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  • Human Rights, Democracy and Care
  • Joan Tronto (bio)
Carol C. Gould , Globalizing Democracy and Human Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Carol Gould's Globalizing Democracy and Human Rights is an ambitious attempt to synthesize many of the disparate directions in which contemporary political theory pursues its concerns about human rights and democracy. Drawing upon her own previous analysis of democracy in Rethinking Democracy, Gould argues that "our increasingly globalized and sometimes terrorized world … requires a framework in which an expanded vision of democracy and a broadened conception of human rights are essential, and essentially intertwined." (264) There is an essential good sense in this integrative approach, and the breadth and depth of Gould's thoughtful arguments in suggesting the need to combine the pieces of justice, democracy, rights, care, recognition, gender analysis, et. al., are worthy of careful consideration. Gould is one of the few political theorists, for example, to take care seriously as a concept in democratic theory and to try to "integrate" care with concepts such as justice.1 In this commentary I want to consider the ways in which Carol Gould has incorporated the feminist ethic of care into her overall argument, which leads to two basic questions: First, how does Gould understand care, and to what extent is her understanding true to the ways in which feminists talk about care? Second, how does Gould's incorporation of care shed light on her overall argument about democracy and human rights? In the end I shall try to point to some future directions for further consideration that arise out of the tensions discovered in this analysis.

First, we need to explore what a care approach entails, and Gould's understanding of this approach. Care plays the role of an intellectual supporting actor in this work, where Gould's main emphasis in the book is to argue for a kind of intersociative democracy (3) in which both democracy and human rights are important, but where there is a "common root...that normatively grounds the conceptions of both justice and democracy," and this common root is freedom, understood in its complexity as "an activity of self-development or self-transformation as a process over time, [interpreted] as the characteristic mode of human agency or life activity" (33). What kind of supporting role can care play in such a framework?

Interestingly, Gould divides up the main characteristics of care and brings them forth as appropriate for her analysis of democracy and human rights, in turn. When she is offering an alternative to the account of deliberative democracy, Gould stresses an account of care that makes it primarily about feelings, especially about empathy (e.g., 10) and reciprocity (43–44). To Gould, care contributes to democratic communities in its emphasis on the specific individuality of persons (45), concern for the shared responsibility for care work itself (45), and "the concern for the vulnerable, as a type of political and social care, that entails support of, or participation in, programs that provide for the welfare of ...dependent members of a community... where ... one of the aims of care is the elimination, where possible, of the conditions of dependence" (45). It is worth noting what Gould thinks of each of these features of care "that can usefully be generalized to the larger context of democratic communities" (45). What is interesting about this approach of care, then, is that Gould sees it primarily as personal, as providing some training in responsibility, but only political when it concerns providing for the vulnerable. Gould does assert that there is nothing especially new about this care contribution to democratic community, since she has previously argued as well that "the very notion of equal rights in participation in shared decision making connotes a common interest in the common activity, as well as in the process of decision making about that activity" (45–46). But is care only about a new way to define "a common interest in the common activity?" Gould's own further considerations belie the idea that the language of "interests" will here suffice.

As Gould turns to her discussion of care and human rights, she rightly states that it is curious that care has had...


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