Debate on State Responses to Covid-19
Questioning the pandemic state of care:
care familialism and care nationalism in times of Covid-19
22nd of December, 2021
Mike Laufenberg and Susanne Schultz
In the Covid-19 pandemic, the (nuclear) family and the private household that is assumed to contain it received an enormous revaluation. At the same time, the notion of a nationally formed capitalist welfare state that protects “its” vulnerable population is reenacted as a central care entity. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made these institutional foundations of care in the pandemic state very visible in one of her first speeches during the pandemic. In an empathetic and rather non-authoritarian tenor, she addressed not an anonymous public but people as members of an affectionate – private as well as national – community with her appeal “to take care of you and your loved ones” and interpreted the pandemic as the biggest “challenge for our nation” since World War II (Merkel 2020). During the pandemic social relations around care became more visible for the general public and, like in Germany, welfare states might partially and temporally – in some cases even in a sustained way – restrengthen certain sectors of public responsibility for care that had been marketised in the past decades. However, this re-embedding of care relations is accompanied by multiple forms of knowledge production, problematisation, and solution approaches which are institutionally reinforcing the household/family and the nation. As a result, hierarchical relations of exploitation and exclusion are reinforced. We suggest therefore the concepts of “care familialism” and “care nationalism” to analyze both the underlying methodological familialism and methodological nationalism and the conditions of inequality and exclusionary effects of these intertwined formations of “home” in the wake of the pandemic state crisis management. By shedding light on intersectional and transnational hierarchies of care/carelessness that are systematically established and deepened in the pandemic crisis, the systemic violence of differential modes of embedding the social becomes the center of attention. Its dimensions range from the neglect of those who cannot retreat to a “safe home” because of their working conditions, violent family relations or ways of institutionalization/incarceration to the necropolitics of tightened border regimes and the systematic carelessness towards those who are recruited to provide care for the nation as live-in or illegalised domestic workers.
The research on care within the pandemic state therefore needs to conceptually decenter the family and the nation as the dominant formations through which care relations are institutionalised. For the debate on care, as it goes viral in these times, this means decentering the focus of gender research on the middle-class home office family household and widening the analysis towards the caring situation of the precarious nonprotected workers that more or less directly support this entity. Generally, to go beyond an analysis of care as utopian postcapitalist social relations and instead to analyse care as specifically and often hierarchically institutionalized relationships. For a theory of the pandemic nation state it includes stressing the transnational and intersectional exclusionary effects of current tendencies of re-embedding care relations through strengthening public infrastructures. We also need to analyse how transnational relations of resource and care extractivism, necropolitial border regimes, and the increasing disinterest (in) and disengagement for global social rights and against global power relations might be reinforced in the same act.
 Merkel, Angela (2020): Fernsehansprache von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel. https://www.bundesregierung.de/resource/blob/975232/1732182/d4af29ba76f62f61f1320c32d39a7383/fernsehansprache-von-bundeskanzlerin-angelamerkel-data.pdf (Accessed December 8, 2021).
 Mike Laufenberg & Susanne Schultz (2021): The Pandemic State of Care. Care Familialism and Care Nationalism in the Corona Crisis. The Case of Germany. In: Historical Social Research 46(4), Special Issue: “Caring in Times of a Global Pandemic“ (eds. E. Dowling, A. Dursun, V. Kettner und S. Hasenoehrl, B. Sauer), pp. 72-99. Open Access: https://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/handle/document/76010
Mike Laufenberg is a research associate at the Institute for Sociology, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena and member of the kitchen politics editor collective. His research interests are social theory and theories of social reproduction, welfare capitalism, citizenship studies, gender/queer studies.
Susanne Schultz is a sociologist at the Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, member of the kitchen politics editor collective, and engaged in antiracist feminist movements. Her research interests are bio- and necropolitics, state theory, population policies, reproductive justice, racism and migration regimes, social movements in Latin America.
Read the other essays on State Responses to Covid-19 here: