“We all depend upon the kindness of strangers,” writes the socialist feminist Lynne Segal, in this memoir-cum-manifesto that attempts to counter neoliberalism’s ongoing veneration for the sovereign self with the reminder that, in actuality, none of us can do it on our own.
Segal, a long-time British-based academic and activist, is also a founding member of The Care Collective, which comprises intellectuals from different academic disciplines who seek to understand and address our contemporary world’s multiple and extreme crises of care.
This new work can be read as a more personal follow-up to The Care Manifesto, which the collective published in response to the pandemic, and which argued that care must become the organising principle of contemporary life, rather than a sneered-at annoyance that gets in the way of individual ambition and desire.
Here, Segal harnesses those same insights, but combines them with a first-hand account of a life spent invoking the power of the collective, something that began, for her, in 1970, following her arrival in London from Sydney, Australia. There, as a young and vulnerable single mother, she fortuitously joined forces with other women who were interested in creating alternative forms of collective living outside of the nuclear family.
As she explains, it was a flexible, shared arrangement, one that allowed those mothers to both care for their children and also engage fully in the world at large. However, it did not survive the rise of Thatcherism, the market economy and austerity regimes across the western world. “Today,” she writes, “our appalling housing crisis, with its extortionate property and rental prices, makes finding the kind of living spaces we shared almost impossible for most people”.
Segal casts her net wide, contending that, in order to create a kinder, more caring world, the concept of our interdependence must be embedded in all areas of society. She draws on an array of contemporary and historic socialist thinkers – bell hooks, Robert Owen, and Wendy Brown, to name but a few – to argue for the fostering of inclusive and supportive educational practices; for a collective compassion towards vulnerability; for a less predatory view of nature. She leaves the last word to the theologian and poet Rowan Williams: “In a fragile world, we must turn to our fellow humans.”