Violence and Care

Second, we can now see more clearly that domination begins at home. The fact that these arrangements became subjects of political contestation does not mean they were political in origin. Slavery finds its origins in war. But everywhere we encounter it slavery is also, at first, a domestic institution. Hierarchy and property may derive from notions of the sacred, but the most brutal forms of exploitation have their origins in the most intimate of social relations: as perversions of nurture, love and caring.

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Domination begins at home (domus)

What is both striking and revealing, for our present purposes, is how in Roman jurisprudence the logic of war – which dictates that enemies are interchangeable, and if they surrendered they could either be killed or rendered ‘socially dead’, sold as commodities – and, therefore, the potential for arbitrary violence was inserted into the most intimate sphere of social relations, including the relations of care that made domestic life possible. Thinking back to examples like the ‘capturing societies’ of Amazonia or the process by which dynastic power took root in ancient Egypt, we can begin to see how important that particular nexus of violence and care has been. Rome took the entanglement to new extremes, and its legacy still shapes our basic concepts of social structure.

Our very word ‘family’ shares a root with the Latin famulus, meaning ‘house slave’, via familia, which originally referred to everyone under the domestic authority of a single paterfamilias or male head of household. Domus, the Latin word for ‘household’, in turn gives us not only ‘domestic’ and ‘domesticated’ but dominium, which was the technical term for the emperor’s sovereignty as well as a citizen’s power over private property. Through that we arrive at (literally, ‘familiar’) notions of what it means to be ‘dominant’, to possess ‘dominion’ and to ‘dominate’. Let us follow this line of thought a little further.

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Coercive "emotional labour" (~ shadow-work)

Violence as care, violence contra care

Public torture, in seventeenth-century Europe, created searing, unforgettable spectacles of pain and suffering in order to convey the message that a system in which husbands could brutalize wives, and parents beat children, was ultimately a form of love. Wendat torture, in the same period of history, created searing, unforgettable spectacles of pain and suffering in order to make clear that no form of physical chastisement should ever be countenanced inside a community or household. Violence and care, in the Wendat case, were to be entirely separated. Seen in this light, the distinctive features of Wendat prisoner torture come into focus.

It seems to us that this connection – or better perhaps, confusion – between care and domination is utterly critical to the larger question of how we lost the ability freely to recreate ourselves by recreating our relations with one another.

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~ surveil-and-punish

western violence perpetrated against kin in the name of care, wendat violence perpetrated against outsiders in opposition to care


shadow-work Illich, Ivan. 2011. Shadow Work. Marion Boyars. ↩︎ 1

surveil-and-punish Foucault, Michel. 2012. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. ↩︎ 1

dawn-of-everything Graeber, David, and David Wengrow. 2021. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. Signal. ↩︎ 1 2 3