The aim of this paper is twofold. Firstly, it reconstructs the early marxist feminist debate about reproductive labour, and its deep influence on the paradigm of affirmative biopolitics as well as on the development of the concept of ‘affective labour’. Secondly, it shows how the concept of affective labour, and other related concepts also present in the contemporary sociological literature (such as ‘emotional’ and ‘intimate’ labour), are still too broad and vague: they are not able to conceptualize effectively all the specific problems involved in the commodification of care work, by now a generalized phenomenon on a global scale. Joan Tronto’s political ethics of care offers, in comparison, a more precise and clearly delimited definition of ‘care’, starting from the ‘needy’ nature of every human being. Therefore, the use of such a definition can help us better to frame and to understand the transformations of contemporary welfare state.