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III. Working With Rawls

Interpersonal Reciprocity: An Antiracist Feminist Virtue for Liberal Care Arrangements

Caregiving arrangements in broadly liberal societies lack transparency.1 Structured by the invisibility of people of color, and shrouded in myths about naturally feminine caring dispositions and the independence of white men, the societies where liberalism is endemic have failed to identify how a just society should look when care is provided freely and transparently. Corresponding social norms ascribing caregiving roles by gender and race make material caregiving an intractable locus of social inequality in the absence of theoretical scrutiny and ameliorative norms. Therefore, to remedy these foundational flaws in broadly liberal societies, liberal theorists should learn from societies where care is explicitly recognized as a vital purpose of social cooperation. By identifying the variety of practices that are in place to secure care for dependent persons in different societies, we can better grasp possibilities for these practices.

Care has been placed beyond the lens of justice due to liberalism’s reliance on a division between public and private spheres, paired with the semi-official linking of caregiving to the private family and its encoding as feminine labor.2 However, gender is not the only ethically salient group category with which to evaluate care. In the United States, care arrangements intersect with racialized understandings about whose needs for care are legitimate and who benefits from social esteem for caregiving.3 For instance, when nonfamilial women of color supply caregiving for white families, credit for caregiving may accrue to the white mother rather than to the hands-on caregiver. Race and class also influence how caregiving responsibilities impact the life of women caregivers - if black or brown, the caregiver may be overburdened and undervalued, so that her work to care for others is appropriated by them. Moreover, positive attributions of credit for the white woman may be paired with the view that the woman of color is neglecting her own children.4 Perversely, if the mother employing the woman of color is white, the white mother may be viewed as an ideal of femininity, with her caregiving activities correspondingly praised and highly esteemed. These phenomena illustrate how understandings of legitimate needs, and social assignments of responsibility to meet these needs (see Walker 2007), are influenced by a country’s history and global distributions of labor (see Gould 2008; Hochschild 2000), including, for the United States, slavery, indigenous peoples’ displacement, and policies surrounding immigration and domestic work.

Women do not occupy a uniform social position relative to caregiving. On the contrary, the increased freedom of white women is often dyadi- cally connected to the increased exploitation of women of color. Because the social position of women of color in Western, broadly liberal, societies is informed by the invisibility of caregivers, tracking the status of women of color is a way to gauge the level of injustice of a broadly liberal society, generally, as it reflects on the injustice of its caregiving arrangements.

Due to the significance of broader patterns of racialized expectations for care, an assessment of the injustice of caregiving arrangements cannot assume that internal familial distributions of care are the only, or primary, justice-related concern. Therefore, in Bhandary (2020), I include caregiving arrangements in the basic structure in a way that conceptualizes them in their general form, rather than in the form of the family or as any other particular practice for caregiving. In thus modifying the basic structure, I eschew the assumption that the sole caregiving unit is the particular form of the heterosexual Western nuclear family. Moreover, I argue that conceptualizations about who provides care and who receives it must be flexible enough to track how different individuals, and individuals as members of varying social groups, fare.5

The resultant theory of distributive justice is the theory of liberal dependency care, and it is Rawlsian in spirit, adopting the original position device with selective changes. The Rawlsian idea of the original position defines fairness as a thought experiment that asks what people would agree to, if they were to decide on distributive principles without knowing the social position they would occupy in the resulting society. A modified Rawlsian form of hypothetical acceptability has theoretical power to reject oppression because it enables critical distance from what an individual cares about, by encouraging the act of imagining what other people - people occupying different social positions - would find acceptable. Retaining this form of critical distance from our actual preferences is also a way to mitigate the effects of oppression on the preferences of the person who is engaged in the thought experiment (Bhandary 2020).6 However, to better respond to the effects of oppression at the level of the design of the contract device, I ground the operation of hypothetical acceptability in the real world, where oppression exists. The resultant theory is what I call “two-level contract theory,” which adds to the first level of theory - the aforementioned Rawlsian original position modified to include the fact that we all need to receive care - a second level of theory, which includes the claim that the philosophers identifying what it is that rational persons would agree to are real people, located in a social world with a history. I, then, argue that these real people need to cultivate autonomy skills because the capacity to criticize existing norms and practices is essential when living in a society in which a person is marginalized or subordinated. When people use their autonomy skills to make their voices heard, the resulting social context in which a theorist lives becomes one in which they can have better epistemic standing (Bhandary 2020, 5). Thus, liberal dependency care defends a form of constructivism that includes the idea of hypothetical acceptability but tethers the thought experiment to the world to better address the effects of social inequality on our preferences and on the actual articulation those preferences and values. The outcome is an anti-oppression contract theory. It is from the vantage point of the theory of liberal dependency care that I claim that existing caregiving practices in the United States must be reformed.

However, one need not accept the entirety of the theory of liberal dependency care to grant that care practices in the United States must be remedied. Instead, the need for reform depends on only two claims. First, many caregiving practices in the United States are invisible, thereby violating the condition of transparency, and thus, fairness.7 And, second, being assigned a social role in virtue of one’s race, ethnicity, gender, sex, or sexuality cannot be a structuring principle for the basic structure in a just liberal society. This second principle follows from the Rawlsian construction that representatives of parties in the original position are modeled to know they could be anyone when the veil of ignorance is lifted. They also know that people are individuals with a wide range of interests, abilities, and commitments, and therefore they will not accept an arrangement that is unduly prescriptive about the content of a person’s life’s work. In addition, distributive justice for caregiving must also incorporate the facts of moderate scarcity (Bhandary 2016, 44-45) and the complexity of excellent caregiving (Ruddick 1989; Bhandary 2020,132). One of the consequences of making these domains of labor visible is that the way of life typical of white men is not the appropriate model for legitimate expectations in an egalitarian society (Bhandary 2020, 86—87).8

Although the theory of liberal dependency care builds on Rawls’s idea of hypothetical acceptability, in this chapter, I rely on a more minimal premise in the form of Rawls’s earlier formulation of the idea of justice as fairness, where he specifies the idea of hypothetical acceptability in relation to the “system of practices":

It is the system of practices which is to be judged, and judged from a general point of view: unless one is prepared to criticize it from the standpoint of a representative man holding some particular office, one has no complaint against it.

(Rawls 1958, 169, emphasis added)

Because Rawls’s early idea of justice is about the system of practices, thereby not relying on the family as the basis for a division between public and private spheres, it is congenial to the program of developing novel caregiving practices for a just liberal society and to looking to social forms with constructions of practices that differ from those that are dominant in liberal understandings of the institutions that comprise the basic structure of society.

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