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Vol. 11, No. 10, October 2015
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The Care-Centered Economy - Part 3:
From post-dichotomous Durcheinander to a different paradigm

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 LINK
The Care-Centered Economy - Part 3: From post-dichotomous Durcheinander 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 beautiful German word Durcheinander (meaning a jumbled mess—literally: «through one another») has not yet been burdened by the linguistic acrobatics of science. The authors of the ABC des guten Lebens (« ABC of the good life») selected this word in 2012 to describe conditions during and following the collapse of the dichotomous order:

In the days of the late patriarchy … more and more people are recognizing that the world does not necessarily have to be labeled in the way the statically dualistic order dictates. At the same time, we recognize that a better order will not emerge by itself. First, the collapse of old pseudo-certainties triggers a kind of dizziness; after all, in the post-patriarchal Durcheinander, we at first literally do not know what is up and what is down: Are emotions now dominating reason? Are money and profit at last no longer the center of economic activity and the object of all desires? On what will communal life concentrate if the logic of the market no longer determines everything? On the household or the state or a kind of community that does not yet have a name? … Surrounded by the debris left behind by the collapse of the conceptual conjugal beds, how are we to say what and how something is? How do we bring new order to the concepts swirling Durcheinander?128

Usually, Durcheinander, which can also be an adjective—« I am Durcheinander»—is written as one word. In that case, it means chaos or disorder or confusion, and it triggers unease and an urge to tidy things up. It can also be written as two words: durch einander. Then it describes the way in which all humans come into the world: through one another, not from the hand of an omnipotent creator and not out of thin air, but through the body of a particular person of the previous generation.129 «through one another» also describes how we make our way through the world after being born: namely by referring to one another; listening to, learning from, and cooperating with one another; by discovering and trying out ways to solve problems through one another, perhaps we find escape from the Durcheinander that the collapse of the dichotomous order left behind. Finally, Durcheinander can also be written as three words: durch ein Ander, even if that version is not completely correct grammatically. Then it creates room in direct interpersonal relations for others not present in the here and now: for predecessors, distant contemporaries, and descendants who are also journeying toward the «good life for all worldwide»130—to non-human nature, to transcendence, to what is yet to come and has not yet been imagined and tried out.

3.1 Durcheinander and the paradigm shift

Perceiving the period at the beginning of the 21st century in this threefold way as Durch/Ein/Ander is reminiscent of how in his theory of the paradigm shift131 the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn described the period preceding the breakthrough of a new paradigm:

Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created. In much the same way, scientific revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, again often restricted to a narrow subdivision of the scientific community, that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself had previously led the way. In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to crisis is prerequisite to revolution.(Kuhn 1970, 92)

Like artists, creative scientists must occasionally be able to live in a world out of joint … (Kuhn 1970, 79)

It has become customary to extend Kuhn’s concept of the paradigm shift, which originally referred to the transformation of scientific explanatory models in the narrower sense, to phenomena that are not scientific in nature: today, people often also speak of a paradigm shift when everyday notions of how the world works change fundamentally. It is in this broad sense that I will describe in the following the period of the post-patriarchal Durcheinander in dialogue with Kuhn’s now popular intellectual approach—in the enlarged second edition of 1970—thus addressing the question as to which policy is appropriate for this period.

3.2 The necessary re-centering of the economy

I have asked quite a few economists why they customarily exclude half the activities and «resources to satisfy human needs»132 from their field of study. Their response was usually that after all, they could not and did not seek to monetize life in its entirety. Where would that end—in terms of human relations—if all the services provided in private relationships and households—giving birth, nursing babies, consoling, sex, listening, etc.—were or should be charged and paid for? They conceded that the US economist Gary Becker (1930-2014) had attempted to do precisely this by studying decisions made in private life—marriage, divorce, the desire to have children, altruism, etc.—employing the criterion of individual utility maximization and had even received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1992 for his «new home economics» into the context of which the now customary concept of «human capital» is to be placed. But this intellectual and research approach, they claimed, had for good reason not found its way into mainstream economics.

Yet this answer, as moral as its intent may be, merely draws attention even more clearly to the problem to which it is responding: The «normal science» (Kuhn 1970, passim) economics, as it has been conducted (up until) today, revolves so obsessively around money that it does not even consider the possibility that it could perceive other activities which satisfy human needs besides the analysis of «sectors of the economy»133 and that its own view, narrowed by monetization, could be broadened in order to study such activities scientifically. By including from the outset only «what makes money»134 or can at least be expressed in terms of money in their subject area, modern economists fall into the trap of a fateful circular argument : the object of economics is exclusively what can be translated into monetary terms; there can as a consequence be no satisfaction of human needs that cannot be expressed in terms of money. In this way, the normal science of economics systematically fails to consider half of what it itself has defined as its subject area. Strictly speaking, it is continuing, in a curiously unscientific way, on the path of the centuries-old conventional notion that what is done in the private sphere is «different,» and that it obeys pre- or extra-economic laws: love in place of money, care in place of calculation, giving in place of exchange.

Now, including in economic analyses work performed in private households without (direct) financial incentives by no means implies per se monetizing all of life, at least not if the unfounded, usually implicit prerequisite that money is at the center of economics and is its only metric—and this contradicts the definition—is dropped. Why should it follow from the decision to include unpaid work to satisfy human needs by definition in economic analyses that it must also be included in the established monetary calculation methods, which are by no means the only imaginable ones, or even in the supposedly only possible mechanism for rewarding work, namely «money for work »? Other models of rewarding work have been practiced for a long time or planned for the future, for example forms of mutual, non-monetary acknowledgement, or various approaches to an unconditional basic income, but their appropriateness can only be tested if economists decide to broaden the object of their studies accordingly. In any case, it does not follow from what economists do not desire, perhaps for good reason which needs to be examined—namely reducing all aspects of life to amounts of money—that all the services provided to satisfy human needs could not become the object of that science whose task is to study how the «resources for satisfying human needs can be most effectively produced, distributed, and used or consumed.»135

In other words, the question is: how can there continue to be a science of the satisfaction of needs on the basis of the division of labor, a science of economics, that does not force us to settle for the dreadful reductionisms of real-world economics, which according to Aristotle would be more aptly termed chrematistics? Should the theory and study of the satisfaction of needs organized in a non-monetary manner be «relegated to another science» (Kuhn 1970, 103), for example to nursing sciences, to home economics,136 which already exists, but is marginalized and underfunded in academia, or to a new, subordinate area of specialization, namely care economics? Would it not be more logical to expand the object of oikonomia to such an extent that it would (again) fit into the broadly accepted, useful definitional framework?

Thomas Kuhn believes that accepting a new paradigm in accordance with the concession that «something has gone fundamentally wrong» (Kuhn 1970, 86) … «often necessitates a redefinition of the corresponding science.» (ibid., 103) The case at hand here, however, is not even about a redefinition, but only about the concession, as momentous as it might be, that economics has distanced itself from its core concern and needs to return to it.

Numerous reasons support re-centering the science of economics around «satisfy[ing] the human need to preserve and sustain life and the quality of life:»137

1 ) The reorientation of economics according to its own basic definition would do away with a massive and momentous inconsistency in argumentation, and would bring economics back into harmony with itself. After all, the fact that economists cite weak reasons, or none at all, for excluding the satisfaction of needs organized in a non-monetary way, makes them vulnerable to criticism. Tradition and the rarely explicitly reflected upon assent to the dichotomous order do not su%ce as a justification, no matter how counterintuitive including such activities in her sci entific work may seem to the economist who continues to have her mother iron her outfit at home without payment.

2 ) In view of the increasing number of findings, such as that of the United Nations from 1980, it can no longer be assumed that an economic system and a science of economics that focus solely on «sectors of the economy» (i.e., on earning money; in Adam Smith’s terminology: «manufactures»)138 actually aim at satisfying human needs, at least if that is supposed to mean the satisfaction of the needs of all people. If women «represent 50 per cent of the world adult population, … perform nearly two thirds of all working hours, receive only one tenth of the world income and own less than 1 per cent of world property»139; if we also know that poverty among women and among children are causally linked, then «something [must have] gone fundamentally wrong» (Kuhn 1970, 86)—or the supposed economists would have to specify more precisely whose needs their calculations refer to.

3 ) It is difficult to comprehend and even more di%cult to explain to others why precisely the areas centered on the production and provision of «human capital »—and thus the raison d’être of the entire enterprise of the economy—are to be excluded from the scope of economics. A great deal of legitimate rage and ineffi cient resignation and exhaustion could be avoided if the contribution of those excluded without reason were to be explicitly recognized and studied to benefit all people.

4 ) Including the non-monetary satisfaction of needs in the science of the satisfaction of needs on the basis of the division of labor does not predetermine the way in which such work is measured—and later rewarded. Defining the work performed in private homes as economic activity (again), can mean, but does not necessarily mean, adding them to the usual, only apparently general regime of «money for work.» Instead, including unpaid activities in a science that then no longer revolves only around money can also have fruitful and pioneering repercussions on answering the question whether there really is no alternative to this reward mechanism, as is currently claimed.

5 ) A return of economics to its core concern—as practice-based theory and theory- based practice—would doubtless result in a broad restructuring of both the science of economics and the society in which it is embedded. But the fear of an initially daunting Durch/Ein/Ander is no reason to cling to the familiar, either, if it proves obsolete in light of the socio-ecological challenges of the present and the new paradigm holds the promise of solving problems in a better way.

3.3 Care as a critique of normal economics

Criticism of the declaration that certain human beings and areas of activity are a part of nature is as old as this declaration itself. Even Aristotle had to defend his idea that there are «natural slaves»140 against people who thought «that the rule of a master over slaves is contrary to nature … and being an interference with nature is therefore unjust.»141

There were slave revolts in the Roman Empire and liberation movements in the colonies, and women have always found ways and means to escape from captivity in real and metaphorical conjugal beds, for example as free artisans, vagabonds, mystics, or as members of religious orders. However, whoever withdrew from the dichotomous regime was in danger: the witch hunts of the Middle Ages and the early modern period are probably the best-known historical evidence of this. Although the Reformation did away with the holy orders as places to which women unwilling to marry could withdraw, it simultaneously promoted general education, including women’s education, which ultimately led to the modern women’s movements: time and again, religious, bourgeois, liberal, and proletarian women made their status of dependency and the corresponding ideological ascriptions into a scandal. Finally, «care economics » developed out of the feminist «housework debate» of the 1970s in the form of systematic research into activities and services that are performed both without pay in private homes and, as housework-like services, for too little pay in institutions such as residential care institutions, bars and restaurants, or hospitals. By now, it has gathered the knowledge required to bring about the overdue re-orientation of the economic system.

However, most care economists do not yet consider their area of expertise to be a new paradigm, but one among many subfields of economics, a new specialty struggling for or seeking acceptance by a mainstream which for its part remains basically unchallenged:

The care economy encompasses caring and providing activities to care for and raise people in private homes as well as paid care activities (in residential care facilities and hospitals) supported and paid for by the state, social insurance funds, or private-sector industry. "is includes areas of paid and unpaid work in which it is still mostly women who are responsible for looking after and caring for others. "us, feminist economics introduces the care economy as an independent category for caring activities.142

Adelheid Biesecker already conceives of the relationship between the market economy and the care economy as a pair of twins that are treated unequally in fact, but in principle have equal rights:

Economics (is generally, I.P.) understood as market economics, separated from social and ecological contexts, autonomous. Yet modern economics is more; from the outset, it is—according to my thesis—about twins, about the birth of non-identical twins of different genders: the predominantly male market economy and the female … provider or care economy. Economic theory, however, has taken just one of them into account—the market economy, as an only child …143

I go one step further and propose conceptualizing and establishing care as the center of a new economics oriented toward its original deflnition.

3.4 From a narrow to a broad concept of care, or: The care-centered economy

How precisely, how narrowly, how broadly the term care is to be understood, a term on which the theoreticians and researchers involved are slowly coming to agree— rejecting possible alternative terms such as «housework,» «care giving,» or «reproduction »—has already been the object of extensive cross-disciplinary debates. The «ABC of the good life» presented a provisional summary of the results in 2012:

Since the 1970s … political, philosophical, and economic alternatives which focus on life and its maintenance have been developed and discussed under the overarching term «care.» The English word «care,» which in German translation also encompasses being mindful, looking after, attending to needs, and being considerate, refers to both awareness of dependency, possession of needs, and relatedness as basic elements of the human constitution and also to concrete caring activities in a broad sense. It involves «caring for the world,» and not only by means of nursing and social-work activities or housework in the narrow sense, but also by dedication to a cultural transformation.144

What is decisive in this summary is not only the reference to the characteristic transdisciplinarity of the discourses on care, which draws attention to an overarching meaning of the concept, but above all the transition from a narrow concept of the term centered around concrete activities to a broad one: attention to the marginalized, vital activities that had already characterized the debate about housework led to the conviction that the concept of care puts not only the equality or integration of certain neglected areas up for debate, but the transition to a post-dichotomous economic paradigm:

Placing care activities at the center and shaping the world from the perspective of care entails a substantial shift of familiar weightings as well as the abandonment of numerous conventional assumptions and concepts. In this way, the illusion of an independent human existence becomes obsolete. And the relevance of traditional institutions, such as the state, the market, the family, and their relationships to one another, is placed … in a different light.145

From a practical, everyday perspective, and viewed without prejudices, it is obvious that caring activities—cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, ironing, consoling, caring for others, listening, providing meaning, …—not only belong to the domain of economics, but can even be more allocated to it than what the economic mainstream has been focusing on for a long time: After all, the criterion for considering products and services to be economic activity has for a long time not been the question whether needs are actually satisfied, but whether money is involved: bread, weapons, anti-aging creams, financial products, deodorants, drugs, and TV talk shows, cosmetic surgery, garbage collection, sexual intercourse, and financial consulting are all thought to be part of «economic activity,» provided they are included in the money flow. "is crude simplification is driven by the assumption, elevated in the West to central dogma and probably first formulated concisely by Adam Smith, that it is not «[the benevolence] of his brethren, [but rather] their self-love,»146 in other words, the individual’s striving for «his own advantage [that] naturally, or rather necessarily leads [the individual] to prefer that employment [of his capital] which is most advantageous to the society.»147

However, when discussing the supposed father of economic liberalism, people usually fail to mention his limiting statement that it was not the «benevolence [of his brethren] only» that would result in the satisfaction of everyone’s needs. Following this limitation, in his seminal work on «The Wealth of Nations,» Adam Smith embeds the market activity driven by individuals’ «self-love» in extensive deliberations on necessary limiting underlying conditions: from the morals of individuals to the constitutive role of state revenues and investments. By now, the dogmatization of self-interest as the only driver of prosperity for all has escalated to the point of being obviously contradictory, even to the telling statement of one of the best-known Swiss economics writers in the midst of the 2009 banking crisis: Unfortunately, we economists are forbidden to talk about human needs.148

Now, explicitly re-centering economics around its self-defined focal point as I have proposed by no means implies, as is often too hastily concluded, seeking to negate the self-interest of individuals as one important driver, thus suspending or even demonizing market mechanisms. Of course, goods and services produced in «sectors of the economy» (or, in Adam Smith’s terminology: «manufactures») based on the division of labor and traded on markets are necessary, among other reasons to increase the benefi t for the individual. What the necessary «cultural transformation» in the direction of a care-centered economics means is a new-old setting of priorities, away from the predominance of chrematistics and instead on the original meaning of oikonomia, which will then no longer be organized according to principles of domination: the re-organization of what is today called «economics» around the core of the expanded concept of care, as in the « ABC of the good life.» "is dissolves the only apparently self-evident nexus between self-interest and the satisfaction of needs, which is not prefigured in this way in Adam Smith’s works; thus abandoning the assumption that everything that appears on a market as an object of trade is per se part of economic activity. In other words, re-organizing economics on the basis of the expanded concept of care means doing justice again to the established criterion according to which only what satisfies human needs is regarded as economic activity. Monetized and marketized exchange is not excluded by this; however, it no longer forms the core of economic activity. It is linked back to the subordinate function of distributing surpluses which was rightly ascribed to it in the Aristotelian construction of the world; now, they must be measured by the standard of whether they actually achieve what they purport to achieve.

3.5 The political relevance of a paradigm shift in economics

What would it mean for global society if the economic paradigm were to topple as presented here?

The reward for the «bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion» (1970, 113, quoting William James), which would surely erupt at first (or has already done so), would be multidimensional relaxation in the sense of easing a centuries-old cramp: Groups of people regarded as part of nature and who for centuries have been doing the unpaid and invisible groundwork required for the market to function (which it only seems to do) would be explicitly recognized as actors relevant for the economy and as possessing human dignity in its full sense. "is would resolve a great deal of justified aggression, bitterness, and resignation. Streams of attention and finances could finally be guided to places where human needs in the sense of a good life for all, including future generations, would actually be satisfied. "is would produce interesting debates: Why do people believe that «financial incentives» are necessary for people to work, while at the same time everyone lives in their daily life from the work of those who cook, do laundry, clean, care for others, listen, and tidy up without such incentives? To what extent do sectors of the economy such as advertising, the weapons and automotive industries, aerospace, road construction, or cosmetic surgery satisfy the new-old core economic criterion? Using this criterion, what is work, what is provision of services? Which activities do we as a society need, which ones can we do without, which ones can human and non-human nature be expected to put up with, and which ones not? Which products and services can be monetized meaningfully and brokered via markets, and which ones require other forms of organization? What are the roles of institutions such as states, municipalities, networks, families, markets? Research desiderata would be identified and worked through: Why do far more women than men still do what is necessary in private homes, even if nobody pays them to do so? Because they have been inured to it, because they have retained a scrap of reason in the midst of late capitalism, or because it makes sense and is a source of pleasure to satisfy human needs, not only out of «self-love,» but also out of necessity, «benevolence,»149 liberty, love, or whatever what points beyond the narrow horizon of homo oeconomicus might be called? How can care activities be rewarded—in the form of wages or in other ways—and secured so that a good life in freedom based on relatedness150 can become a reality for all? Does the only apparently universally valid principle «money for services» have a future? Does human communal life, at least in its basic sense, have to be reorganized on the basis of a different principle, the «basic subsistence income»? How can a new basis for human dignity be provided this side of Kant’s reductionist statement that only—according to his understanding—«reasonable beings» are entitled to it?

Because economics is a core science that affects attitudes and life practices far beyond the professional community of researchers, the relaxation would have far-reaching effects. There would be something «new under the sun.»151 What the new consists of, on the earthly side of constantly being forced to pretend there is an invisible better life beyond the tangible, is what post-patriarchal philosopher Luisa Muraro matter-of-factly calls «joy» and «leaps of joy»:152

Joy results … from the fact that at one stroke, we are relieved of the effort of pretending, which was merged with speaking, hearing, walking, loving, in short with living, and that seemed to be one with life, even though it is not true that life requires this sham; the contrary is the case. In this way, a strong sense of incomparable and gratifying joy is entirely and unexpectedly being felt because finally there is peace that requires no words or anything else that we can add about the nature of existence.153

At the endpoint of the post-dualistic joy of being, this side of incessant coercion to optimize, be active, produce, and buy, we become free not only to discover what has been taken for granted and to do it—many of us have been doing so for a long time— but also to call it by its explicit name and place it at the center of our lives.


128 Ursula Knecht et al. 2012, 9f (emphases I. P.).
129 See Ina Praetorius 2011b.
130 See note 73.
131 Thomas Kuhn 1970. The page numbers in parentheses in chapters 3 and 4 refer to this work.
132 See note 1.
133 See note 56.
134 See Silvia Kontos, Karina Walser 1979.
135 Günter Ashauer 1973, 5. See note 1.
136 See Rosemarie von Schweitzer 1991. 137 Peter Ulrich 2008, 11. See note 2.
138 See note 56.
139 United Nations Report 1980, Part 1: Background and Framework, par. 16, p. 8.
140 Aristotle 2005, 8.
141 Ibid. 7.
142 Dagmar Vinz 2011.
143 Adelheid Biesecker 2010.
144 Ursula Knecht et al. 2012, 37f (emphasis I. P.).
145 Ibid. 38f.
146 Adam Smith 2008 (1789), 24.
147 Ibid. 147.
148 Werner Vontobel on the evening of November 20, 2009, at the Center for Vocational and Continuing Education Toggenburg, Wattwil, Switzerland (emphasis I. P.). See on this Ina Praetorius 2011a, 98.
149 Adam Smith 2008 (1789), 24.
150 See Ina Praetorius (ed.) 2005.
151 See note 77.
152 Luisa Muraro 1999.
153 Luisa Muraro 1993, 41.
154 Ina Praetorius (ed.) 2005.
155 See note 2.
156 Andrea Günter 1999. The page numbers in parentheses in chapter 4.1 refer to this work.
157 Riane Eisler 2007, 229.
158 Ursula Knecht et al. 2012, 13.


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.

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