Care, Knowledge, Attunement


I posed two questions in the syllabus:

How might we think of care not only as an affective practice, but also an intellectual one? How does caring change our ways of thinking/knowing?

To begin thinking about these questions, I want to share a little bit of Vrinda Dalmiya’s Caring to Know, which is available from the library with your CUNY login.

“Caring and knowing are thought to be independent of each other. Indeed, the typical Enlightenment knower is trained to be careful not to care for the object of knowledge. She knows most effectively when she knows non-affectively, dispassionately, and impartially. Subsequently, an analysis of what it is to know is kept separate from an analysis of what it is to care. Going against this trend, the argument of this book is that caring is not the ‘other’ of reason and that our lived experiences of caring and being cared for can be useful resources for truth-seeking. Care, then, lies at the heart of not only ethical relationships but also successful cognitive enquiry.”

—Vrinda Dalmiya, Caring to Know, chapter 1

“Of course, existing literature already points to the inevitable entanglement of care with knowing at least in one direction. Whether knowers always need to care or not, carers always need to know. We cannot attend to a person’s needs in caring for her without first grasping what they are. […] A care-based epistemology bridges this conceptual gap between good knowing and good caring. Thus, it is not enough that mothers as caregivers be knowers. Rather, the pristine world of cognitive enquiry must soil itself in the messy world of mothering. Care practices—it is now suggested—are an epistemological resource; good knowing and its analysis are modelled on successful caring and its theorization.”

—Vrinda Dalmiya, Caring to Know, chapter 1

Thinking with and through these ideas, I also want to spend some time today talking about the question of attunement. When we spoke in class last week about pacing and about moving at the speed of trust, we spent some time grappling with whether that speed was always slower than the norm, or if sometimes speeding up might be the thing that is needed. We talked about the relational foundations of trust. This is where I think attunement comes in—it is not only about being in relationship with others, but about a sensitive listening, a watchful awareness of an other’s needs.

If that is the case, how can we ascribe value to attunement in an academic setting? In a capitalist setting? And would we want to?

For further reading on this topic, I highly recommend “Attunement in the Cracks: Feminist Collaboration and the University as Broken Machine” by Natalie Loveless and Carrie Smith (who will be co-facilitating the Inkcap discussion on April 5). Which, in retrospect, I probably should have put on the syllabus—maybe we can add it to a future week.

3 thoughts on “Care, Knowledge, Attunement

  1. diana ballesteros (she/they)

    The first excerpt of Delmiya’s work that you shared reminded me of Robin Hall Kimerrer’s essay “Asters and Goldenrods” from her book, Braiding Sweetgrass. Here are some selections of the essay that felt like they were speaking directly to Delmiya:

    “The botany I was taught was reductionist, mechanistic and strictly objective.”

    “My natural inclination was to see relationships, to seek the threads that connect the world, to join instead of divide. But science is rigorous in separating observer from observed, and the observed from the observer. Why two flowers are beautiful would violate the division necessary for objectivity.”

    “It reminds me of a story told by my friend Holly Younger Tibbetts. A plant scientist, armed with his notebooks and equipment, is exploring the rainforests for new botanical discoveries, and he has hired an Indigenous guide to lead him. Knowing the scientist’s interests, the young guide takes care to pint out the interesting species. The botanist looks at him appraisingly, surprised by his capacity. ‘Well, well, young man, you certainly know the names of a lot of these plants.’ The guide nods and replies with downcast eyes. ‘Yes, I have learned the names of all the bushes, but have yet to learn their songs.'”

    “…science as a way of knowing is too narrow for the task [of understanding beauty].”

    This also reminds me of Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ intro to Undrowned, where she states: “…scientists, especially those people who have designed their entire lives around the hope, the possibility that they will encounter a marine mammal, and who have taken extreme measures (like moving to Antartica) in order to increase the likelihood that they will see some particular marine being, cannot be unmoved. They are clearly obsessed, and most likely, like me, in love. Whether they can admit it in their publications or not.”

    I wonder what knowledge creation might begin to look like if we more openly embrace our care, our passions/obsessions, our love. If we become more “attuned”, as you say, not only with others, but also with our own needs, desires, and as Audre Lorde teaches us, with the deep, profound YES within ourselves.

  2. Katina Rogers (she/her) Post author

    Yes, d! I love both of those books and am thrilled that you brought them into conversation with these ideas. It also calls to mind something Natalie Loveless writes in How to Make Art at the End of the World: “Rather than allowing discipline to tell us what questions are worthwhile and what methods are appropriate, a research-creational approach insists that it is to our deepest, doggiest, most curious loves that we are beholden, and that it is love—eros—the must drive our research questions as well as our methodological toolkits.” (28)

    In an academic context it can sometimes be hard to admit (or maybe easy to forget?) that we simply love the questions or topics or ideas we are exploring—and yet those loves are powerful animating forces.

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