Cultural “production” is a failed model redux – On caring, invisible efforts and the debasement of calling oneself a maker

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 11/23/2015

“Why I Am Not a Maker” – Debbie Chachra

Every once in a while, I am asked what I “make.” A hack day might require it, or a conference might ask me to describe “what I make” so it can go on my name tag.

I’m always uncomfortable with it. I’m uncomfortable with any culture that encourages you take on an entire identity, rather than to express a facet of your own identity (“maker,” rather than “someone who makes things”). But I have much deeper concerns.

Walk through a museum. Look around a city. Almost all the artifacts that we value as a society were made by or at the order of men. But behind every one is an invisible infrastructure of labor—primarily caregiving, in its various aspects—that is mostly performed by women. As a teenager, I read Ayn Rand on how any work that needed to be done day after day was meaningless, and that only creating new things was a worthwhile endeavor. My response to this was to stop making my bed every day, to the distress of my mother. (While I admit the possibility of a misinterpretation, as I haven’t read Rand’s writing since I was so young that my mother oversaw my housekeeping, I have no plans to revisit it anytime soon.) The cultural primacy of making, especially in tech culture—that it is intrinsically superior to not-making, to repair, analysis, and especially caregiving—is informed by the gendered history of who made things, and in particular, who made things that were shared with the world, not merely for hearth and home.

Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not.

It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff). The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.

I am not a maker. In a framing and value system that is about creating artifacts, specifically ones you can sell, I am a less valuable human. As an educator, the work I do is superficially the same, year on year. That’s because all of the actual change, the actual effects, are at the interface between me as an educator, my students, and the learning experiences I design for them. People have happily informed me that I am a maker because I use phrases like “design learning experiences,” which is mistaking what I do (teaching) for what I’m actually trying to help elicit (learning). To characterize what I do as “making” is to mistake the methods—courses, workshops, editorials—for the effects. Or, worse, if you say that I “make” other people, you are diminishing their agency and role in sense-making, as if their learning is something I do to them.

In a recent newsletter, Dan Hon, content director for Code for America wrote, “But even when there’s this shift to Makers (and with all due deference to Getting Excited and Making Things), even when ‘making things’ includes intangibles now like shipped-code, there’s still this stigma that feels like it attaches to those-who-don’t-make. Well, bullshit. I make stuff.” I understand this response, but I’m not going to ask people—including myself—to deform what they do so they can call themselves a “maker.” Instead, I call bullshit on the stigma and the culture and values behind it that rewards making above everything else.

Tagged with: , , ,

The ethics of care – Starting with family and friendship when building moral frameworks – Virginia Held

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 04/02/2013

the ethics of care – interview with Virginia Held

VH: I don’t find it satisfactory merely to add some considerations of care to the traditional moral theories for reasons similar to why it is not enough to simply insert women into the traditional structures of society and politics built on gender domination. Feminists should understand that the structures themselves have to change. The history of ethics shows it to be a very biased enterprise. Very roughly, what men have done in public life has been deemed important and relevant to moral theory, and what women have done in the household has been considered irrelevant. I think it plausible to see Kantian ethics and utilitarianism as expansions to the whole of morality of what can be thought appropriate for law and for public policy.

I have come to see, in contrast, caring relations as the wider network, and the ethics of care as the comprehensive morality, within which we should develop legal and political institutions. Caring relations should be guided by the ethics of care, which we can best understand and which is most applicable in contexts of families and friendship. But we can and should also have weaker forms of caring relations with all persons, and within these, the more limited institutions of law should be guided, roughly, by Kantian norms, and the more limited political institutions by utilitarian ones. Yes I see the legal and political as importantly different, and both as significantly different from the contexts of family and friendship. This is a very oversimplified statement of a complex position but I try to clarify and delineate these matters in my written work.

VH: …I think caring relations should form the wider network within which we should develop various more limited ties that give priority to justice. But care is more fundamental. We need to care enough about distant others to care that their rights are respected. Justice should be the primary value for interactions that are primarily legal ones, but many relations should not be interpreted as primarily legal. Our relations with our children, for instance, are primarily caring ones and only legal in a minimal sense. Justice, or fairness, should not be absent in these relations, but it doesn’t have priority here.

VH: …The ethics of care has fundamental implications for economic activity – that it ought to be structured and engaged in to promote the well-being of all, not primarily the economic interests of those with economic power. And it implies that markets and market values should be appropriately limited, and that market values should not be increasingly the dominant values, as in the U.S., in areas where other values should have priority, such as in childcare, healthcare, education, and the production of culture.

3:AM: An alternative to your care ethics position is the ‘civic friendship’ ethic proposed by Sibyl Schwarzenbach. Why is your approach preferable?

VH: I think care is a more fundamental and a wider concept than friendship. No one can exist without having been cared for. So I would see civic friendship as a more limited kind of caring relation, relevant especially to political life. It’s closer to the social contract model of agreements between equals voluntarily entered into, a model that plays such a central and often misleading role in political theory and then is expanded, often wrongly in my view, to the whole of moral theory. Care is more of a contrast and I think there are good reasons to make this contrast for understanding human relations and the moral questions involved. Caring relations are often unchosen and between those of very unequal power, and lots of other human relations than family ones are more like this than like voluntary contracts between equals, so it’s illuminating to explore this contrast even if we want to conclude by supporting social contract models for legal matters.

Nel Noddings – Caring

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 04/09/2012

“The one-caring, then, is not bored with ordinary life…the one-caring finds new delight in breakfast, in welcoming home her wanderers, in feeding the cat who purrs against her ankle, in noticing the twilight. She does not ask, ‘Is this all there is?,’ but wishes in hearty affirmation that what-is might go on and on…Now one may ask just how the celebration of everyday life contributes to the maintenance of the ethical ideal. First, of course, as we have seen, such celebration turns the one-caring in wonder and appreciation to the source of her ethicality. It is for the most part in ordinary situations that  we meet others for whom we shall care and who care for us. Second, celebration of ordinary life requires and is likely to enhance receptivity. The magic of daily life may be missed by one who constantly seeks adventure and ‘something new.’ Celebration of daily experience provides opportunities for engrossment, for complete involvement in living”

“It is not necessary that I, a concrete moral agent, actually attain my ideal – surely, I shall fail repeatedly – but the ideal itself must be attainable in the actual world. It must be possible for a finite human being to attain it, and we should be able to describe the attainment. The attainment must be actually possible; that is, if I am faithful and energetic and fortunate, I should be able to attain in my actual relations with actual persons. I should not be diverted into abstraction and the endless solution of hypothetical problems.”

“…moral problems not as intellectual problems to be solved by abstract reasoning but as concrete human problems to be lived and to be solved in living.”

“The father might sacrifice his own child in fulfilling a principle; the mother might sacrifice any principle to preserve her child.”

“If rational-objective thinking is to be put in the service of caring, we must at right moments turn it away from the abstract toward which it tends and back to the concrete. At times we must suspend it in favor of subjective thinking and reflection, allowing time and space for seeing and feeling. The rational-objective mode must continually be re-established and redirected from a fresh base of commitment. Otherwise, we find ourselves deeply, perhaps inextricably, enmeshed in procedures that somehow only serve themselves; our thoughts are separated, completely detached, from the original objects of caring.”

“In part, our approaches to creativity and care are induced by the dominating insistency on objective evaluation. How can we emphasize the receptivity that is at the core of both when we have no way of measuring it? Here we may ultimately decide that some things in life, and in education, must be undertaken and sustained by faith and not by objective evaluation.”

“There are times when we must stop thinking in order to make sensible connections with the object field. Neither the joy nor the receptivity of which we have been talking is passive; both are active but not manipulative, not assimilative.  They do not strive to impose structure, but they open all channels to perceive it. They represent an opening-up and a taking-in.”

– Nel Noddings in Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics & Moral Education

Tagged with: , , ,