B04Sorting with Care

Human Differentiation in Contact Zones of Support

Categorical distinctions such as race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, or nationality contribute to the production and stabilisation of social inequalities in specific ways and combinations.

Information meeting concerning occupations in South Africa in a house occupied by the MTST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores sem Teto) in São Paulo. Foto: E. Reichl

This project focuses on politically heterogeneous collectives that refer to human differentiation in their everyday practices of solidarity and redistribution to negotiate issues of social justice.

The two sub-studies of the project have been carried out in urban centres in Portugal and Brazil since 2022, with two researching doctoral students, Elena Hernández and Elena Reichl, integrating their participant observations into different ‘contact zones of support’. While taking part in, for instance, Christian soup kitchens, the activist struggle against gentrification, or land occupation by social movements, they investigate which (de)differentiations appear in the everyday practices of these collectives in what form and intensity.

The project title ‘Sorting with Care: Human Differentiation in Contact Zones of Support’ thus refers to different dimensions of care: While these collectives intend to take care of people who are categorised as ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘vulnerable’, distinguishing and classifying terms and practices are perceived as politically sensitive within these contact zones, which is why they require ‘careful’ handling. In addition, categorical differences can be negated or blurred with the aim of creating networks internally, while at the same time the external demarcation, e.g., towards an outside collective deemed ‘different’ or ‘hostile’, is fixed.

Occupation of land by the social movement Movimento des Trabalhadores sem Teto in Santo André, São Paulo. Foto: E. Reichl.

How do we work? In order to capture both the consolidation and sedimentation and the ambiguities, negations, and subversions of human differentiation, we concentrate on several levels of action: First, on the respective contemporary-historical formation of need-related categories, including in interaction with postcolonial social policies and bureaucratic classifications. Second, on the (self-)classification of those providing support, possibly through the differentiation from other groups, and in interaction with political trends and current crisis discourses. Third, on the foreign classification of the recipients of support, for example in everyday interactions in which the right to care is perceived and classified not only on the grounds of an intersectional interplay of income, citizenship, racialisation, dimensions of im/mobility, housing type, family constellation, gender, or physical skills, but also based on performative and affective markers such as conformism, vulnerability, willingness to perform, or gratitude.