Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 11, No. 9, September 2015
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
Home Page


The Care-Centered Economy - Part 2:
Separatisms, integrations and denial

Ina Praetorius

This article was originally published by
Heinrich Böll Foundation , 29 April 2015
under a Creative Commons License

Economics has become a kind of bellwether science from which many people obtain their view of what is «normal» and «right» about the value of relationships and activities. However, of all things, those activities for satisfying needs that are carried out in private households are studied either not at all or only marginally in economic science today, and are often distorted. What are the consequences of this omission? The theologian Ina Praetorius answers this question in her essay «The care-centered economy» by taking readers on an intellectual journey through the Western history of ideas and demonstrating how an inequitable dichotomous order is deeply rooted in the way today’s economy and society are organized.


The Care-Centered Economy - Foreword & introduction LINK
The Care-Centered Economy - Part 1: The dichotomization of humanity LINK
The Care-Centered Economy - Part 2: Separatisms, integrations and denial
The Care-Centered Economy - Part 3: From post-dichotomy to a different paradigm
The Care-Centered Economy - Part 4: Rediscovering what has been taken for granted
The Care-Centered Economy - Taking the next steps & bibliography

This entire essay is serialized in this journal, and is also available in PDF format: LINK.

The dissolution of the dichotomous order has been going on globally for a long time, although not in the form of a compact political program to which there can be complete commitment or which can be voted on every four years. A complex interaction between undeniable ecological pressures, technological innovations, symbolic deconstruction in various post-movements of thought, transdisciplinary experiments in the spaces between politics, art, science, religion, and more,99 policies of equal opportunity, auto-destructive system crises, tentative and only loosely connected new forms of coexistence, and «managing like a woman innkeeper»100 and more or less coincidental historical events, has led to a situation that is both confusing and inspiring. The expression «I no longer know what is up and what is down» translates what is going on globally into terms understandable by all: the supposedly natural order of the hierarchical, complementary binary conception of gender is inexorably disintegrating101 with the same logic as the associated hierarchizations that used to be unquestionable between belief and knowledge, subject and object, res cogitans and res extensa, colonizer and colony, center and periphery, God and the world, culture and nature, public and private spheres.

But there are also massive forces—who would expect otherwise?—resisting the transformation to a post-dualistic order: corporations work with market power to maintain or stage ever more profitable pink and blue or black and white stereotypes, media and «normal science»102 prevent collective reflection by systematically channeling attention to matters of secondary importance, or reissuing adopted dichotomies. And there are wrong paths of resistance that predictably lead to dead ends because they only turn hierarchies upside down rather than deconstructing the order as a whole, because they wear themselves out in repetitive outrage, unproductive hostile stances, and their own assumed powerlessness, or look for isolated liberation for speci fic individuals or groups where only the deconstruction of the dichotomous order as a whole would help.

In this second chapter, therefore, I will address the question of what forms of resistance to exclusion are being practiced, how productive they are, and whether they can be combined to form a coherent policy.

2.1 Simplifying the (intentionally) complicated: schematic reductions

Admittedly, an intellectual ambition from behind your desk to transfer the post-confusion103 into an effcient program to end the dichotomous order is superfluous. A harmonized «strategy,» which some may be expecting here, would not do justice to the irrepressible confusion of transformations already under way. Instead, it would run the risk of reverting into a mechanistic illusion, because taking leave from the «obsession with smooth functioning»104 is in fact a promising solution approach.

Explicitly no longer wanting to know what is up and what is down, does not mean, however, rejecting the greatest possible analytical clarity as a simplification in and of itself. For this reason, in this chapter I will even risk attempting schematic representations of complex relationships. These are of course to be taken with a grain of salt. But sometimes simplifications are helpful, namely when they provide you with an overview, where, as in this case, complexity is found not only in the subject matter itself, but has been orchestrated again and again in the sense of a divide et impera. I am convinced that the deconstruction of the dichotomous order will in the final analysis serve everyone. But in each specific case there are almost always substantial interests opposing it : Who would be interested in a coherent resistance of the excluded against the tremendously versatile authoritative hereafter, in view of the extent to which these interests profit from such varied people, things and conditions as migrants, housewives, feelings, material, animals, «foreign» ethnicities, and people’s own physicality being considered a part of nature? Are people who may not be «at the top» of the order that is disintegrating but are nonetheless above others, for instance men of non-Occidentalized ethnicities, prepared to join the battles for equal opportunity of those who are subordinate to them, in this case women of these same ethnicities, where the order nevertheless still allows men of non-Occidentalized ethnicities to compel these women to serve their own persons? Won’t they be more inclined to resist the end of the order in their own short-term interest? And how does one explain to a feminist that, if she wants to pursue a career and—among other things for that very reason—demands a fifty-percent proportion of women in armies and supervisory boards, she should at the same time choose to see herself as part of the natural world such as glaciers and oceans? And with men who are trying to escape from the domination of the dichotomous order through non-patriarchal or less patriarchal indigenous explanations of the world?105

It seems to me one can actually best explain it to all parties involved—and this is ultimately necessary, particularly to the very busy makers of resistance politics—using a simplified diagram:



In order to approximate the confusing inextricability of flexible orders of domination and subordination in reductive two-dimensionality, I have mixed up the pairs that only seemingly belong together eternally: the dichotomies that define and reinforce each other are not properly arranged in conceptual conjugal beds in my diagram, but rather in nearly as confused a way as they seem in reality. In the order that is dying away, «man» has always behaved to «woman» only approximately like the master to the slave, like spirit to body, like culture to nature, like public to private, like bright to dark, which is why until the present day people have again and again succeeded in separating the excluded from each other : people have invented countless «distinctions»106 that one could argue about for centuries if this were desired. Even at the very beginning, Aristotle raised the issue of some of these differences in some detail, thus supplying the model for never-ending debates that skillfully steer clear of the essentials, namely that—up to the present day—these are profitable «naturalizations» of the human in every individual case:

the first and least parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children…. We therefore must consider what each of these three relations is and ought to be: I mean the relation of master and servant, of husband and wife, and thirdly of parent and child. … There are many kinds both of rulers and subjects…107 But the kind of rule differs; the freeman rules over the slave after another manner from that in which the male rules over the female, or the man over the child; although the parts of the soul are present in all of them, they are present in different degrees. For the slave has no deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has but it is immature.108

To offer resistance to the conglomerate of dichotomies continuously adapted to different circumstances, ways of thought, and needs, there are three strategic possibilities, once again schematically reduced: inversion, integration, and denial. All three strategic possibilities are practiced in a multitude of forms that often overlap, of which only a few will be shown here by way of example. The purpose of the following sections is to show that all these forms of resistance have their own limited justification, but that they come more clearly into focus, and thus are more effective, when understood (anew) in the scope of a comprehensive deconstruction of the dichotomous order.

2.2 Separatist inversions: matriarchy – wildness – négritude…

In the beginning was power.
And the power was feminine and omnipresent.

It resided within us and in all things.
It created the inherent order,
the rhythms of life and decay,
high and low tide, sunrise and sunset.

The power of the feminine surrounded us on all sides.
It was the space in which we lived, the earth that bore us,
the cave that protected us, the house that rescued us,
the vault of heaven above us.109

Texts like this one, with which Gerda Weiler begins her large-scale study on The hidden matriarchy in the Old Testament, fascinated many women in the 1980s—and not without reason. A reality is conceptualized (supposedly) completely different from the one experienced on a daily basis: both pre-historical paradise and the utopia being aspired toward, a powerful concept of identity beyond feminine servitude, and (a vague) orientation for transformational action. In fact, the matriarchy movement at the end of the 20th century with its theory circles, ritual groups, and social experiments opened up spaces that, by distancing women from apparently eternally valid ascriptions, have achieved a great deal: the alternative concept of identity of an «integrating, all-embracing matriarchal abundance of power»110 has considerable potential for empowerment, even if it ultimately turns out to be an illusory inversion of what has been opposed. Although the architects of a pre-historical, pre-linguistic, pre-dualistic matriarchy that evolves into the benchmark of political action tried very hard to rescue their blueprints from the trap of a mere inversion of traditional dichotomies:

We must … leave patriarchal terminology behind to sense that the matriarchal «mistress» does not lay claim to any «[mister] domination.» The queen of heaven did not exercise any artificial power. Her strength flowed from within. She was the quintessence of all vital forces, the creative primal force. Originally she alone was venerated. She was the mistress and no one else.111

When, however, the practiced «higher male» is countered with a concept of all-embracing femaleness, in other words, if a binary conception of gender survives as a frame of reference, and classical attributes of the «higher» such as sole veneration, origin, or creative power are merely shifted from a male to a female principle to which a dependent male «heros» or «son»112 is then subordinated, the misunderstanding that this is just an inversion of patriarchal conditions is di%cult to avoid, despite the willingness to «sense» what is completely different :

In the women’s movement, because the models presented in numerous variants of a higher or better femaleness were intuitive, holistic, maternal, and—this time in a positive sense—close to nature, they clashed in significant debates with concepts of liberation that demanded a realistic analysis of the «complicity»113 of women: When the American psychologist Carol Gilligan founded the ethics of care in the early 1980s with her book « In a Different Voice»114 and in the process did not clearly avoid an idealistic equation of femaleness with empathy and care, the Berlin social scientist Christina Thürmer-Rohr reacted with fierce criticism:

We cannot simply say: Patriarchy has turned out to be a form of society whose predominant members, men, saw as valuable something that turned out not to be valuable. Therefore we women are finally taking our different morality out of the closet, setting the priorities ourselves, replacing and occupying the empty spaces. I see this fine challenge as an ahistorical illusion. For we cannot rush into unoccupied territory; such territory doesn’t exist. Besides, we have nothing in our possession, or not enough, with which to occupy this non-existent place … in a completely different, brand new way.115

One year after the Chernobyl disaster, in February 1987, a women’s group close to the Green Party adopted the «Mothers’ Manifesto,»116 that, linking to the concept of a femaleness reduced to biological motherhood—and thus ostensibly per se environmentally sensitive—was intended to encourage «a new debate about an expanded, ecological, forward-looking concept of emancipation.» The answer came immediately in the form of a « Mamalogy» issue of the journal «beiträge zur feministischen theorie und praxis,» in which «the new ideology of mothers»117 was debunked as ahistorical and reactionary.

There were structurally comparable debates in the 20th century around concepts like «négritude,» «Blackness,» and «wildness,» whose protagonists, although with a less sweeping claim, attempted to address exclusions as being part of nature with constructs of something «completely different » which was untrammeled or even pristine: African and Afro-American intellectuals rallied around terms such as «négritude» and «Blackness» in the first half of the last century to counter the colonialist ascription that Africa was uncultured against the idea of a distinct culture centered around values such as sensuality, intuition, and a positively understood closeness to nature. Structurally comparable, the concept of «wildness» established itself as an alternative concept to the man-made cultural landscape. The basis of the nature conservation movement is that it seeks to rescue natural reserves or natural parks from human exploitation and leave them «untouched.» In these cases too, critics argued that claiming autonomous areas lying outside the hegemonic power (of definition) was merely mythology and not suitable for serious consideration as a theoretical basis of politics.

Even if such criticism is directed at the weak point of outside worlds that have supposedly remained intact by being ahistorical, it does not do justice to the potential for renewal of utopian thinking, particularly when the criticism leads to nothing other than the supposed lack of alternatives to an integration of women, non-Occidentalized ethnicities, and nature into the ruling paradigm. In his critical reading of the currently dominant model of an economization of nature, Thomas Fatheuer has plausibly demonstrated this two-facedness of criticism of utopia: It is indeed right to criticize ideas of pristine nature as ahistorical ideology; but to allow this justified criticism to be turned into a defamation of all those who see third ways between the myth of «wildness » and the utter economization of the natural, for instance a pragmatic connection to the idea of nature conservation and corresponding regulatory concepts such as protected areas, bans, or taxes as being obsolete, would not serve the cause but rather would ultimately direct money to follow fashionable argumentation rather than move such money in the right direction.118

Othmar Keel, scholar of ancient Near Eastern studies, shows that utopian energies can also be constructively assimilated and transformed: he does not confirm the hypothesis of a pre-historical matriarchy, but acknowledges its fruitfulness as a stimulus for exploring antiquity that is less guided by preconceptions:

Even if the de-deification of the environment and shared world has not, as so often claimed, justified its rampant exploitability, it has led to a reduced sensitivity to the demands and the life of nature. Authors such as Heide Göttner-Abendroth and Gerda Weiler have strongly and correctly felt the loss suffered by suppressing the Canaanite, even if their historical reconstructions are for the most part untenable.119

2.3 Types of integration: equality—aid programs—monetization

While the schemes of a self-regulated and better alternative model and the related experiments based on practical life skills remain restricted to small but quite subversively effective groups, state policies on the issue of how to deal with «those discriminated against» and the «environment» are primarily based on the principle of the integration of (ostensibly) deficient areas and groups into the dichotomous order: girls from the lower classes or «female immigrants to the industrialized countries» should enjoy the same educational and career opportunities; successful «climbers» are acclaimed as exemplary; «career women» who have a good grip on their «worklife balance» are deemed the standard; «career obstacles» are eliminated through measures such as continuing further training, family allowances, external child care and paternity leaves; it is recommended that the care sector be transformed into paid services as comprehensively as possible;120 human beings become «human capital,» nature becomes «natural capital,» rainforests «ecosystem service providers.»121

If the relevant «equality measures» do not take effect as desired, media discourse promptly declares them—and not without good reason—illusionary: books that revert triumphantly to apparently tried and tested ascriptions and announce the end of emancipation, multiculturalism, or environmentalism become bestsellers. Trans- formative experiments in intercultural life, environmentally responsible lifestyle, shared parenting, or queerness122 are defamed as elitist minority phenomena, and a return to traditional role models—that is to say: practices of exclusion—again appears to be the only realistic or reasonable solution.

In fact, the «equal treatment» of the excluded, understood as an isolated practice or even an ideal path to liberation, cannot have a comprehensive effect in terms of good coexistence of everyone for a simple reason: the volume of work previously done by people ostensibly closer to nature in spheres considered part of nature does not disappear if the questionable privilege of letting some of those who were previously excluded, for instance white middle-class women or migrants of the professional class, ascend to «higher» spheres is conceded. And nature, both human and non-human, remains bounded, fragile, and linked to contexts that are not interchangeable, even if it is theoretically possible to force them into standardized calculations or systems of justice. It is true that limited progress in e%ciency and productivity has been made not only in the production of goods, but definitely also in the service and caregiving sectors, and in the consumption of natural resources. "is may be gratifying, but it also nurtures the illusion that the natural and cultural fabric of relations that has arisen over centuries or even millennia can be evaluated, exchanged and compensated using globalized measurements or even a single metric—the dollar—without the actual quality of life getting lost in the shuffle.123

Children, for instance, still cannot be fabricated by machines. The transformation of human newcomers—apparently without any alternative—into marketable human capital pushes the limits of real quality of life and human dignity, as does the proposal to hand over the care of aging and sick people to robots. Rather more than less of a strain is put on nature itself—both human and non-human—through globally organized increases in e%ciency, the increased use of technology, compressed working— in other words: stress, and increased exploitative pressure. As a consequence, new exclusions are developing based on the old model: immigrants from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa care for Western European senior citizens for the lowest of wages, bring up «career» women’s children, keep their households in order, and pander to stressed-out managers. An economic war over cheap food and raw materials is under way on the African continent—these continue to be in large part cultivated, harvested, and mined by children, youth, or unprotected casual laborers beyond human rights standards. And until the present day the new definition of nature as an «ecosystem service» has not, despite high expectations, led to a real end to the unchecked exploitation of natural resources. Quite the contrary: the concept of integrating nature into globalized trade relations as a service stokes the illusion that it is at the unlimited disposal of at least those who, through complementary compensation payments, can delegate their responsibility «downwards.»124

The inverted model and the integration or equality model are shown in simple graphics in Figures 3 and 4:



Concerning those areas of human culture made part of nature, equal opportunity policies are based on the illusion that individuals or groups can be allowed to «climb» up from the lower rungs of the order into the supposedly more attractive virile spheres without the dichotomous order being seriously destabilized as a consequence. Ultimately, however, the result of this is nothing other than more and more concentration of power and resources on the «higher» rungs, increasing impoverishment and (self-) destruction in the «lower» rungs—and a growing loss of meaning for everyone: why should I as a woman enjoy «equal rights» if, at the place to which equal opportunity transports me, nothing awaits me beyond the standard laid down by men, stress, and dependency on money and my boss rather than on my husband? What is happiness worth if it consists of rising stock prices and residential fortresses armed with alarm systems? Is equality—beyond the equal right to life and the free development of your personality codified in declarations of human rights and constitutions—even a value that it makes sense to aspire to? What do wealth and career mean in a ruined world?

2.4 Refusal: from deception to un-deception

In the mid-1980s, in the context of the broad movement against the nuclear arms race, Christina Thürmer-Rohr sounded a rally cry for many women with her call to radically cease providing service and then face up to personal complicity and confront the confusion:

The fact that men in power have achieved the possibility of … annihilation sends us into a fatally delayed tailspin. Women have failed. We cannot relieve ourselves of the consequence which an acknowledgement of this failure must bring: namely, the risk of total uncertainty. All self-evident truths have come to an end, along with all reliable categories of understanding. … With the questions that arise, we cannot cling to our current systems of meaning … not even if the consequence is confusion. For it is possible that all new thoughts initially produce more confusion than light ; and perhaps it really is just a matter of seeing clearly, of becoming more keenly aware, and of no longer hoping.125

The pathos of total refusal soon wore thin because, like equal opportunity policy, it isolates women as a resistant group from other excluded groups, and in so doing tends to make absolute the battle between the sexes, and because it fails in practical life as a bottomless defensive attitude. Nonetheless, the hypothesis that all traditional forms of resistance had failed to set in motion a process of setting things in order—or can do so today. It became clear: «complementary ideas» like victim discourses, accepting «offers of equality» (Thürmer-Rohr, 44), and escape to ideal counterworlds have moved in equal measure within the framework of the defined dichotomous order which they submit to, against which they are in opposition or which they invert. For that reason, «our only way is out of deception to un-deception» (Thürmer-Rohr, 62):

There is no way around the need to see clearly, without cheating, and to renounce all illusions. The strength produced by illusions is a miserable crutch; it leads to despair and self-contempt. … We must radically reject every superficial consolation. If women were finally to become nihilists in this sense, it would be a revolutionary act. (Thürmer-Rohr, 62)

To become nihilistic in the «superficial» sense intended here does not mean, however, to believe in nothing any more; instead, it means

we ought now to hold onto what is certain. We should equip ourselves for this life. It is irreplaceable. And if we revolt against the scandal being perpetrated on this earth, let it be for only one reason: because life still contains uncontaminated moments. … The most reliable resistance comes from the ability to live—unreconciled with our self-justifications, and unreconciled with our complicity. (Thürmer-Rohr, 63)

This orientation towards the here and now as the «irreplaceable» reminds us of Xanthippe’s refusal to place an invisible, supposedly real life above the visible and tangible «natal» and mortal life. It leads back to the beginning of the history of the dichotomous world—and thus to the decision that it is still possible to declare the dichotomous order void as such: it is in fact not yet true even today that an invisible hereafter of whatever kind is more important than visible life here and now. It is not true that women, migrants, and people somewhere far away are intended through their unvalued or undervalued work to maintain the illusion that the market will automatically adjust itself by means of an «invisible hand.» It is a lie to claim that the deep-rooted way of thinking of the relationships among people as hierarchies and certain people as removed from nature has led to «satisfy[ing] the human need to preserve and sustain life and the quality of life»126 or will ever lead to that. Finally, it is also not true that women and people of color are the better, more meaningful people, who in pre-historic times exercised good power that was «no [mister] domination.»127 The excluded do not provide a reservoir of meaning to which it is possible to flee after work or on holiday, when the stress of simulating a future life better for everyone becomes unbearable. And everything proposed to counter the prevailing order collapses in on itself if the order it is directed against disintegrates.

Consenting to the breakdown of the dichotomous world does not end in nihilistic refusal, but rather results in patient, peaceful work on a different paradigm.


99 See Andreas Weber 2013, Sacha Kagan 2012.
100 See Article «Wirtinschaft» in Ursula Knecht et al. 2012, 146-148. Adding «in» to the middle of the term Wirtschaft (which means both economy and inn) creates a new feminine term for both concepts.
101 Characteristic in this context : the comment of the transsexual winner of the European Song Con test 2014 Conchita Wurst about winning: «We are unstoppablefi»
102 Thomas Kuhn 1970, passim.
103 See Chapter 3.1 of this essay.
104 Hannah Arendt 1998, 214.
105 On this see Chap. 4.9 of this essay.
106 Pierre Bourdieu 1984.
107 Aristotle 2005, 31-32.
108 Ibid. 52.
109 Gerda Weiler 1983, 21.
110 Ibid. 22.
111 Ibid. The German includes the play on words Herrin and Herrschaft (the latter German term, meaning rule or domination or control, includes the word stem Herr for «mister»).
112 Ibid. 127-143 and passim.
113 Christina Thürmer-Rohr 1992, 43-46. [slight modifications by this translator]
114 Carol Gilligan 1982.
115 Christina Thürmer-Rohr, 104.
116 Mamalogie 1988, 201-207.
117 Ibid. 5.
118 See Thomas Fatheuer 2013, 60-66.
119 Othmar Keel in Thomas Staubli 2005, 20.
120 On this see Christa Wichterich 2000, 39-57; Ina Praetorius 2014, 108-11.
121 Thomas Fatheuer 2013, 24, 41-57.
122 On this see Chapter 4.11 of this essay.
123 There are systematic parallels between the economization of nature and the monetization of providing care; Christa Wichterich (2009) addressed their actual form and consequences as «paradoxes» of globalized equal opportunity policies. They urgently need to be developed further. 124 Thomas Fatheuer 2013, 62-66.
125 Christina Thürmer-Rohr 1992, 40-41. (The page numbers in parentheses in 2.4 refer to this text). 126 Peter Ulrich 2008, 1. See note 2.
127 See note 111.


Ina Praetorius, Dr. theol., is a graduate in German literature and a Protestant theologian. She was a research fellow at the Institute for Social Ethics at the University of Zurich from 1983 to 1987. She obtained her doctorate in Heidelberg in 1992; her dissertation was entitled «Anthropology and the image of women in German-language theology.» A freelance writer and speaker, she has been living in Wattwil, Switzerland, with her family since 1987. Website: Ina Praetorius.

|Back to Title|

Page 1      Page 2      Page 3      Page 4      Page 5      Page 6      Page 7      Page 8      Page 9

Supplement 1      Supplement 2      Supplement 3      Supplement 4      Supplement 5      Supplement 6

Bookmark and Share

"If you shut the door to all errors,
truth will be shut out."

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)


Write to the Editor
Send email to Subscribe
Send email to Unsubscribe
Link to the Google Groups Website
Link to the PelicanWeb Home Page

Creative Commons License
ISSN 2165-9672

Page 2      



Subscribe to the
Mother Pelican Journal
via the Solidarity-Sustainability Group

Enter your email address: