Careless Networks? – Social Media, Care and Reproduction in the Web of Life

1. Introduction

What kinds of care do we perform in social networks? Why and how do social media like Facebook and Twitter, despite channelling connection and concern, often appear as detached from social reproduction, from material and everyday relations of care? How can we understand the Janus-face of such social media networks and invent new collective practices of care and reproduction?

In this paper we argue that in the context of shared social, ecological and economic impasse within late neoliberal society – a crisis of care and reproduction – we might turn from a logic of networks to one of ecologies. Following the ethics of care and topologies of ecological relation, we ask how we might rethink and remake the ways in which social media are embedded in our modes of life and reproduction. We propose that to do so, we need a shift away from the paradigm of networked autonomy to one of networked interdependence, where strategies of reproduction intersect with ecologies of care both on- and offline.

These theoretical reflections are grounded in our analysis of the role played by social reproduction and collective care in radical digital milieus of the 2000s and then social movements in the economic and social crisis starting in 2008, opening onto our acute ecological crisis today. The premise we depart from is that the carelessness of the neoliberal networked society is not to be overcome through a return to organic forms of care (the family, the welfare state), but rather through a turn to networked interdependencies and more-than-human ecologies of care.1See Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds, Minneapolis MN, Minnesota University Press, 2017.

2. Phases of Care

Joan Tronto’s seminal work on care ethics in neoliberal times, published in 1993, distinguishes between four levels of care: ‘caring about’, ‘taking care of’, ‘care-giving’ and ‘care-receiving’. With Tronto, ‘caring about’ means to recognize a need and show empathy and as such constitutes a first phase of care. Clearly, social networks thrive on ‘caring about’ – signals or gestures which “often involve assuming the position of another person or group to recognize the need”.2We will focus specifically on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp here, speaking of them as platforms in a broad manner, since we do not have scope here to analyse their online architecture and functionalities in detail. Much more could be said about the relation between care, reproduction and the online profile as a mode of self-representation, the friend-list as marker of social capital, the timeline as flow of algorithmically curated content coming from ‘friends’ and advertisers, the politics ...continueRecognizing a need or problem does not as such constitute an action or labour of care, however. Social networks thrive on the repetition of these signals, endless chains of expressions of interest and concern for the real problems of people, groups and places, which nevertheless soon disappear from our timelines without materializing in action. Online campaigning platforms, recognizing the sense of impotence that comes with ‘clicktivism’, try to provide us with a sense of shifting away from being eternally stuck in the first, rudimentary phase of care, and into the second, more active one: in the language of Avaaz and others, signing petitions (via one-click if you’re registered) is itself to ‘take action’. But social media are not just about expressions that people care about something, even if this is their predominant form of care.

Taking care of’, Tronto’s second type of care, is when we show some agency and take some action (often sporadic) in relation to a perceived need. This happens when people support crowd-funding campaigns, or help out people who post about other needs, often for advice and suggestions. ‘Care-giving’ is the actual labour of care, likely involving contact with bodies. This kind of care labour generally happens outside the digital realm, sustaining millions of online subjects in the everyday.3‘Care-giving’ cannot meaningfully be decoupled from ‘caring-about’: when this is attempted, as it is when care enters neoliberal value regimes of efficiency and profit, care resembles a mere regime of gestures and tasks: Pflege without Sorge (both German terms translate as ‘care’, the former more as the material labour and the latter as concern). But there are modalities of relation that link the two, such as keeping in touch; apart from expressing concern, this is a modality that ...continueCare-receiving’ means to bear and respond to the effects of care, facing and potentially also politicizing vulnerability: not only do many people post about their hospitalizations on social media, social media are also increasingly sites for countering stigma about illness (chronic and otherwise) and admitting to vulnerability. In the United States for instance, many use social media to crowd fund for otherwise unaffordable healthcare: this leads us into ‘caring-with’, a fifth phase that Tronto added to her schema later on, which is about care as based on solidarity.4Joan Tronto, “Interview with Joan Tronto”, Ethics of Care Blog, 2009. Available at: https://ethicsofcare.org/joan-tronto/ [accessed February 5, 2020].

While ideally, these phases pass into one another, Tronto notes that they sometimes do not and that many conflicts can exist between them, not least because they are also marked by difference – “cultural constructions of ‘well cared-for’ serve to mark class, caste, and gender groups” among others, and the labours of care are strongly marked by race, class and gender too.5Tronto, Moral Boundaries, p. 110. This is crucial for recognizing that care is anything but a harmonious, power-free domain, rather it is criss-crossed by inequalities and power games in all kinds of ways.

However, with Tronto’s distinction between different phases of care, we can see that ‘caring about’ something does not necessarily lead to ‘taking care of’, or to ‘care-giving’ and ‘-receiving’, let alone to ‘caring-with’. The concrete needs and limits of bodies are often obscured amidst blanket expressions of care and concern in our timelines – concern for ‘the environment’, for instance. The volume of opinion and argument drowns out calls for help or solidarity by particular bodies or communities. Digital displays of care abstracted from bodies are qualitatively different from the vital and continuous initiating, enabling, and sustaining of these bodies. And yet, there is clearly no easy way of claiming that social media are necessarily ‘careless’ networks. At times, a sense of ‘caring-with’ – a form of solidarity that can inspire and sustain struggles – can indeed be produced through such media, and is often symbolically anchored in concrete bodies. Think for instance of the protest that spread across Tunisia and far beyond as news travelled about Mohammad Bouazizi and his act of self-immolation, setting in motion events that would lead to the Arab Spring in 2010-11. At other times, social media is used to direct our attention and care towards perverse ends. Think of how companies like Cambridge Analytica have weaponized private data to target specific groups, making them care about certain issues more than others, and thereby sway elections.6See for instance the film, The Great Hack directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim (Netflix, 2019). It is precisely because social media facilitates the formation and orientation of care, including the forms of ‘caring-with’ that erupted amidst the revolutions of the Arab Spring, that it can be used for manipulative ends.

Still, these examples leave us mostly with a ‘caring about’ that may or may not leap into the contagious ‘caring with’ of mass politics. The insight that social media facilitates mass behaviour is old, and while true, it also easily leads us into a double bind: we should abandon or severely regulate social media because they are sites of mass manipulation, and we should oppose corporate or government regulation of social media, inhabit and game them for their potential for contagious democratic politics. A broader attention to forms of care can help us move out of this bind and reveal how social media may facilitate a ‘caring-with’ that is not a tsunami of mass opinion (‘caring about’), but the constitution of practical relations of care.

3. Reproducing the Social Factory?

Social media is ubiquitous in our everyday, and it plays a crucial role in how we reproduce ourselves within it. For instance, messaging services like WhatsApp, Messenger or Telegram, particularly in their group functions, are instrumental to lively and vital networks of social reproduction, facilitating circuits that link different modes of encounter, exchange and practice on- and offline.7Social reproduction refers to a field of problems rather than one specific theory. The problem is, as Marx pointed out, that in order to produce, any society must always also reproduce the conditions of production. Under capitalism, reproduction is not circular but expanded since competitive pressure between capitals force them to accumulate or go under. From Louis Althusser we take the focus on how reproduction always entails subjectivation through material institutions (Ideological State ...continue Families as well as networks of friendship and care are often held together by such online chat groups, as are many community projects. Such care does not constitute an ‘outside’ to the broader reproduction of society, but rather its latently antagonistic condition. As Elise Thoburn has argued, drawing on Mario Tronti’s notion of society as a factory, social media can be analysed as a site of social reproduction which at once allows for the intensification of communication and expressions of care between loved ones while also enabling “the commodification of the very affective, emotional, and psychic dimensions of life”.8Elise D. Thoburn, “Networked Social Reproduction: Crises in the Integrated Circuit”, TripleC, 14 (2), 2016, pp. 380-396, here: p. 387.

Expanding and criticising Tronti, feminists like Silvia Federici developed this theory of the social factory to show how all of society, including the reproductive labour mostly done by women, is mobilized in order to secure expanded capitalist reproduction.9Silvia Federici, “Introduction”, in Revolution at Point Zero, Oakland CA, PM Press, 2012, pp, 5-11, here: pp. 7-8. Writing with Nicole Cox, Federici has noted: “The time we consume in the social factory, preparing ourselves for work, or going to work, restoring our ‘muscles, nerves, bones, and brains’ with quick snacks, quick sex, movies, etc., all this appears as leisure, free time, individual choice.”10Nicole Cox and Silvia Federici, Counter-Planning from the Kitchen, New York NY, Wages for Housework Committee and Falling Wall Press, 1975, p. 9.

These observations could easily be extended to the ways in which socially reproductive activities online appear as free time yet reproduce us as exploitable labour power. Following Marxist feminist analyses, this means that class antagonisms run through the apparently ‘apolitical’ terrain of social reproduction and everyday social relations. As Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James wrote in the early 1970s:

“The question is, therefore, to develop forms of struggle which do not leave the housewife peacefully at home, at most ready to take part in occasional demonstrations through the streets, […]; rather we must discover forms of struggle which immediately break the whole structure of domestic work, rejecting it absolutely, rejecting our role as housewives and the home as the ghetto of our existence […] The starting point is not how to do housework more efficiently, but how to find a place as protagonists in the struggle.”11Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, “Women and the Subversion of Community”, in The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community, Fourth Edition, Bristol, Falling Wall Press, 1975, pp. 21-55, here: p. 36.

This struggle opens for a break with the recursive, circuitous logic of re-production and the nuclear family. This raises the question of the politicisation and transformation of care on social media, of care within open networks as opposed to reproductive circuits. To explore this question entails asking how the relational and informal care within networks can be articulated with collective embodiments and material practices that sustain life.

Beyond the more relational and interpersonal dimension of care, which social media thrive on, there can also be organisation in a broader social sense via the group and messaging functions inherent in platforms like Facebook. We can see an instance of the integration of social networks and social reproduction in the Danish network Venligboerne (approximately “The Friendly Neighbours”), whose regional Facebook pages facilitate mutual aid and sharing between asylum seekers and Danish citizens.12Óscar García Agustín and Martin Bak Jørgensen, Solidarity and the ‘Refugee Crisis’ in Europe, London, Palgrave, 2019, pp. 73-95. The practice of ‘commoning’ we are interested in here entails sharing and often also making resources collectively in a situated and embodied way, cultivating autonomy and interdependence at the same time.13Bringing together autonomist-Marxist and feminist schools of commons, as in Manuela Zechner, Power in Vulnerability: Struggles for Care, Barcelona 2015-20, Vienna, Transversal Texts, forthcoming. In Tronto’s terms, we may speak of a positive feedback between ‘caring about’, ‘caring for’ and ‘caring-with’ happening on- and offline. But articulating online networks with offline care and reproduction, as well as politicising and transforming care on social media, has often been difficult, including for the activists who see the need for doing so most clearly.

4. Care and Reproduction in Activist Social Networks

For a couple of decades around the turn of the century, it seemed that collaborative digital labour and its platforms – chats, online calling, blogs and wikis that prefigured many aspects of corporate social networks – provided an escape from alienated social relations and labour, into artisan kinds of care for platforms and their collaborative process of production. We remember how economic growth and technological expansion fuelled a thriving experimental and DIY culture: money channelled into starting up creative industries at different national and transnational scales. New forms of communication, social organization and also labour emerged, politicized by movements and practices like (Euro)MayDay, hacking, copyleft, Indymedia, Wikipedia, file-sharing, open source programming, wikis, blogging, etc. Forms of interaction that subverted or redefined the boundaries of the economic, social and political emerged and probed a huge potential for re-shaping the way we organise work and relate to others. Critiques of free labour and the social factory sought to articulate emergent digital paradigms with the problematic of social reproduction discursively, yet practical everyday questions of care and reproductive labour were often left unaddressed in online activist networks – and in extension, often also in the offline networks that were modelling themselves on those online. Marga, a feminist hacker in Madrid, reflects on the gap between digital connectivity and her everyday reproduction, based on the topology of the internet:

“What happens is that the network is designed to be as operative as possible even though there are parts of it that disconnect. If I project this metaphor towards my social life, it means that if I disappear from the places in which I am connected, these places will keep functioning the same, or quite well. […] That’s not the same with the chain, the family, where if the mother flees the home, well that’ll be a disaster [laughs]. […] Working together in networks, that was something about which I was enthusiastic and passionate at that moment […] but it was a model that produced a lot of loneliness. Because the effort of connecting has its cost – to maintain oneself connected has its costs in economic, psychic, physical and other terms. If you’re not capable of sustaining that, well you’ll collapse… you be devastated and fall into a very big loneliness, which is the absence of connections.”14Interview with Marga, cited in Manuela Zechner, The World We Desire is One We Can Care For and Create Together, PhD thesis, Queen Mary, University of London, 2013.

In the context of a growing pre-crisis economy, even radical digital cultures of collectivity and networking tended to practice networked exchanges in abstraction from the relations of care and reproduction that sustained and sometimes emerged within them. Marga’s feminist (self‑)critique occurs in 2011, after both the onset of the Great Recession and its politicisation in ‘the square movements’, when everyday and social reproduction again came to be a broad and urgent problem.15Naming movements after a tactic, even when many of them continued after they abandoned that tactic, is somewhat dissatisfying. Yet ‘the square movements’ remains the best common name for the movements that occupied squares and other public spaces in 2011, from the Arab Spring, over ‘15M’ in Spain, to the Occupy movement in the US and beyond.

In the context of the 2011 uprisings, we thus saw both a renewed concern with what could be called ‘collective interest platforms’ (which involved ‘taking care of’ one another as well as recognizing and politicizing vulnerability) and with everyday and social reproduction (‘care-giving’ and ‘care-receiving’). Whilst social desire had been articulated with the dot.com hypes and economic growth of the first decade of the millennium, years of recession, austerity and aggravated precarity or poverty has led many activists to practical organizing around social reproduction and care.16The paradigms corresponding to this, yet not successfully and broadly politically articulated, are ‘commoning’ and degrowth. See Camille Barbagallo et al. (eds.), Always Struggle: Commoning with George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici, San Francisco CA, PM Press, 2019 and Giorgos Kallis, Degrowth, Newcastle, Agenda Publishing, 2018. Examples of new collective interest platforms abound: the emergence of new proto-syndicalist practices (the anti-eviction platform PAH and the sectoral anti-austerity struggles called ‘Mareas’ for healthcare, education, and social services in Spain), the emergence of solidarity economies and new cooperatives (food distribution or healthcare provision networks in Greece; workers, consumer and housing coops in Spain and beyond), online networks being used for the coordination of temporary disaster relief (Occupy Sandy), as well as neighbourhood assemblies, occupations and spaces (within, around and beyond the activities of the Arab Spring, ‘15M’ and Occupy movements).17PAH stands for ‘Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca’ or ‘Platform of People Affected by Mortgages’. On the ‘Mareas’ and Occupy Sandy, see Manuela Zechner et al., Radical Collective Care Practices. Available at: http://radicalcollectivecare.blogspot.com [accessed February 4, 2020]. These moments and movements drew and draw heavily on social media networks and brought forth new infrastructures of agency (‘taking care of’) as well as of everyday reproduction (‘care-giving’ and ‘-receiving’). In the articulation of these levels of care – which have encompassed the invention of new forms of struggle, mutualism and connection – we may indeed see what Tronto came to name as a fifth level of care: ‘caring-with’, as based in solidarity and trust.18Tronto, “Interview with Joan Tronto”. This ‘caring-with’ thrives and becomes visible in moments of social upheaval, but also exists in quotidian solidarities of workplaces and communities.

The movements of 2011 ran into forms of exhaustion and the absolute refusal of public institutions to accommodate their demands, with many of their protagonists later going on to cast their hopes with electoral platforms (Syriza, Podemos, Corbyn, Spanish Municipalism, Sanders). These organized in ways that combined the distributed movement-like agency of social media with promises that the problem experienced by so many would be ‘taken care of’. The party was thus reborn as an infrastructure of agency for the digital age.19Paolo Gerbaudo, The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy, London, Pluto Press, 2018. Unlike the digital vanguard of the 2000s, this party and its base knows very well that a collective organisation of care is needed. But unlike the old pre-welfare statist or pre-state socialist workers’ parties – which were rooted in trade unions, mutual aid societies, cooperatives, sports clubs and cultural activities – contemporary left parties are only weakly rooted in social webs of ‘caring-with’. While adapted to the social relations of network society – nodes constantly connecting, disconnecting, and reconnecting – it promises, often nostalgically, the return of stable relations within a well-organised state of security. But a welfare state built on the social relations of the network society will be built on a foundation of mutual competition and temporary reciprocity between individuals who see themselves as interdependent, rather than on mutual care and solidarity between the interdependent. Whether the aim is a welfare state or making it superfluous through a radical redistribution of property, there seems to be no way around thinking and developing the immanent care capacities of networks, to transform networks of exchange into networks of care. The shift from a paradigm of networked autonomy to one of networked interdependence, as ecologies of relation and care, seems urgent.

5. Seeing and Acting Within Networks of Interdependence

Today, nostalgic calls for the reconstruction of the horizon of the nuclear family and the welfare state have become common, unsurprisingly, because they appear to offer solutions to the problems of reproduction suffered within the precarious relations of network society.20The politics of social democratic reconstruction typically ignore or explicitly deride the critiques of the nuclear family, the welfare state and the Keynesian economics of growth and full employment economics launched by feminist, ecologist and precarity movements. However, any strategy to overcome merely networked relations will have to start from the possibilities and contradictions of networks themselves, rather than from a past whose conditions are long gone. It will have to work to modulate and transform the relations and temporalities characteristic of them.21Manuela Zechner, “Caring for the Network”, in Doina Petrescu et al. (eds), Translocal Acts: Cultural Practices within and Across, Paris and Sheffield, Rhyzom, 2010, pp. 377-383; Manuela Zechner, “Precarity, Militancy and Network-Families”, Parallax, 18 (5), 2012, pp. 70-84; Bue Rübner Hansen and Manuela Zechner, “Extending the Family – Reflections on the Politics of Kinship”, in Barbagallo et al. (eds.), Always Struggle, pp. 150-165. Rather than a retreat from networks to ‘organic’ social relations, we suggest an advance into ecology, as a concept that articulates the two. Fritjof Capra defines ecologies as networks of interdependence, not only of different life-forms dependent on one another, but also on material and energetic flows (nutrient cycles, water and carbon cycles, sunshine, etc.).22Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, New York NY, Anchor, 1997, p. 11. For an introduction to different kinds of chemical cycles in the Earth-system, see Tim Lenton, Earth System Science: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016.

But ecology can easily be construed as the science of the management of natural life like economics is for social life. Like economy, the term ecology, which was coined by Ernst Häckel in the 1860s, takes its root from the ancient Greek household, the oikos, connecting it to the problematic of the arrangement of reproduction. This etymology survives in otherwise opposed perspectives on ecology: in the idea of humans as managers of the household of nature, or of nature as the household of God, which would – if left to itself – be homoeostatic and harmonious. To either approach, ecology, like economy, is a question of government: regulation or laissez faire, organisation or self-organisation.

While it is worthwhile revisiting theories of ‘media ecologies’ from Marshall McLuhan to Neil Postman, they largely fall within this managerial, objectifying conception of ecology.23Exceptions include John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media, Chicago IL, University of Chicago Press, 2015, and Erich Hörl (ed.), General Ecology: The New Ecological Paradigm, London, Bloomsbury, 2017. Rather than a theory of care and struggle within ecologies, they were interested in questions of how “media of communication affects human perception, understanding, feeling, and value” or in “the study and projection of the total environments of organisms and people […] made possible by moving information at electric speeds”.24These quotes are from Neil Postman, quoted in Octavio Islas and Juan David Bernal, “Media Ecology: A Complex and Systemic Metadiscipline”, Philosophies, 2016, 1, pp. 190-198, here: p. 191; and Marshall McLuhan, Counterblast, Toronto ON, McClelland and Stewart, 1969, p. 36. Today, the notion of ‘social media ecosystems’ is used to theorize the optimal, sustainable extraction of data and harnessing of attention within social media.25For an example of this, see Richard Hanna et al., “We’re All Connected: The Power of the Social Media Ecosystem”, Business Horizons, 54 (3), 2011, pp. 265-273. Such ecosystem management of social media would hardly be meaningful if the users of social media had not already spun networks of online interdependence, nor would it be relevant if the exploitation of these ecologies – through advertising and data extraction – did not threaten their quality and ultimately their sustainability. There is no social media ecology without care or antagonism.

Moreover, as second order cybernetics have suggested, the study of ecological systems should take into consideration their own embeddedness within and effects on these systems.26Margaret Mead, “The Cybernetics of Cybernetics”, in Heinz von Foerster et al. (eds.), Purposive Systems, New York NY, Spartan Books, 1968, pp. 1-11.
Combining this insight with an attention to questions of care and antagonism within social reproduction, we get to an immanent conception of ecology that situates us and our knowledge of broader processes within the web of life, characterised both by competition and symbiosis, struggle and cooperation, phases of order and chaos, resilience, resistance and adaptation, etc… Ecology comes into this consideration neither as an object (the system out there, as environment or climate) nor as an object of knowledge or management, but as a mode of creating and acting within the web of life, a way of sensing, knowing, inhabiting and transforming relations. Without this existential, convivial, tactical, strategic and organisational dimension, ecology remains, on the one hand, a managerial science of the ‘earth household’, or a pristine natural system to be conserved.27As the political ecologist Joan Martínez-Alier suggests, the protectionist ‘cult of wilderness’ and the managerial ‘gospel of eco-efficiency’ are both contradictory and intertwined. Joan Martínez-Alier, The Environmentalism of the Poor, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 2002. Ecology, in our usage, is neither a managerial nor a romanticizing concept, but a dispositif that allows us to refine and reclaim our attention and interdependence, so as better to care and fight within human and more-than-human relations.28For some precursors to this approach to ecology, see Yves Citton, The Ecology of Attention, Cambridge, Polity, 2017 and Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, London, Athlone Press, 2000.

To extend social reproduction theory in the direction of ecology entails a topological shift from ‘circuits’ to ‘webs’, and a metaphoric shift from the treadmill of reproductive labour to the weaving, mending and defending of the web of life. It also entails a different relation to the space and time of social media. Ecological space and time is neither radically opposed to cyberspace nor nettime, but a way to articulate both in relation to non-digital relations of interdependence.29Nettime with its connotations of labour-time and play-time was coined by the (mostly) European digital avantgarde of the 1990s in opposition to the Californian notion of cyberspace, which was seen to entail a language of exploration and colonisation. McKenzie Wark, “The Silver Age of Social Media Nettime.org and the Avant‐Garde of the ‘90s”, in Paul Christiane (ed.), A Companion to Digital Art, Malden MA, Wiley-Blackwell, 2016, pp. 400-412. As such, it renders cyberspace less smooth, and nettime less broken. Ecological time can weave itself into the material rhythms, velocities and melodies of digital sociality: it is neither unified, nor fragmented, neither synchronised nor chaotic, but a complex process of timing (listening, waiting, activating) and modulation between different processes of life and flows of energy and matter. “An ecology deals with time in a diagrammatic rather than linear way”; rather than focussing us on a single future or path, it invites us to trace and follow flows of power and interdependence.30Francesco Salvini, “Caring Ecologies”, Transversal, 2019. Available at: https://transversal.at/blog/caring-ecologies-1-almost-a-manifesto [accessed February 4, 2020].

The articulations of technofeminisms with ecofeminisms, as we see it in the work of Donna Haraway, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Isabelle Stengers, Yvonne Volkart, Anja Kanngieser and many others, provide ways in which ecologies of care can be grasped in ways that situate technologies not merely within social reproduction, but within the networked interdependencies of the web of life. Such a redirection of attention and transformation of care is essential to create forms of life – of satisfying needs, creating meaning and pursuing desires – beyond the imperial mode of living.31Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen, The Limits to Capitalist Nature: Theorizing and Overcoming the Imperial Mode of Living, London, Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

6. Social Ecologies of Struggle

Ecology helps us rethink the question of how we can link and integrate the different phases of care, from ‘caring about’ over ‘care-giving’ to ‘caring-with’. Contemporary examples and strategies abound, and indeed open onto a more optimistic panorama than much critical network analysis may think. A look at feminist movements and networks suffices to see a myriad of practices and tactics of tying everyday life and reproduction together with digital and global practices: from the Women’s Strikes of March 8, since 2017, rooted firmly in local assemblies and radical practices of mutual support and care, with transnational mobilisations heavily facilitated through social media, to the more anecdotal and tamely collective but still very powerful #metoo mo(ve)ments.32Mason-Deese, “From #metoo to #westrike: A Politics in Feminine”, in Verso (ed.), Where Freedom Starts: Sex, Power, Violence, #metoo – A Verso Report, London, Verso, 2018. Feminist movements in Latin America, Europe and beyond are using social media to broadcast and organise strikes, and to forge other kinds of networks and ties, and with questions of care and reproduction as primary concerns.

Most obviously, the school strikes for climate and the emergent young climate movements are powerful networked movements in which care is transformed. Much of the social media discourse around the school strikes can be paraphrased as ‘children and young people “caring-about” demanding that adults “take care of” climate change’; but by mobilising strikes, protests and demonstrations through and against educational institutions, the strikers not only withdraw their learning-power temporarily from its social reproduction, they also develop connections of ecologically attuned learning and ‘caring-with’.

These movements, driven by generations that grew up, or are growing up, in the network society, are inventing new ways of embodying care across the everyday, local and global. Social media helps create the conditions for trans-local learning and contagion: initially as a platform for ‘caring about’ and subsequently as a platform for organising and collective ‘taking care of’.

Climate change and the gradual breakdown of ecosystems are increasingly raising the question of care. The discussion of the environmental and ecological impact of the technical infrastructures of social media, from the extraction of minerals over the use of energy to the production of waste, can only be mentioned here. But there is no doubt offline care must take primacy over online care, whether we try to mitigate or avoid disaster, to survive within it, or to regenerate or protect the natural ecologies upon which human life depends. With regards to social media, the big challenge we face today no doubt lies in enabling a shift from a politics of worry and protest towards collective instantiations of ‘care-giving’ and ‘care-receiving’, challenging local as well as global divisions of labour and care. To do so is central to any transformation of our mode of social reproduction, which in turn is a condition for avoiding planetary catastrophe.33In the assessment of the IPCC “unprecedented changes across all aspects of society” are necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. IPCC, Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC, October 8, 2018, p. 1. For comparison, current warming, already catastrophic from Australia to Puerto Rico, is at 1 degree Celsius.

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1. See Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds, Minneapolis MN, Minnesota University Press, 2017.
2. We will focus specifically on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp here, speaking of them as platforms in a broad manner, since we do not have scope here to analyse their online architecture and functionalities in detail. Much more could be said about the relation between care, reproduction and the online profile as a mode of self-representation, the friend-list as marker of social capital, the timeline as flow of algorithmically curated content coming from ‘friends’ and advertisers, the politics of the algorithm as encouraging weak, cute and consumerist sociality, the group and chat functions as side-spaces for collectivity and dialogue, etc. Joan Tronto, Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care, New York NY, Routledge, 1993, p. 106.
3. ‘Care-giving’ cannot meaningfully be decoupled from ‘caring-about’: when this is attempted, as it is when care enters neoliberal value regimes of efficiency and profit, care resembles a mere regime of gestures and tasks: Pflege without Sorge (both German terms translate as ‘care’, the former more as the material labour and the latter as concern). But there are modalities of relation that link the two, such as keeping in touch; apart from expressing concern, this is a modality that is also key to social media (via timelines as well as messaging functions).
4. Joan Tronto, “Interview with Joan Tronto”, Ethics of Care Blog, 2009. Available at: https://ethicsofcare.org/joan-tronto/ [accessed February 5, 2020].
5. Tronto, Moral Boundaries, p. 110.
6. See for instance the film, The Great Hack directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim (Netflix, 2019).
7. Social reproduction refers to a field of problems rather than one specific theory. The problem is, as Marx pointed out, that in order to produce, any society must always also reproduce the conditions of production. Under capitalism, reproduction is not circular but expanded since competitive pressure between capitals force them to accumulate or go under. From Louis Althusser we take the focus on how reproduction always entails subjectivation through material institutions (Ideological State Apparatuses; churches, schools, the juridical system, trade unions, parties, the media, the family, and cultural institutions), and from feminists like Silvia Federici and Tithi Bhattacharya we understand the ways in which invisibilized forms of work and activity, generally unpaid or underpaid and disproportionately done by women, feed and enable the patriarchal and capitalist system, and how urgent it is to refound our notions of politics, economics and society on interdependence and care.
8. Elise D. Thoburn, “Networked Social Reproduction: Crises in the Integrated Circuit”, TripleC, 14 (2), 2016, pp. 380-396, here: p. 387.
9. Silvia Federici, “Introduction”, in Revolution at Point Zero, Oakland CA, PM Press, 2012, pp, 5-11, here: pp. 7-8.
10. Nicole Cox and Silvia Federici, Counter-Planning from the Kitchen, New York NY, Wages for Housework Committee and Falling Wall Press, 1975, p. 9.
11. Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, “Women and the Subversion of Community”, in The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community, Fourth Edition, Bristol, Falling Wall Press, 1975, pp. 21-55, here: p. 36.
12. Óscar García Agustín and Martin Bak Jørgensen, Solidarity and the ‘Refugee Crisis’ in Europe, London, Palgrave, 2019, pp. 73-95.
13. Bringing together autonomist-Marxist and feminist schools of commons, as in Manuela Zechner, Power in Vulnerability: Struggles for Care, Barcelona 2015-20, Vienna, Transversal Texts, forthcoming.
14. Interview with Marga, cited in Manuela Zechner, The World We Desire is One We Can Care For and Create Together, PhD thesis, Queen Mary, University of London, 2013.
15. Naming movements after a tactic, even when many of them continued after they abandoned that tactic, is somewhat dissatisfying. Yet ‘the square movements’ remains the best common name for the movements that occupied squares and other public spaces in 2011, from the Arab Spring, over ‘15M’ in Spain, to the Occupy movement in the US and beyond.
16. The paradigms corresponding to this, yet not successfully and broadly politically articulated, are ‘commoning’ and degrowth. See Camille Barbagallo et al. (eds.), Always Struggle: Commoning with George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici, San Francisco CA, PM Press, 2019 and Giorgos Kallis, Degrowth, Newcastle, Agenda Publishing, 2018.
17. PAH stands for ‘Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca’ or ‘Platform of People Affected by Mortgages’. On the ‘Mareas’ and Occupy Sandy, see Manuela Zechner et al., Radical Collective Care Practices. Available at: http://radicalcollectivecare.blogspot.com [accessed February 4, 2020].
18. Tronto, “Interview with Joan Tronto”.
19. Paolo Gerbaudo, The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy, London, Pluto Press, 2018.
20. The politics of social democratic reconstruction typically ignore or explicitly deride the critiques of the nuclear family, the welfare state and the Keynesian economics of growth and full employment economics launched by feminist, ecologist and precarity movements.
21. Manuela Zechner, “Caring for the Network”, in Doina Petrescu et al. (eds), Translocal Acts: Cultural Practices within and Across, Paris and Sheffield, Rhyzom, 2010, pp. 377-383; Manuela Zechner, “Precarity, Militancy and Network-Families”, Parallax, 18 (5), 2012, pp. 70-84; Bue Rübner Hansen and Manuela Zechner, “Extending the Family – Reflections on the Politics of Kinship”, in Barbagallo et al. (eds.), Always Struggle, pp. 150-165.
22. Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, New York NY, Anchor, 1997, p. 11. For an introduction to different kinds of chemical cycles in the Earth-system, see Tim Lenton, Earth System Science: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016.
23. Exceptions include John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media, Chicago IL, University of Chicago Press, 2015, and Erich Hörl (ed.), General Ecology: The New Ecological Paradigm, London, Bloomsbury, 2017.
24. These quotes are from Neil Postman, quoted in Octavio Islas and Juan David Bernal, “Media Ecology: A Complex and Systemic Metadiscipline”, Philosophies, 2016, 1, pp. 190-198, here: p. 191; and Marshall McLuhan, Counterblast, Toronto ON, McClelland and Stewart, 1969, p. 36.
25. For an example of this, see Richard Hanna et al., “We’re All Connected: The Power of the Social Media Ecosystem”, Business Horizons, 54 (3), 2011, pp. 265-273.
26. Margaret Mead, “The Cybernetics of Cybernetics”, in Heinz von Foerster et al. (eds.), Purposive Systems, New York NY, Spartan Books, 1968, pp. 1-11.
27. As the political ecologist Joan Martínez-Alier suggests, the protectionist ‘cult of wilderness’ and the managerial ‘gospel of eco-efficiency’ are both contradictory and intertwined. Joan Martínez-Alier, The Environmentalism of the Poor, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 2002.
28. For some precursors to this approach to ecology, see Yves Citton, The Ecology of Attention, Cambridge, Polity, 2017 and Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, London, Athlone Press, 2000.
29. Nettime with its connotations of labour-time and play-time was coined by the (mostly) European digital avantgarde of the 1990s in opposition to the Californian notion of cyberspace, which was seen to entail a language of exploration and colonisation. McKenzie Wark, “The Silver Age of Social Media Nettime.org and the Avant‐Garde of the ‘90s”, in Paul Christiane (ed.), A Companion to Digital Art, Malden MA, Wiley-Blackwell, 2016, pp. 400-412.
30. Francesco Salvini, “Caring Ecologies”, Transversal, 2019. Available at: https://transversal.at/blog/caring-ecologies-1-almost-a-manifesto [accessed February 4, 2020].
31. Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen, The Limits to Capitalist Nature: Theorizing and Overcoming the Imperial Mode of Living, London, Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.
32. Mason-Deese, “From #metoo to #westrike: A Politics in Feminine”, in Verso (ed.), Where Freedom Starts: Sex, Power, Violence, #metoo – A Verso Report, London, Verso, 2018.
33. In the assessment of the IPCC “unprecedented changes across all aspects of society” are necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. IPCC, Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC, October 8, 2018, p. 1. For comparison, current warming, already catastrophic from Australia to Puerto Rico, is at 1 degree Celsius.

Bue Rübner Hansen is a postdoctoral researcher and writer. He works on the analysis and history of the present using the tools of intellectual history, sociology and the critique of political economy. His work is concerned with questions of social reproduction, class composition, and political ecology. He has co-edited the Nanopolitics Handbook (2013), and he is a part of the editorial collective of Viewpoint Magazine where he co-edited the ‘Social Reproduction’ issue.

Manuela Zechner is a feminist researcher and facilitator currently working on care, subjectivity, micropolitics and ecology – in different contexts in culture, academia and social movements. At the of writing she is doing postdoctoral research on childcare commons and the micropolitics of municipalism, as well as being visiting fellow at ICTA at Universitat Autònoma, Barcelona, developing theories and tools for working on ecologies of care.