Towards a democracy of care in pandemic times? Interview with Joan Tronto (by S. Vantin, ELaN Teaching Staff)

Serena Vantin: Professor Tronto, do you think this global pandemic will be an incentive for governments to change their agendas? Do you think that this situation will help in considering the care issues as political priorities?

Joan Tronto: It would be wonderful if the global response included changes in political agendas. I have been receiving requests for interviews about care ethics from journalist in Europe and Latin America.

Realistically, do I think this will happen? Perhaps, but since I am a political scientist, I do not expect politicians to change much unless they see some clear advantage to do so. My hope is that in this current moment the people will begin to see some of the inconsistencies of our life patterns and wonder if there isn’t a better way. What is interesting is that once we began to think about “essential workers,” they are disproportionately women and people of color and lower class people.  And why, if they are essential, are they the least well supported?  We may see a return of the importance of public things: public transit, public health.

SV: Do you think care-givers are particularly affected by the effects of the pandemic?

JT: Yes, care-givers of all kinds are most affected by this pandemic because they are the ones doing the caring. But what is interesting is that “care-giver” does not necessarily align with “care worker” at the moment.  Parents who are staying home with their children and helping to teach them suddenly are spending time as care-givers. (And, here in the US, they are also learning how difficult it is to teach!)

This also raises a question about how we should define care work, and how we should count unpaid care work.

SV: Do you think the health emergency has or will have a specific impact on women?

JT: When times are difficult, societies tend to return to older ways of doing things. This means that reverting to old more sexist norms is likely. There are some reports that journal submissions by women academics are dropping compared to submissions by men. Of course, is everyone is home, the burdens of care work continue to fall on women. Scholars are trying to collect data about these effects.

SV: Do you think this situation has some positive “collateral effects”?

JT: If we use this “pause” to think about the values of our societies, it could have a positive collateral effect when we see, much more plainly, how economic inequality affects everything in society. The amount of time, energy, resources, power that are devoted to maintaining and producing wealth, not actual material goods but excessive wealth, has been distorted. It is time for us to take a more caring approach towards our planet, the other life forms on this planet, and ourselves. So, out of tragedy may come something positive.


Joan Tronto is professor emerita of political science at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She previously taught at Bowdoin College and at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York; she was also a Fullbright Fellow in Bologna, Italy.

She is the author of several celebrated books: Moral Boundaries. A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care (Routledge, 1993); Le risque ou le care (Presses Universitaires de France, 2012); Caring Democracy. Markets, Equality, and Justice (NYU Press, 2013); and Who Cares? How to Reshape a Democratic Politics (Cornell University Press, 2015). Her outstanding work has been translated into seven languages, and had great impact all over the world, contributing to develop a debate on care and its place in contemporary politics.

[Many Thanks to Prof. Joan Tronto for her extraordinary availability]