“Care is more of a cultural technique: to organize responsibility and to look at the distribution of it at the cultural, political and social levels”

Mar 15, 2024 2:42 PM

Anushree Majumdar

Publication year
March 15, 2024


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

“Care is more of a cultural technique: to organize responsibility and to look at the distribution of it at the cultural, political and social levels”

by Anushree Majumdar

Pioneers of the Global Care Lab, Dr. Martina Leeker and Dr. Konstanze Schütze talk about how they began their research into care and care-making practices, the ways in which techno-human spaces throw up new challenges, and their workshop plans for the upcoming AuthEx fellowship

Digital Narratives Studio (DNS): Dr. Konstanze Schütze, your research explores digital cultures in a number of ways. Could you tell us a little about it?

Dr. Konstanze Schütze (KS): For the past 20 years, I have been interested in the logic of knowledge and collaboration from the perspective of relational aesthetics and relational theories of networked socio-technological infrastructures. My major in American Cultural Studies and Art Education has shaped my interest in media theory and network theoretical explorations of contemporary phenomena. In 2021, along with my colleague Kristin Klein, I founded ALL* (Algorithmic Literacy Lab). The purpose was to raise questions about algorithmic cultures with experts from various fields.

My dissertation, as well as the research I undertake with a group of fellow researchers, builds on a slightly different angle. From a strong practice as a curator and educator in the professional art field, I conducted explorations and auto-ethnographic descriptions on the structure and dissemination of images and cultural visual information in the field of art. My starting point was the internet: the enormous boost in computing power and digitalization is changing cultural practices both online and offline, and has an impact on the challenges of everyday life that are as profound as they are significant.


Dr. Konstanze Schütze


Dr. Martina Leeker

DNS: How did the idea of a Global Care Lab come about?

KS: Dr. Martina Leeker and I both have a long history in performance practice. We share a strong interest in performative theory education and critical practice. Martina studied intensively at theatre schools and developed a deep understanding of both theatre practice and media theory. She has extensive experience in theatre education, directing, and rehearsal research. My interest in performative critical practice stems more from the visual arts. During my graduate studies, Marie-Luise Lange, professor for performance education, introduced me to conceptual performance art. Coming from a cultural studies background and with an interest in conceptual architecture, I studied performance art both theoretically and practically — a bit like researching a structure and a language. My research has always been grounded in cultural and media studies. Martina’s anthology, “Performing the Digital,” was a valuable addition to my work. The seminar, “Performance Studies and Performances in Digital Cultures,” was reassuring for my research. The aim of the seminar was to explore the intersection of theater, performance art, critical practice, and media theory in a practical space. After four generations of the Care Lab at the University of Cologne, we are currently developing a care education and potentially, a care theory.

DNS: What were the areas of concern that came up when you started looking at care?

Dr. Martina Leeker (ML): Konstanze and I started working on the Global Care Lab in the summer of 2022; at the time, it was called Care Lab Cologne. Our first idea was that we would like to work in a healthier way, not overworking ourselves in academia, and look at care not only for ourselves and our students, but also of the way we use our time and energy. So, on the one hand, it started with the idea of self-care. On the other hand, because we are teaching art students to become educators themselves, we wanted to look at the notion of care as a kind of attitude within education.

We wanted to look at the ambivalences of care and all the problematic issues as well. To us, care is more of a cultural technique: to organize responsibility and to look at the distribution of it at the cultural, political and social levels. While we do look at care as labour, and poorly-paid labour, we want to widen the scope and look at the quality of care as well. The ambivalences occur when we look at the power dynamics of care, of giving and taking; when we give up privileges and comfort; or when we form solidarities of care. These are the things we have to think about and explore further.

What we also understand as a 'global' care lab is that as educators, we cannot afford to be apolitical; I don't necessarily mean this about being left-leaning or right-leaning. What I mean is that care is the opposite of apathy, and we have to be prepared to constantly negotiate with people from all over the world, not only in times of war but also at a time when we can easily fall into the trap of new essentialisms. It is a democratic idea, to accept that we will permanently be in negotiation because human beings are different from each other at so many levels; and to be able to do this without killing each other or causing harm to each other. This has also got to be an inclusive space and idea because there is so much exclusion when it comes to performing and receiving care. It may seem naïve but we hope that by performing care, by developing exercises that inform and guide people, we can prepare a basis for care to exist.


Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash


Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash

DNS: What is the nature of the research that will be facilitated by the Care Lab? What are you looking into and how are you hoping to conduct the research?

KS: In our workshops, we place performative exploration at the heart of our methodology. We work with participants from different fields and areas of expertise to explore terms, concepts, and practices of care both theoretically and experimentally in a collective setting. Our starting point is that care is a complex issue. While it is often celebrated euphorically, as in the following quote — “Without care there is no love, no work, no joy, no art, no life” — we aim to approach it objectively and with a balanced perspective.

Few things are as incompatible with capitalist logic as the multiple layers of care. However, the concept of care is often discussed in the context of resilience, which refers to the ability of systems to adapt to crises without addressing their underlying causes. This can contribute to the depoliticization of neoliberalism, as it promotes a ‘help yourself’ mentality without teaching to nest in critical thinking. The seminar will develop a performative setting based on academic texts and the aesthetics of performative installations and environments. It will juxtapose the pros and cons of the narrative of care, encouraging participants to develop their own attitude.

DNS: When it comes to digital cultures, what kinds of care are you looking at?

ML: We’re looking at four areas of digital care.

1. Distributed care: This is care that is performed over a distance. For example, during the pandemic, we saw how social distancing became a form of care and how it played into our digital lives and altered our collective reality. We continued to be social with each other from our homes, we continued to work and socialize through screens; we began to access therapy, too. This is only one example, there are others that explore the conditions of care that take place in virtual spaces.

2. Technology and old age: As we grow older, technology appears to assist us in our daily tasks. There are benefits and disadvantages to becoming dependent on technologies that can eliminate the human being, or reduce their role in the practice of providing care. So it’s very important for us to take care of the technology that is designed to take care of us.

3. Online harms: We cannot take our ideas of interventions in the analog world into digital spaces such as websites and social media platforms. What constitutes as harm in the offline space is different from the virtual space, and vice versa; and yet, these two spaces are linked and affect each other. There is perhaps, not enough space in the digital world to stop and think, because of the pace at which everything is happening, how immediate and how connected everyone is. What we have to research how harm comes about in these spaces, because so much of it acts as consequence of socialization.

4. Modern Human Care: All the ideas of care that we have at present are rather anthropological, in a sense; and the world is heading towards a techno-human co-operation. I don’t like to use the word ‘entanglement’ because it’s too peaceful and the world is not peaceful. With algorithms and technological elements, we’re looking at lifelike forms now — there is so much that we don’t understand. How can we apply care to these forms, and how can we expect care to be reciprocated? We don’t know yet and it feels like science-fiction but it’s something for us to think about.