Volume 49, Issue 1, Spring 2021
Paradoxes in the Invisibility of Care Work
My paper focuses on the theme of visibility by teasing out some paradoxes of invisibility. In the ordinary social world, what is said to be invisible is generally what is here, right before our eyes, but to which we pay no attention. Care is invisible because it goes on without us seeing it. By suddenly making visible what is ordinarily invisible, the COVID pandemic has been a strange pedagogical moment, making visible the people who take care of “us”, and revealing our entire society’s ignorance of what allows it to live—whether in the context of everyday life or in the urgency of the risk of death. The grammar of care has thus imposed itself on everyone, because care is never so visible as in those situations where a form of life is shaken. Care work has been revealed as invisible work that keeps everyone going. “Invisible” does not refer to a difficulty in perceiving but rather a refusal to see. A refusal to see something that is not hidden, but which we do not see precisely because it is right before our eyes. Invisibility is thus denial, in both the social and the theoretical realms, especially when care work is envisioned in the terms of the further invisibilization of care work when it is done for the benefit of women as in the “care drain” from poor to rich countries. The asymmetry in the relations between North and South is part of the invisibility of what sustains societies. The invisible chains of care reveal the extent to which the question of service is the fundamental question of social invisibility.