Interview with Flávia Biroli, Institute of Political Science, University of Brasília, Brasília, Brazil
1. Where are you working at this moment?
I am a professor at the University of Brasília, Institute of Political Science, since 2005.
2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to care ethics?
My focus is on the social organization of care and its impact on women and democracy. Gender inequalities are connected to women`s poor access to fundamental resources, such as time and income. I am interested in developing theoretical analysis on care and democracy, empirically informed by Brazilian and Latin-American contexts.
I also develop empirical research on conservative reactions to gender and women’s rights in Brazil and Latin America, which have at least two fronts: direct attacks against “gender perspective” in Law and Public Policy; deconstruction of legal guarantees for work and the social security system. In both cases, the “defense of the family” has been key to conservative public discourse, while gendered aspects of work are not being considered and the effective possibilities for care and gender equality are being dismantled.
Poor and black women are the most affected. There is a racial component in the social organization of care in Brazil, thus the importance of intersectional approaches.
3. How did you get involved in care ethics?
My researches on gender, politics and democracy have been first focused on women’s under-representation in Brazilian institutional politics, in formal arenas of political representation. Developing empirical analysis about women and politics in Brazil from 2003, I started my dialogue with authors and approaches in Political Feminist Theories, focusing on social barriers for individual and collective autonomy. Issues concerning the voicing of women’s experiences and their social position, as well as the social organization of care, became inescapable in my analysis.
4. How would you describe care ethics?
A human and relational perspective on politics and everyday life, leading to alternative conceptions of justice within the frame of democratic critique. An alternative to the logic of commodification.
Caring relationships are part of people’s daily lives and a factor generating inequalities in democracies.
5. What is the most important thing you learned from care ethics?
A theoretical and methodological perspective informed by women’s experiences and social position.
6. What publications do you consider the most important with regard to care ethics?
I will mention some of the authors from which I have learned and still learn: Carol Gilligan, Joan Tronto, Helena Hirata, Pascale Molinier, Patricia Hill-Collins. I agree and identify with care theories and approaches concerned about privileges and inequalities, focused on the connections between every day experiences, the social organization of care, and democracy.
7. Which of your own books/articles/projects should we learn from?
I would highlight my books on feminist theory and autonomy, such as Autonomia e desigualdades de gênero (Eduff, 2013) and Feminismo e Política (Boitempo, 2014, with Luis Felipe Miguel), and on changes in family structure and organization in Brazil, Família: novos conceitos (Perseu Abramo, 2014). I would also mention two recent articles: The Sexual Division of Labor and Democracy (2016) and another on care, justice, and democracy: Responsibilities, care and democracy (2015). Most of my work has been published in Portuguese.
9. What are important issues for care ethics in the future?
The crisis of care and the contradictions between capitalism and care, as Nancy Fraser has put it in recent texts and interviews.
10. How may care ethics contribute to society as a whole, do you think?
Developing analysis of the significance of care in everyday life in different national and social contexts and the effects of different social organization patterns of care on people’s lives and democracy. Amplifying the understanding of care as social critique and social ethics, offering alternatives to the commodification of life.
11. Do you know of any research-based projects in local communities, institutions or on national levels, where ‘care’ is central? Please describe.
Recent projects brought together Brazilian and French sociologists. In Brazil, University of São Paulo and Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia para Estudos da Metrópole (INCT-CEM) organized an event on care and care workers in 2010, that produced a book. Later, a project on gender and work in Brazil and France also produced an event and a book has recently been published.
In Brazil, there are current researches on care in bioethics, psychology, collective health. President Dilma Rousseff was deposed. The area of Political Science in Brazil is poor in studies and reflections on care. As one of the editors of Revista Brasileira de Ciência Política from 2008 and 2016, I organized a thematic issue on Care in 2015, but it is still an exotic theme for political scientists in Brazil.
12. The aim of the Care Ethics Research Consortium is to further develop care ethics internationally by creating connections between people who are involved in this interdisciplinary field, both in scientific and societal realms. Do you have any recommendations or wishes yourself?
I wish the consortium could help us to build productive collaboration and develop theoretical and empirical researches facing the challenges for a politics of care (a caring democracy, to quote Joan Tronto), for a social ethics of care, in the actual stage of capitalism. Care and gender equality are being affected in different manners, in different parts of the world. I think comparative research and collective efforts to develop theories well informed by diverse experiences and social data are more than welcome and necessary.