vogel, 1988: 315). Waldron
(2000) argues that the language of rights is preferable to the language of
needs because it provides a way that self-respecting individuals can articulate
determinate claims as moral equals. White and Tronto (2004) agree
to an extent with Waldron but further contend that ‘needs’ ought to be
reconfigured. Explaining that ‘needs’ tend to be associated exclusively with
subordinate groups they comment:

Needs talk is at odds with ‘self-respect’ only if we cannot conceive of
needy selves as citizens. Recent feminist scholarship has challenged both
the concept of autonomy and its common equation with economic self
sufficiency, and the connections between autonomy and liberal citizenship.
Ultimately all selves are needy. But because the liberal conception
of citizenship is tightly linked to a conception of independence and
autonomy, this fact is often obscured. (White and Tronto, 2004: 433)

With regard to the objection that rights are incompatible with relationality,
a number of feminist theorists have claimed that rights too are relational.
Both Young (1990: 25) and Nedelsky (1993) argue that legal rights are not
singular objects possessed by individuals but social relationships, which are
reduced to a written text in order to be captured by law. As Minow (1987:
1884) argues, because legal rights ‘arise in the context of relationships among
people who are themselves interdependent and mutually defining’ they are
best configured as ‘simply the articulation of legal consequences for particular
patterns of human and institutional relationships’. Nedelsky (1993:
13) makes both a normative and empirical claim in asserting that all rights
are relational: ‘In brief, what rights in fact do and have always done is construct
relationships – of power, of responsibility, of trust, of obligation.’
While the surface inquiry conducted by a court may present an understanding
of rights as shielding the individual from the tyranny of the
majority, a question of rights ‘trumping’ the common good (Dworkin,
1977), the actual structure of decisions reveals that they are vehicles for
achieving various collective goals. Pildes (1998: 731) observes that judicial
review ‘requires courts to determine the scope of rights with reference to the justifications government offers for limiting them. That is because
rights are better understood as means of realising certain collective interests;
their content is necessarily defined with reference to those interests.’
Thus legal reasoning is already relational but arguably tends to prioritise
proprietary-object relations rather than ones framed around egalitarian

The goal, therefore, should be two-fold: to expose the unarticulated premises
and invisible mechanisms through which relational principles enter the
law and to ensure that those principles foster human connections that
advance rather than impede substantive equality. If courts were to adopt
such a relational view of rights, property, for example, could be regarded as
a system that shapes the contours of human relationships. In doing so
courts would be more attentive to the kinds of relationships we want the
legal rules to foster or discourage.

If rights are to be taken seriously in the affective sphere, a key question
will be whether to assert a ‘meta right’ to care (West, 2003). Work on the
positive rights required to ground such a meta right to care dovetails with
critical legal scholarship on socio-economic rights (Pieterse, 2004). Critical
legal scholars have pointed out that the civil and political rights that take
prominence in most Western constitutions need to be underscored by the
social rights required to exercise them (Jackman and Porter, 1999). This
point can be extended to include rights relating to love and care.

Concluding remarks
Law’s treatment of love and care is, therefore, somewhat paradoxical. Legal
systems have a profound effect on affective relationships, defining what
is normal and reinforcing inequality. But legal scholarship has only
recently addressed these issues from an egalitarian point of view. This
scholarship has opened up new ways of thinking about the role of law
and important debates about how it can be used to promote equality. The
debate about rights is an example of the many issues that remain to be

Affective equality and political theory
As we note in Chapter 2, affective equality ranges across a family of concepts,
including love, care and solidarity. The idea of love, however, has
received less detailed treatment from political theorists than the discussion
of care (which sometimes makes reference to love: see below). Issues of solidarity
are related to extensive debates about the concept of community in
recent political theory, but these tend to concentrate on issues of shared
values and identities rather than on the parallels between love, care and
solidarity. In this section, therefore, we restrict our discussion of affective
equality in political theory primarily to feminist work on the theme of care.
We focus on a few key moves in the debate about care and equality rather
than attempting to survey the entire literature.

A brief overview
As in the social sciences, political theory has traditionally been concerned
with the ‘public’ sphere, defined primarily in terms of the coercive political
relations of the state and the economic relations of market economies, and
therefore with inequalities of income and wealth, status and power. Rawls’s
A Theory of Justice (1999), which has been the dominant work in Anglophone
political theory since its publication in 1971, is a clear example of
the primacy of the public sphere so defined. Regarding the private sphere,
Rawls repeatedly refers to ‘the family’ as playing an important role, but
only insofar as it contributes to the formation of citizens (405 ff.) and to
inequalities of opportunity (64, 265, 448).

The most powerful early criticism of Rawls’s treatment of the family,
Susan Moller Okin’s Justice, Gender, and the Family (Okin, 1989), attacks
Rawls and other political theorists for neglecting the distributional, status
and power inequalities within families, and their consequences for inequalities
in the public sphere. Okin treats the gendered division of labour as a
central factor in generating these inequalities. But although she identifies
child care as integral to this division of labour, she does not focus on the
unequal success families have in satisfying their members’ needs for love
and care, and she treats domestic abuse and violence as indicators of unjust
power relations (128–129, 152) rather than as affective injustices in their own
right. Rawls’s reply to Okin (Rawls, 2001: 163–168) concedes that women’s
‘disproportionate share of the task of raising, nurturing, and caring for their
children’ is a ‘long and historic injustice’ (166) but his attention remains
fixed on how this inequality affects moral development and equality of

Part of the academic impact of the women’s movement from the 1980s
onwards was to put care itself onto the agenda of moral and political philosophy.
However, the way that this was generally framed was in terms of an
alleged tension between care and justice, and therefore, implicitly, between
care and equality. Perhaps the most widely-cited work in this vein was
Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice (1982), which maintains that women
adopt a contextualised, care-based moral perspective in contrast to the
allegedly abstract, deductive, rule-based forms of morality seen as typical of
western philosophy in general and epitomised by both of its dominant
Kantian and utilitarian traditions.10

In the 1990s, however, a number of important works emerged that challenged
the idea of a simple choice between justice and care. On the one
hand, feminist political theorists offered powerful critiques of the adequacy
of the dominant tradition for understanding social justice, precisely because
of its neglect of issues of care and dependency. In particular, Eva Feder Kittay’s work, Love’s Labour (1999), systematically criticises traditional theories
of equality, and Rawls’s theory in particular, from a point of view that
takes human dependency seriously. Kittay argues that the issue is not to
choose between equality and care but to develop a ‘connection-based’ conception
of equality that recognises that dependency is a typical condition
of human life, that dependants need care, and that dependency workers
– those who provide this care – need support in doing so. She maintains
that ‘the good both to be cared for in a responsive dependency relation if
and when one is unable to care for oneself, and to meet the dependency
needs of others without incurring undue sacrifices oneself is a primary
social good in the Rawlsian sense’ (Kittay, 1999: 103). From a somewhat
different perspective, Martha Nussbaum’s development of the capability
approach (Nussbaum and Sen, 1993; Nussbaum, 1995, 2000) identifies carerelated
factors such as love and affiliation, as well as protection from assault
and abuse, as central human capabilities that an adequate theory of justice
needs to promote.

Concurrently there was a growing realisation that the ‘ethics of care’
approach could not be divorced from questions of justice. For example,
Diemut Bubeck (1995) shows that an ethics of care perspective leads inevitably
into important issues of justice, such as how to avoid the exploitation of
women as carers, how to address inequalities in meeting people’s need for
care, and how to promote an equal distribution of the burden of caring. More
generally, she points out that questions of justice inevitably arise from
conflicts of interest between those who need care, those who provide care,
and third parties who benefit from the care work of others – the latter two categories
consisting predominantly of women and men, respectively, and therefore
playing a central role in the reproduction of gender inequality.

Major themes
These theoretical developments contain three major themes, not always
integrated. First of all, there is an emphasis on the needs that human beings
have for various kinds of care. The literature has tended to focus on particular
phases or conditions of life in which people are especially vulnerable
and therefore clearly dependent on others, such as infancy, childhood,
illness, frail old age and some cases of disability. While these examples
bring out very clearly the inevitability of the need for care, they also
generate some problems. With respect to disability, the discussion is sometimes
insufficiently informed by the social model of disability, which distinguishes
between disability and impairment and rejects the assimilation
of impairment to incapacity. As a result, it is sometimes assumed that
all disabled people need care of a kind or to a degree that non-disabled
people do not need. This assumption is strongly contested by many disability
activists.11 However, some of the cases discussed, such as Kittay’s
powerful discussions of severe mental impairment, show that the opposite assumption is also mistaken, and that certain forms of impairment do require
specific forms of care. A more general problem with concentrating on vulnerable
conditions is the implication that typical healthy adults are not
dependent on others and do not need care. Our own view is that interdependency
is the standard condition of human beings and that the need
for love, care and solidarity is ubiquitous. It is only in very exceptional
circumstances that individuals may be said to be fully independent.

The idea that love, care and solidarity are general human needs has not
been easily incorporated into mainstream liberal egalitarian theorising, largely
because of a reluctance, stemming from Rawls, to build into a theory of
justice anything that belongs to a substantive conception of human wellbeing.
Rawls’s ‘primary goods’ are defined precisely as ‘things which it is
supposed a rational man [sic] wants whatever else he wants’ (Rawls, 1999:
79). In response to the claim that love and care are a basic human need,
liberally minded political philosophers typically claim that these belong to
a specific conception of human well-being and that their inclusion therefore
violates the requirement that theories of justice should be neutral
among conceptions of the good.12 Kittay’s reply is that the goods of being
cared for when one needs it and being able to care for others when one has
to do so meet Rawls’s own standards for primary goods, because they are
goods that everyone needs as a condition for pursuing their own ends.

Drawing on Rawls’s later work, Political Liberalism (1993), Nussbaum argues
that there is a general, cross-cultural ‘overlapping consensus’ on the value
of such goods. On either account, they can be included in a theory of justice
without privileging any particular conception of well-being. A slightly
weaker, third position leading to a similar conclusion is to argue that even
if there is a small number of people who genuinely do not need or at least
do not want any love or care in their lives, this is no different from any of
Rawls’s other primary goods, since there are also people who do not want
certain basic liberties or more than a minimal amount of income. On this
view, it is enough for egalitarian theories of justice to focus on goods that
nearly everyone needs. Strict neutrality among all conceptions of wellbeing
is simply too strong a requirement.

The second major theme of the literature is its concern with the work of
caring. At least two issues have been raised here. The first, and historically
the earliest, is the gendered division of labour and the fact that the largely
unpaid work of caring is done primarily by women. Although Okin’s (1989)
focus is on the effects of this division of labour on gender inequalities in
income, power and status, more recent discussions in political theory have
also emphasised the unequal work burden imposed on women by this division
of labour (for example, Bubeck, 1995; Fraser, 1997: ch. 2). What has
made this inequality difficult to incorporate into mainstream theories of
equality is a tendency for such theories to ignore inequalities of work burden

A second question about care work is how to support those who care for
others. Okin argues that the ideal solution is to abandon the gendered division
of labour; in the meantime, she proposes that there should be a
mandatory splitting of household income so that wives in traditional roles
are no worse off materially than their husbands (Okin, 1989: ch. 8). This
proposal emphasises the material needs of care workers, but of course they
also have their own care needs. Drawing on the tradition of caregiving to
new mothers, Kittay articulates:

a principle of doulia: Just as we have required care to survive and thrive, so
we need to provide conditions that allow others – including those who do the
work of caring – to receive the care they need to survive and thrive. (Kittay,
1999: 107, emphasis in the original)

An egalitarian ideal of support for carers should therefore attend to the
whole range of their needs.

A third major theme is that the relationship between caregiver and care
recipient can be more or less egalitarian. Returning to an earlier point,
there has been a tendency to focus on situations in which the relationship
is taken to be asymmetrical, i.e. where one person provides care and the
other receives it. It is easy to imagine that this asymmetrical relationship
could not possibly be egalitarian in character, but interestingly enough the
character of its presumed inequality has been perceived in very different
ways. On the one hand, it looks as though care recipients are in a privileged
position, since they are the beneficiaries of the work of caregivers
without having to give back anything in return. As Bubeck (1995) notes,
the ‘ethic of care’ places potentially limitless demands on caregivers. By
contrast, one can see caregivers as the privileged parties to the relationship,
because of their power over vulnerable care recipients. Although Kittay
recognises that care recipients also exercise a kind of power over the carer,
based on the moral claim that their needs must be met, she nevertheless
views the relationship as one of unequal power, since the care recipient
may have very little capacity for agency (Kittay, 1999: 33–35). Asymmetrical
relations of care may also be marked by unavoidable inequalities of love and
affection, if the care recipient is incapable of reciprocating the caregiver’s
love; and of respect and recognition, if the care recipient is incapable of
adopting these stances towards the caregiver.

All of these points indicate that there may be limits to the degree to
which the relationship between caregivers and care recipients can be fully
equal. But this does not necessarily show that the aspiration for equality is
misguided. Even in the asymmetrical cases under discussion, aspects of the
relationship can be egalitarian in character. For example, Kittay writes
movingly about her intellectually-impaired daughter Sesha’s capacity for
love: ‘That is what she wishes to receive and that is what she reciprocates in spades’ (Kittay, 1999: 152). Unless there is some reason in principle why
the relationship should be one of unequal power, love or respect, the fact
that an equal relationship may not always be possible is not a fundamental
objection to making it as equal as possible.

Because of the emphasis on asymmetrical relations, there has been less
discussion in the theoretical literature of relationships of mutual care. Such
relationships do not raise the same difficulties for equality as asymmetrical
relationships: it is both possible and, arguably, desirable for mutual carers
to treat each other fully as equals, with equal respect, power and care.

Concluding remarks
Although feminist philosophers have powerfully criticised mainstream
political theory for its neglect of the affective domain, it has been an uphill
battle. Partly because of the ‘care versus justice’ position, issues of inequality
in caring relations have often been neglected. Recent feminist work has
revealed a number of key themes for egalitarians – the need for care, the
work of care, and the quality of the relationship between caregiver and
care-recipient. These themes are explored in depth in the rest of this book.

In this chapter we have reviewed some of the approaches taken towards
affective equality in a number of relevant academic disciplines. The story
that is common to all of them is that scant attention was paid to the affective
system and its constituent inequalities before these were focused upon
by feminist scholars, mostly since the 1980s. Even now, after at least two
decades of scholarly attention, issues to do with love, care and solidarity
and the work that goes into sustaining them are largely confined to branches
of academic disciplines that are labelled as ‘feminist’ or ‘radical’ rather than
being recognised as central issues. The theme of affective equality has still to
become truly integrated into mainstream sociology, education, economics,
law and political theory.

In the chapters that follow, we hope to contribute to that aim. Chapter 2
sets out a general taxonomy of love, care and solidarity, and draws out
some normative implications. The empirical studies set out in Chapters 3
to 10 reveal the importance and complexity of affective inequality. Chapter
11 attempts to bring together the main conclusions of those chapters and
to develop their theoretical implications.

Categories: affect/care
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