L'Arche, Learning Disability, and Domestic Citizenship: Dependent Political Belonging in a Contemporary British City

24 Jan 2019

© 2017 by the American Anthropological Association This paper compares two ways of providing care for adults with learning disabilities in a British city. It explores how different ways of supporting those who are particularly dependent affect the kind of political belonging these individuals can achieve. Most care providers in Endsleigh see caring relationships as merely instrumental to enabling people with learning disabilities to be independent in their local ‘community’. In this respect, they see the relationship between bodily needs and political belonging similarly to Hannah Arendt, who argues that citizenship is achieved by mastering dependence. As a counterpoint to this mode of care, I delineate ethnographically a contrasting form of urban citizenship enabled by a Christian care provider called L'Arche. L'Arche builds a religious sociality around and in the care home. In doing so, it creates an urban community in which dependence on others is not an obstacle to, but a vehicle of political recognition. I argue that this alternative form of care challenges us to reconsider the relation between domestic dependence and public political belonging, and to investigate the diverse forms of urban citizenship that disability, dependence, and cognitive conditions require and enable.