In this article, we argue that the non-human plays a vital role within networks of care. We do this through a consideration of the forms of work done by baby things in the giving and receiving of young-child care. We extend existing understandings of human–non-human relations by arguing that beyond the work of warming babies’ bodies and providing comfort, baby things function within care assemblages as both a means and a metric of parental care. Within the consumption literature, the work of home provisioning (typically undertaken by mothers) has been cast as an expression of love for others. We build on this by exploring the forms of participation and ‘caring capacities’ of matter itself – objects such as blankets, soft-toys and pacifiers – in the caring-for of babies and young children. We attend to the flows and stoppages of baby things across networks of early childhood caregiving to consider what these patterns of movement suggest about how such artefacts participate within relations of care, and how they are used as a means to reflect on the care practices of others. Analysis is based on 30 interviews with mothers and ethnographic and survey work at 14 children’s clothing exchanges in different parts of England and Scotland. Drawing on scholarship from the New Materialism as well as Mary Douglas’s conceptual work on dirt and cleanliness,1 we advance conceptual work within and beyond Cultural Geography by arguing that analytical attention to the role of the more than human leads to richer and more nuanced understandings of how care relations work.
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- new materialisms