Beyond the politics of welfare, I want to propose ecology of care as a way of naming a continuous practice of support, listening, attention, feelings, tangled up with a multiplicity of encounters. There is a long subterranean history of partial and partisan assemblage of places, perceptions, experiences of these ecologies, in the anti-colonial and anti-racist movements, in feminists movements and other instances of minor insurgencies and molecular revolutions1.
In the field of healthcare, a different practice of care can be recognised in the challenge against objectifying practices and the institutionalisation of the self that the hospital apparatus constructed around the patient: actors, objects, places and chemicals among other agents2. It was not by chance that, in the 1970s and 80s, the social movements around healthcare configured the emergence of a first biopolitical critique of, and protest against, neoliberalism. In moments of danger, when the practice of care became the practice of violence and denial of people's dignity and autonomy, the outcast body of the "loony bin"3 in the 1970s or HIV social movements, such as those organised around ACT UP in the 1980s, constituted a space of experimentation for a new paradigm of conflict and political organisation in a biopolitical world. New modes of taking care include making new assemblages live, by composing new ecologies in the present continuous of the crisis4.
A few months ago, I came across such a situation in Trieste at the bar Posto delle Fragole, the first social cooperative opened by mental health users in the early 1970s after the Basaglian revolution of 1971. Salvatore Iaconesi, Orianna Persico and Giovanna Del Giudice were discussing care as a collective practice of reciprocity and social reproduction, presenting their own experiences (and books) both as critiques of, and inventions for, a different conception of care.
Each of them came from a singular position. A few years ago, Iaconesi open-sourced his brain to deal both culturally and medically with his cancer. With Persico, they started to deal with this experience, beyond individualisation and privatisation, as a project of care and performance: they started a blog and organised workshops to share their critique and perception of the care, allowing the general intellect and the "general care" to invade the private sphere of illness. Their effort was that of translating the culture of hackers and makers into the field of care, constituting the ground for a flow of affects and passions (in the most literal sense of the word) and allowing for fragility and care as a social practice of emancipation that defies the disciplinarian institutionalisation which tends to be built around the dramatic experience of a brain cancer.
Giovanna Del Giudice, from another context, was recounting the complexities of transforming the protocols and practices of care in her managerial experience of the Sardinian mental healthcare system in the 2000s. Still today, how can we move beyond a passive and violent conception of fragility and sufferance in mental healthcare institutions? In Cagliari, thirty years after than Trieste constituted an emancipatory practice of mental healthcare, Del Giudice found herself in a mental healthcare institution where people were still dying of psychiatry. Contention, annihilation, objectivation are still hegemonic psychiatric practices, in many parts of Italy where they are officially forbidden, let alone in countries where the legal architecture of mental healthcare recognises these practices. Considering another practice of care needs to deal with a generalisation of care as a democratic and emancipatory practice. As Giovanna Del Giudice states in her book: "If it is possible [to care without containment], containment must be forbidden".
The tension between a different possibility of care and a permanent struggle against institutionalisation poses questions. As proposed by Annemarie Mol, the practice of care deals with a multiple body, with an ontology of multiplicity that is held together in the complexity of life, inscribed in the social and reciprocal practices of care. In the words of Maria Grazia Giannichedda, the question is how we can produce a social organisation of care, capable of supporting each of us in the constitutively difficult freedom of urban life5.