Since the earliest days of the pandemic, care work has been thrust into the national spotlight. The notion of care seems simple enough. Care is about nurturing, feeding, nursing, assisting, and loving human beings. It is “the work that makes all other work possible.” But as historian Premilla Nadasen argues, we have only begun to understand the massive role it plays in our lives and our economy.
Nadasen traces the rise of the care economy, from its roots in slavery, where there was no clear division between production and social reproduction, to the present care crisis, experienced acutely by more and more Americans. Today’s care economy, Nadasen shows, is an institutionalized, hierarchical system in which some people’s pain translates into other people’s profit.
Yet this is also a story of resistance. Low-wage workers, immigrants, and women of color in movements from Wages for Housework and Welfare Rights to the Movement for Black Lives have continued to fight for and practice collective care. These groups help us envision how, given the challenges before us, we can create a caring world as part of a radical future.
“With this book, Premilla Nadasen has made an invaluable contribution to the ongoing debates around care and capitalism. In clear and concise prose, she takes apart the care-industrial complex that has emerged, like the military- and prison-industrial complexes before it, to wring the last drops of profit from the lives and deaths of working people. An absolutely necessary intervention in the most important political debate of our times.” —Sarah Jaffe, author of Work Won’t Love You Back
“Premilla Nadasen is a pathbreaking scholar of Black women’s labor and welfare organizing, as well as a radical feminist activist in her own right. She has a passion and a powerful talent for telling the complicated truths that define working class women of color’s lives. In Care: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Nadasen offers a brilliant interrogation of the exploitative and profit-driven care system in the United States. To fully understand racial capitalism in the 21st century, you have to read this book." —Barbara Ransby, professor and director of the Social Justice Initiative, University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of the award-winning Ella Baker and The Black Freedom Movement
“If you think the ‘care economy’ sounds like a socialist nirvana, think again. Premilla Nadasen reveals how the exploitation and commodification of reproductive labor has enriched corporations, compensated for a shrinking welfare state, and pauperized the very workers responsible for the sustenance, health, and well-being of others. The consequences of a gendered racial capitalist ‘care economy’ are deepening inequality, more broken people, and a culture of sacrifice that only serves to mask misery and low wages. Once you read this highly original, incisive, and unsettling book, you will no longer honor nurses by banging pots together but by joining a picket line instead.” —Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
“Premilla Nadasen’s _Car_e is a clear, useful tool for thinking about both the brutal exploitation of capitalist care relations and the transformative power of grassroots collective care projects. Nadasen deftly weaves insights from labor resistance, Black feminism, anti-colonial struggles, disability justice, and other radical traditions into a cohesive analysis of reproductive labor that will be a readable primer for classroom and community use as much as it is a visionary inquiry into what new social relations we need to be building right now. This book is a generous contribution to the most urgent conversations happening in social movements and embattled communities right now.” —Dean Spade, author of Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next)
Premilla Nadasen is a Professor of History at Barnard College, Columbia University. She served as president of the National Women’s Studies Association (2018-2020) and is currently co-Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Born in South Africa, Nadasen has been involved in social justice organizing for many decades and published extensively on the multiple meanings of feminism, alternative labor movements, and grass-roots community organizing. Among her many awards and fellowships are the Fulbright Visiting Professorship, the John Hope Franklin Prize, and the inaugural Ann Snitow Prize for feminist intellectual and social justice activism. Her books include Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States and Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a Movement. She lives in the Bronx.
Melody Webb is the Executive Director of Mother's Outreach Network, a DC organization that supports the economic empowerment of Black mothers fighting for their families’ economic stability. Melody is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School. She has spent her career practicing public interest law, both paid and unpaid. After law school, she clerked for the Honorable Emmet G. Sullivan, then on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Since then, Ms. Webb has focused on legislative and policy advocacy as Systemic Reform Attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, as Legislative Counsel for US Senator Robert Casey, and as Associate General Counsel for Service Employees International Union. While at home raising her young children between 2002 and 2006 she ran several pro-bono advocacy campaigns on a variety of topics, working with local and national partners.
Rosemary Ndubuizu is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University. Dr. Ndubuizu is an interdisciplinary scholar who studies how housing policies are shaped by race, gender, political economy, and ideology. Her untitled manuscript-in-progress historically and ethnographically traces how low-income black women have been affected by post-1970s changes in public and affordable housing policies and advocacy. Her research project also examines the contemporary landscape of affordable housing policy and politics to better understand why low-income black women remain vulnerable to eviction, displacement, and housing insecurity in cities like the District of Columbia. Additionally, her work presents the organizing challenges low-income black women tenant activists in D.C. face as they organize to combat the city’s reduction and privatization of affordable housing. Dr. Ndubuizu’s teaching interests include social policy, post-civil rights black politics, the black radical tradition including black feminism, social movements, the political economy of non-profits, and women of color feminisms. Originally from Inglewood, CA, Dr. Ndubuizu relocated to the Bay Area to complete her undergraduate studies at Stanford University. In 2006, she relocated once again to D.C. and eventually became a community organizer with Organizing Neighborhood Equity DC, which is a D.C.-based community organization that organizes long-time Washingtonians of color to campaign for more local and federal investments in affordable housing and living-wage jobs.