Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: “Self care” has become a ubiquitous buzzword attached to a variety of practices (including social media and celebrity, entrepreneurship, political action, and the fitness, wellness, and food industries) and has reshaped notions of leisure, work, health, and travel. At the same time, scholars, journalists, and activists have criticized this term as a rebranding of preexisting exclusionary practices around ability, race, class, shape, size, and access.
Outside anthropology, “self care” has been theorized in relationship to a number of socio-cultural trends such as the digital bio-citizenship and “health at any size” discourses in fat studies (Meleo-Erwin 2010, Berg 2017); it has also been analyzed with theories of access, participation, and technology in disability studies (Ellcessor 2016); and within media studies in relationship to self performance and neoliberal self branding within social media spaces (Marwick 2013, Banet-Weiser 2018).
While the term “self care” is not ubiquitous in the anthropological literature, the practices and problems it encapsulates have long been topics of inquiry, in a long line of thought following Foucault that explores biopolitics, the tending to the body and the care of the self under (neoliberal) capitalism. Recent work in anthropology on how care functions (Cox 2015, Williams 2018, see Black 2018 for a review) and the commodification of carework (see Constable 2009 for a review) points in promising directions. In this vein, this panel seeks to articulate a relationship between the term and the field, asking what anthropology contributes to an understanding of “self care”.
We explore how the term “self care” gets mobilized in relationship to pervasive issues around labor, pace in 24/7 culture, the fragmentation and redefinition of family and social communities in an increasingly global world, and economic precarity. The papers on this panel point towards the ways that these larger trends alter the care of the self and the care of the other. The papers in Part 1 interrogate digital practices profoundly shaped by gender, race, and class, including female Muslim spiritual reflection (Akkaya), mothering (Affuso), mental health (Trnka), mindfulness (Ahlers), and wellness (Billings) apps, Instagram accounts, and other online brands (Gensler). The papers in Part 2 explore arenas of real life including New Age tourism (Gezon) female diasporas (Talmor), direct sales (Rosenbaum), opioid addiction (Burraway), and parenting under duress (Mason, O’Dougherty). Yet the shared themes that emerge across these diverse forms and sites are precisely what we seek to untangle, interrogating race, class, gender, and kinship in relationship to the idea of “self care” and positioning these in a neoliberal climate. In this new climate, shared experiences of temporal precarity, questions of responsibility and agency (in care of the self and care of the other), and new forms of consumer citizenship, kinship, and social (in)justice occur across digital and real space.