While the word care conjures Edenic images of peace and selfless acts of altruism, through various conversations and workshops we conducted, a more complicated understanding emerged and especially within the framework of transdisciplinary teaching.
Care can refer to that which we do to and for others. For example, one cares for a child, an elderly parent, a friend, a colleague or a student. It also refers to what Bruno Latour calls a matter of concern. 1 Think of statements like, I care for the planet; I care for others; I care about our future; I care equally for human and non-human entities. In this context, care is grounded in issues such as climate change, the privatisation of education, or growing inequity. That which is cared for requires both attention and devotion.
Often the capacity to transgress disciplinary borders emerges out of something in need of care, a shared concern, problem, or shared desire to imagine things otherwise. Matters of concern are issues around which a group of people collaborating brings their minds together with the hope that the collective is greater than the sum of its parts. It is the ethos of perhaps together, we can work it out. Here, another related word comes in, mutual aid. The activist, lawyer and educator Dean Spade writes:
Mutual aid has been a part of all large, powerful social movements, and it has a particularly important role to play right now, as we face unprecedented dangers and opportunities for mobilisation. Mutual aid gives people a way to plug into movements based on their immediate concerns, and it produces social spaces where people grow new solidarities. At its best, mutual aid actually produces new ways of living where people get to create systems of care and generosity that address harm and foster well-being. 2
Mutual aid requires a sense of attentiveness and tending to, not just in relation to the problem, concern, or task at hand, but also towards others who constitute the mutual.
Each discipline has its own set of methodologies, references, knowledge, approaches, and systems of valorisation. Furthermore, each individual comes with their own culture, memories, and histories. Care is an exercise of attending to those differences and not glossing them over. It is a process of emergence, learning anew, and unlearning the conventions of one’s own discipline, habits, biases, and preconceptions. Listening closely and adjusting positions in relation to others, the process is improvisational and responsive. Moving from familiar frameworks and embodied experiences can bring uncertainty, vulnerability, and at times, conflict. Therefore learning and working in a transdisciplinary environment requires (care)ful trust-building to assure vulnerability is not exploited but instead fostered as an essential part of transdisciplinary learning. Safeguarding space for radical openness, holding it near and dear with care, promotes fruitful conditions for navigating the known to the unknown, from the established to the innovative.