The Messiness of Care An Account of Care as a Complex and Contestable Condition of Existence

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the multifaceted nature of care, insisting that care should be seen as a legitimate ground of moral and political contestation. Further, I argue that our conception of care should shape our political projects. To this end, I unpack Heidegger’s notion of care as being, investigate Foucault’s understanding of care of the self, and advance care ethics’s argument for the contestability of care. Turning to our pressing material concerns of care, I outline the decline of state care services and the impact upon care of both austerity and Covid-19. I here critique immaterial labour theory and the heralding of sudden technological unemployment, both for attempting to suggest care can be ‘fixed’ with technology and for romanticising the gruelling labour that enables care. I then engage with the interplay of care and value, in terms of both material and affective care. I critique the argument that unpaid domestic care labour should be considered productive labour in a capitalist society and discuss how affective care work is utilised as labour-power in the service of value accumulation. Throughout, I acknowledge the complicated picture of care as sustaining both life and the social relations which exploit and dominate us. I then apply the lessons of the above to education, which I argue is a primary site of the complex and contestable manifestations of care, inhibited from practicing good care by working conditions and techniques of discipline. Finally, I detail my notion of the messiness of care, arguing that we should understand care as an ongoing facet of life, a complex condition of existence whose manifestations we can normatively judge. Our care constitutes ourselves and our world, and by arguing for and enacting the kinds of care we wish to see we help to create a better world.
Date of Award20 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorLorella Terzi (Director of Studies), Marie-Pierre Moreau (Co-Supervisor) & Nina Power (Co-Supervisor)


  • care
  • Marx
  • value
  • education
  • Heidegger
  • social reproduction
  • Foucault
  • Care Ethics

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