en GEO-C PhD, Medium

Attentive modes of Care, Concern and Empathy

Publicado originalmente en Medium – Manuchis

In my previous article, I explained how empathy was taken from many disciplines, causing the term to become abandoned for the misreadings and complications. However, other notions become widely used, especially in STS practices and feminist readings. First concern, then care, have been adopted to highlight the necessity of paying attention to particular phenomena. Even more, is the way that STS think about things enter in relation after Actor-Network Theory came across the field. However, empathy brings a different form of relational thought to these distinctions. We would like to first cite the work of Puig de la Bellacasa (2017) point that empathy is not contrary to those, but comes to look at the in-between. Even more, matters of concern and care, appear in the literature as an ethico-political stance that embraces both material assemblages and relational thought.

I explained it in my thesis as follows:

In the works of Latour (2012), Matter of Concern (MoC) appears as a critique standpoint where ‘scientific and technological assemblages are not just objects but knots of social and political interests and therefore “socially constructed” rather than existing objectively as an expression of the laws of the natural world’ (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017, p. 30). This critique raises the question of how ‘things’ (or non-humans in general) create worlds, rather than existing outside human relationship with the world. In that sense things are gatherings (including affordances). ‘In contrast with “interest”, concern alters the affective charge of the thinking and presentation of things with connotations of trouble, worry, and care’ (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017, p. 35). In sum, MoC is an ontological way of describing things without erasing their complications and controversies, where those things are also lived part of our world, and, without making reductions of power and domination dynamics.

In this scenario, Matter of Care (MoCa) is a re-enactment, prolonging, adding analytical problematics to MoC. Even when both terms have similarities and a common epistemological origin, care carries a sense of attachment and commitment to something that is stronger than concern. ‘Care convokes trouble and worry for those who can be harmed by an assemblage but might be unable to voice their concern and need for care’ (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017, p.45). MoCa is a form of holding together the relations that can be also analyzed in MoC, however, because of its strong roots in feminism, care is tight to those that are not represented. MoC is enacted as think-doing, rather than observing the significant “others” from outside. In the words of the author, ‘caring here is a speculative affective mode that encourages intervention in what things could be’ (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017, p. 66). In that sense, care has a strong commitment with socio-technical systems, because raise the question of how do the maintenance of socio-technical infrastructure is done, who and in which conditions. Therefore, it has in the root of its spirit, the problem of human (and non-human) labour, and the condition of those who are invisible, or under-represented.

We agree on Pedwell that, ‘it does not make sense to see empathy as necessarily linked to “humanising” practices of care because empathy, like other affective relations, is not a property owned by or encapsulated within the boundaries of subjects’ (Pedwell, 2014, p. 11). We believe that some confusions can appear between care and empathy. However, the reading that she made of care, is different from which Puig de la Bellacasa. Both authors relate the terms to the more-than-human worlds. And the problem of subjectivity is in the focus of both critiques in a form of radical empiricism.

Therefore, empathy comes to play as an affective translation. Affects, understood as a differential of intensities, creates moments for caring and concern in events and encounters. Thus, empathy happens in the in-between. It is not something that we should consider from outside. By the other side, care and concern appear as forms of critiques of technoscience, for re-enabling the knowledge and to place a political stance on technological and scientific practices. Empathy took from the affective theory, comes to provide another layer of complications, to problematize by other means. But the forms of empathy that we will explore also enters into the discussion in a different dimension of care and concern. Even more, both notions place empathy as an affective force in the in-between of every action. All three notions are ambivalent, contingent and exceed our capacities of explanation regarding the immanence of eents. We decide, then, to leave the conflict open, acknowledging that empathy is an affective force that we should take into account when we take MoC and MoCa perspectives. In words of Brian Massumi, `What you’re really caring for is not is not your separate self, or other individuals.’ Yet, `thinking affectively means thinking in terms of ecologies of potential and the events that express and vary them’ (Massumi, 2015, 202). In other words, to care is to entangle new empathic relations.

We invite to think about how different relations are creating new powers, how we can design those relations, by caring, concerning and emphatizing with others. On future articles, we will address a definition of empathy and its different forms, along with what I called ‘empathic methods’ to address it from a propositive stance.


Latour, Bruno. 2012. We Have Never Been Modern. Harvard University Press. https://books.google.es/books?id=xbnK8NzMsm4C.

Massumi, Brian. 2015. Politics of Affect. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Pedwell, Carolyn. 2014. Affective Relations: The Transnational Politics of Empathy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Puig de la Bellacasa, Maria. 2017. Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. doi:10.15713/ins.mmj.3.

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