Hendrikje Alpermann, Responsibility: Some Thoughts on Care as Method

Toit et Moi, Ludovic Olivo, Belgrade 2018 © Hendrikje Alpermann

In complex and uncertain worlds, it isn’t always so easy to anticipate the “temporally and geographically distributed effects” (Metzger, 2014, p. 1007) of any action beyond the directly obvious. Given that, we have either the possibility to not act – but then who takes responsibility for the consequences of inaction? or we act responsibly knowing that we cannot know the effects of our actions entirely (Rabinow, 2008, p. 62). But it makes a difference accepting that connections and interdependencies are not just any ideal, but a condition of life (cf Tronto, 2019).

Uncertainty is an inherent logic of care. Challenging questions around responsibility persist and are omnipresent. Nevertheless, urgent crises bring these questions to light and make it an urgent concern.

As researchers interested in care and space, we might analyze how these questions are enacted through spatial arrangements. At the same time, these questions become an ongoing project and a reflection of our own practices. Thinking with care, the questions of ethicopolitical responsibility and obligation are central and we are invited to ask them in more-than-human terms, in terms of long-term commitment to human and non-human livability (Fitz and Krasny, 2019, p. 12). It is “complex interdependencies and obligations we have with other people, other places and other times, in the past and in the future” (Healey, 2010, in Metzger, 2014, p. 1006) and questions of attachment that we are able to grasp thinking through care. It furthermore allows us to question ways of framing and logics of prioritization (cf Tronto, 2019). Care invites us to critical attention (cf. Metzger, 2014). If we agree that caring means sustaining life (cf. Fernandes et al., 2020), we might study what lives are being sustained (first) in our current system and what do we need, so that care can develop its transformative potential. Thinking with care as method can also be a critical mode of speculation, “an attempt to explore and predict what might be, and to expose it to judgement” (Levitas, 2010, p. 542). This might help us as researchers thinking about “which kinds of differences are consequential for developing meaningful responses” (Felt et al., 2017, p. 24) to persistent and recurring problems  of e.g. environment, and inequality.


Felt, U., Fouché, R., Miller, C.A., Smith-Doerr, L. (Eds.), 2017. The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Fourth Edition. ed. MIT Press, Cambridge; London.

Fernandes, M., Mager, C., Ranocchiari, S., Tola, M., Wojczewski, S., 2020. Geographies of Alternative Care: Spaces, Ecologies and Methods. Lausanne.

Fitz, A., Krasny, E. (Eds.), 2019. Critical Care. Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet. Architekturzentrum Wien; The MIT Press, Wien; London.

Levitas, R., 2010. Back to the future: Wells, sociology, utopia and method. The Sociological Review 58, 530–547. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.2010.01938.x

Metzger, J., 2014. Spatial Planning and/as Caring for More-Than-Human Place. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 46, 1001–1011. https://doi.org/10.1068/a140086c

Rabinow, P., 2008. Marking Time. On the anthropolgy of the contemporary. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Tronto, J.C., 2019. Caring Architecture, in: Critical Care. Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet. Architekturzentrum Wien; The MIT Press, Wien; London, pp. 26–32.

Hendrikje Alpermann is a PhD candidate within the Urban Studies Group at the Institute of Geography and Sustainability at the University of Lausanne. For her PhD, she follows the life of empty high-rises in Halle (Saale), Germany. She is interested in socio-material entanglements, urban politics and planning practices.