This article draws on feminist scholarship to examine the ethics of "social care" in Indonesia. We explore three different relationships of care: between politicians and their constituents, between women health-care workers and villagers, and between volunteers and the recipients of government benefits. Through a comparison of our three case studies, we demonstrate the diverse meanings attached to "care", and the consequences of these differences for state actors' attentiveness, responsiveness and responsibility towards people in need. By revealing the ways in which care is productive of different types of relationships, we argue that care practices may reinforce hierarchies, but can also be built on (exclusionary forms of) solidarity. From our different disciplinary perspectives, we aim to highlight the theoretical and practical use of an "ethics of care" to inform theory and praxis in politics, public policy and development. From the vantage point of Indonesia, we raise unexplored questions as to how care is and should be practised in countries with both welfare and development imperatives.