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Handle with Care: Culture for Social Well-being
Mystery 79 Beyond the Obvious 2023

Elefsina, Greece 6-10 June 2023

Handle with Care: Caring Resources

Here we have collected some resources on care, culture and well-being. We hope these can act as inspiration to think about what do we mean by care and what are the issues at stake when we are imagining the future of caring societies. Happy reading!

To Care, To Cure, To Comfort

By Maja Kuzmanović & Nik Gaffney


Care is more than a topic of conversation, or a sector to engage with. Care is an attitude; a lens through which to view the world, moment by moment. In each moment, the instinctive fight-or-flight reaction can be transformed into an attentive response, and any activity has the potential to become a re-animating force, an act of caring.


To care, to cure, to comfort. To be with. To help cope, regardless of the situation. “Being with” involves allowing yourself to be touched by the joys and sorrows of another. To be touched by external circumstances. Thrown off-course by the sheer rawness of the moment, by your own inability to make things better, by our fragility, impermanence and mortality.


We learn to “be with” when looking after a sick child, tending to a garden, or when caring for the dying. “Being with” a person or a process that you can’t quite understand can be frightening and uncomfortable, yet it can also become an instrument for discernment, a compass for navigating ambivalence. Care first, do later.


The work of care in the Anthropocene is a struggle with scale and scope and sentience. What does care for a burning forest look like? For an unstoppable flood? For an economy in crisis? For the endless migration of humans and other animals?


If we assume that the entire material bestiary has some form of sentience, how do we respond to climate change, pandemics, mass extinction or speciation? Even if we are not directly responsible for the causes, each of us is responsible for how we live with the consequences. Responsible to and for each other.


Do you care?

How do you care?

Where do you learn how to care?

How can you care for something, able to consume you completely?


The space of care exists in parallel to the space of “problems” and “solutions”. Underneath the litany of blame and judgement. Beneath economic systems and ecosystems. Beneath worldviews and opinions. Deep, deep down in a place where words and worlds intertwine. Where myths and metaphors grow from the direct experience of entangled relationships. Transferred through a touch, a broken bone, a bedtime story.


The patterns of care solidify through repetition. From thoughts to words, from words to actions, from actions to habits and from habits to character. From a person to a clan to a culture. This process takes time. An instant in geological time, generations in human time.


Maybe in order to care across spatial and temporal scales — to care for a loved one as much as for an eroding hill or decaying infrastructure — we need alternatives to the current cultural imaginaries. They need queering and complexifying. We need new stories to live by. New or alternative myths, drawn from ever more diverse mythologies.


Perhaps most urgently we need stories that can cultivate our internal landscapes. Widen the reach of the human sensorium. Transform reactions into responses. Rewire our neural pathways. Embody other mindstates.


Until we stop taking ourselves so seriously (or not seriously enough). Until our individual identities are shattered and smeared and re-congealed innumerable times. Until we understand that we exist because of and despite relating to everything else. Until we understand that we are hydrogen ripped from its context, mixed with the dust of dead stars. That we are endlessly recycled water and crystalising cyclones. That we are teeming civilisational hosts. Most importantly, that we are capable of care. To care for humans and to care deeply for the earth. Care as an antidote to nihilism, greed or indifference. Care as the potion we can take to remember that we are inseparable from all animate matter.  Touched by and in touch with billions of beings, moment by moment. In a world handled with care.

CultureForHealth Report

The aim of this report is to synthesise existing evidence on the positive effect of arts and cultural activities on health and well-being. This means the report is not limited to a few research questions but seeks to provide a clear indication of the volume of existing literature, the key concepts, focus points and the types of studies that exist. It also identifies knowledge gaps in the existing literature. Finally, it gathers policy recommendations and identifies challenges, further expanding the scope of the report beyond the proposed policy directions and specific policy measures.

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Dare to Care

The concept of care has become increasingly important as COVID-19 continues to make its way through populations worldwide. However, care extends beyond the strictly medical: it encompasses everything we do to preserve and restore our planet. The erosion of the welfare state, the continued plundering of the Global South, the lack of solidarity, and the persistent crossing of planetary boundaries is alarming to say the least. We can only turn the tide if we leave the instrumental view of nature and humans behind and radically care for all earthlings.

About the authors

Dirk Holemans is the coordinator of Oikos think tank and co-president of the Green European Foundation (GEF). He is a researcher, lecturer and the author of Freedom & Security (EPO, 2016).

Philsan Osman studies African languages and cultures at the University of Ghent, Belgium and is a writer, activist and community builder.

Marie-Monique Franssen is staff member of Oikos think tank and co-author of The Ecological Compass (EPO, 2020). She has a master’s degree in cultural anthropology.

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Different takes on care

In these talks, we focus on politics, ethics and aesthetics of care, care for the planet and communities, care for each other. We specifically discuss the evidence on the role of culture in improving health and well-being and will ask ourselves how can culture and participation in the cultural life of communities nourish the sense of social and individual well-being.

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