What is the value of love?



Welcome! Revaluing Care in the Global Economy is an international, interdisciplinary project and network led by Drs. Jocelyn Olcott (Duke University) and Marija Bartl (University of Amsterdam) that brings together scholars from around the world to think critically about the value of care labor and care economies.


Care labor, or the work of providing care for others, is ascribed value in many ways, whether in uncommodified forms such as motherhood and community service, semicommodified forms such as informal labor and servitude or hypercommodified forms such as the emergent platform of gig economies. Amid this diversity, care – or “love” – labor remains structurally undervalued in economies. Despite many decades of data collection, research, and writing about this critical issue, debates remain fixed within paradigms of commodification either through the private sector or state-run welfare programs.


Revaluing Care in the Global Economy rests on three fundamental principles. First, the researchers involved in this project recognize the imbrication of ecological, social, and cultural care and the importance of ascribing value to all these forms of care. The measurement of these various forms of care entails a recognition of time, effort, and expertise (whether intellectual, emotional, or physical) at a variety of scales from the individual, household and community to the national, regional, and global scales. While some methodologies and research areas place greater emphasis on one of these areas over the others, the scholars in this network stress the importance of keeping all of these factors in a unified framework as we devise our research plans. 


Second, the inaugural Revaluing Care network meeting in April 2019 at Duke University brought together 22 scholars from various social science disciplines and from around the world. Together, the members of the network agreed on three streams for coherent, integrated, and cross-cutting areas for future research: metrics, governance, and social practices. The theme of metrics centers on how to measure care — drawing in tools such as time-use studies, labor-force surveys, and consumption data — as well as the limitations of measurement and the effects upon care itself when it is subjected to measurement. The theme of governance explores the ways that laws and policies both reflect and foster normative values of care. The theme of social practices investigates the ways that people structure social life around various forms of care, through social movements, migratory practices, or alternative household and community formations. 


Third, networks involved in this project share an emphasis on knowledge production from the Global South out of a recognition that more sustainable solutions might be found in communities that have substantially different approaches to the provision of care — particularly where people are seen not as autonomous individuals but rather as beings enmeshed in broader webs of care and dependency. To point to just one example, the practice of Tequio, which forms part of many Mesoamerican indigenous cultures, calls upon every household to provide unremunerated care for both the human and the nonhuman — including ecological and infrastructural care — as part of community membership. Tequio demonstrates how metrics, governance, and social practices intersect and offers an example of an alternative approach to addressing the challenge of care provision. 


In December 2019, the network held a conference to follow up on the April brainstorming workshop, with generous support from Duke University (Office of Global Affairs, Franklin Humanities Institute, and Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies) and the University of Amsterdam Law School’s program in Sustainable Global Economic Law.  Feminist economist Nancy Folbre kicked off the conference with a keynote address, “Accounting for Care,” and twelve network members — including several who had joined since the April workshop — delivered talks based on their own research speaking to one or more of the three areas of metrics, governance, and social networks.  

This project is supported by Mellon Humanities Unbounded, Duke Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, Duke University Office of Global Affairs, The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, The Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund, Duke University India Initiative, Duke University Africa Initiative and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.