Democracy of Care

Portrait: Joan Tronto

All around the world, people depend on care—for ourselves and others. However, we often don’t realize how society affects the way we are caring. Professor Joan Tronto researches the fundamental values and commitments of caring and how they’re different from the reality of care here in America.

“Everywhere in the world, people are facing care crises. There aren’t enough people to do the care that needs to get done,” Professor Tronto says. She argues that the political and economic culture of America creates this care deficit.

Tronto is a world-renowned researcher, author, and speaker on the caring democracy. In her book Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality, and Justice, she addresses the way that caring is valued in the United States. Her book argues that production and economic gain are valued more highly than care, so people see little reward for choosing caring.

The Caring Democracy

The ethics of care start with a basic premise: Human beings are always in relationships with each other. Their lives depend on how they are able to take care of both themselves and the people in their networks.

Because care is a part of everyone’s basic needs, Tronto ensures that her research is always through an intersectional lens, always asking questions. “The goal is to think about the questions from the standpoint of how they affect equality and justice in society,” says Tronto.

Decades ago, while studying the democracy of care through a feminist lens, Tronto developed one such question. She asked herself, “What would happen if all women tried to be just like men?” The answer for Tronto was that unpaid, unacknowledged, and undervalued care work would be lost, because much of the care in our society is done by women.

In a society that only really values paid work (whether you’re in childcare, nursing, or social work), claims Tronto, it is too easy for all of this caring to go unnoticed. There are gendered and racial layers to this problem, and it’s an aspect of society that too often gets brushed under the rug.

“Autonomy is an achievement, not a starting assumption,” asserts Tronto. The fact is that everyone needs care, no matter how independent and free-flowing they may be. When people are restricted from proper care and adequate help in racial and gender contexts, even in places like the US, they are stripped of their autonomy.

Caring Abroad

“Care is always deeply contextual. It happens in different locations in different ways,” says Tronto. 

Tronto has had the opportunity to research and speak on the concept of caring democracy all over the world. This past year, in travels to places like Uruguay and the Czech Republic, she’s been able to discover more about how different places in the world go about caring for one another.

For Tronto, it seems like people in other countries like hearing her idea of a caring democracy more than they do in America.

She chuckles before saying, “With care, people have responsibilities to each other and Americans tend to be more individualistic, asking ‘what’s in it for me?’”

Through her trips abroad, Tronto has found that every country has their own unique way of democratizing care. In Uruguay she found that citizens make care an essential part to their everyday life. This philosophy translates directly to its equal and equitable society, one that stands out from its neighboring countries. In other places, like Prague, deep-rooted regimes and institutionalized inequality have resulted in less public care then necessary

Why are these conversations important? As Tronto says, “If we just ignore this whole dimension of life, first, we miss out on what’s important to us, and, second, injustices can creep into the world.”


This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.

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