Why we need narratives about suffering in old age

There is a collective aversion when it comes to facing the realities of old age, or so John Harris argued in The Guardian last February. Harris is, of course, not the first to point at a widespread public revulsion of growing old, and the association with loneliness, isolation, powerlessness and uselessness. Nowadays, many of us view a longer life as a mixed blessing. We embrace the so-called vital ‘third age’, but we collectively turn our backs to the frail ‘fourth age’. I believe we should control this tendency and fully face the fourth age including its difficulties.

‘Good’ old age

It is easily understandable that people want to age as healthily, actively and independently as possible. We seek to achieve a ‘good’ old age that is characterised by personal contentment, physical health and social well-being; and these aims underpin most gerontological research. Driven by emancipatory ideals, a great deal of effort is put into counteracting stereotyping and negative framing of old age through promoting an ethos of good and successful ageing.

This somewhat one-sided emphasis on the bright side of ageing makes it more difficult to acknowledge the darker sides of growing old. It leaves us with a sense of a widening gap between the fit and the frail. As well as making it harder for us to take a realistic view of what our own old age might contain, the prospect of increasing dependency, and the decline towards decrepitude and death, it also – and this might be even worse – exacerbates the difficulties we might have in giving proper attention to older people already dealing with this condition.


A few days after reading Harris’ opinion piece, I also read an interesting article by Chris Gilleard on suffering in old age. In his article, Gilleard goes one step further by making a strong moral plea for addressing the topic of suffering much more explicitly and emphatically in society as well as in ageing studies.

It so happens that this is what (an important part of) my own research is about, namely mapping out the despair of people suffering from life in old age, and I use the word ‘despair’ here with care. By means of in-depth and longitudinal qualitative research, I have been trying to illuminate the lifeworld of those older people who consider their lives to be over and no longer worth living, and consequently ideate on a self-chosen and self-directed death.

Three reasons

My research has convinced me of the need for plain narratives about the nature of suffering in old age for at least three reasons, namely: 1) understanding, 2) recognition and 3) consolation.

First, narratives about sadness and suffering associated with age are very important for enlarging our understanding, both at a personal and societal level: What does the suffering mean for the person involved? How and to what extent is life threatened in their eyes? Andrew Sayer (2011)((Christian Smith (2015) Why Things Matter to People, Journal of Critical Realism, 12:2, 255-259, DOI: 10.1179/rea.12.2.x27354640x0r1417 )) has highlighted the importance of taking people’s concerns seriously, not merely to recognize them as private emotions, but to view them as illuminations of what is happening in our society. What needs to be taken seriously?

In his book, Sayer states: “Needs, desires, suffering and a lack of well-being indicate a state of the world and some aspects of that world that should be changed.” Personal stories should never to be reduced to (or even neglected as) ‘arbitrary, subjective experiences’, but serve as an imperative for an on-going public debate on the place and role of elderly in society.

Secondly, most of the older people with a death wish whom I interviewed over the last few years experienced an enormous loneliness around their difficulties. They often lacked a sense of recognition by others. They had the impression that their close ones (and professional carers) tended to avoid talking about their suffering, let alone about their wish to die. Instead, these individuals – with the best of intentions no doubt – tended to distract their attention by talking about fun things (i.e. nice weather or nice planned outings).


The deepest wish of my interviewees was, however, not that somebody would respond to their problems by distracting their attention or by trying to ‘solve’ their suffering – often they didn’t even believe that it was possible to solve their suffering. Rather they wished for somebody who just acknowledged their struggles and was willing to encounter their pain and sadness by listening to and connecting with their stories.

Such acknowledgement of their sadness and suffering was often experienced as deeply consoling. I fully agree with Gilleard that serving as a witness of suffering can be seen as a basic for an ethics of human dignity and a call upon social solidarity. If we want to counteract the social neglect, exclusion and/or abjection of the oldest old, we should control the tendency to turn our backs to tragic (often unsolvable) sides of the fourth age and instead pay full attention to struggles that people might experience, suppressing the impulse to immediately dissolve or intervene their pain.

Author: Dr. Els van Wijngaarden

This blog is a re-post. The original reference is: Three reasons why we need narratives about suffering in old age, The Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, 18th Apr 2018. 

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Top Education certificate for Dutch Master Care Ethics and Policy

The Dutch accreditation organization for higher education (NVAO) awarded the master program Care Ethics and Policy of the University of Humanistic Studies the certificate ‘Top Education University 2018’.

Top Education

The master Care Ethics and Policy, at the University for Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, The Netherlands, is unique in the world. Chair professor dr. Carlo Leget and his team are very pleased with this award, that is an expression of appreciation by their students, as the award is chosen by students themselves through an independent, national survey.

“It shows that this unique program is aligned with what our students want to learn. Nowadays, students search for both theoretical depth as the possibility to practice empirical research in the everyday practices they are part of. This is what our program focuses upon: we provide and form a community of inquiry of students, their practices, our professors and their courses.  Not just directed at care in hospitals or nursing homes, but also grounded in policy, education, research and social settings like the home and at work. We are extremely proud and grateful that that we received this esteemed Dutch award”.

Master Care Ethics and Policy

The one-year Master Care Ethics and Policy provides students with an interdisciplinary education focused on improving health care, health systems and policy from a care ethical perspective. The master is specifically tailored to the healthcare and social welfare sector, but also includes guest lecturers and examples from other domains where care is at stake. Our program prepares graduates for staff, management and executive positions in hospitals, long-term care, nonprofits, government, scientific and other organizations, as well as positions in consultancy and research.

Our student population is a mixture of professionals with work experience, and of recently graduated students from other universities. The range of professionals varies from professionals working for nonprofits and local municipalities, to board members of elderly care homes, nurses, midwifes, policy advisors, physical therapists and medical doctors.

All lecturers of the program have close ties with care institutions, where they carry out their own research. Through education and research and through advisory councils and ethical committees they are closely involved in the processes and developments in healthcare institutions. Together they form the Care Ethics research group.

Course in English

The first semester course: Introduction to Care Ethics is offered in English. European students can follow this semester with the Exchange program, including four courses from the Master’s program in Humanistic Studies.

Care Ethics Research Consortium

Prof. Carlo Leget launced CERC with prof. dr. Joan Tronto, who received an honorary doctorate from the University of Humanistic Studies in 2014. On the occasion of each lustrum, the University confers honorary doctorates on prominent individuals, both domestic and international, whose work and life have a significant bearing on Humanistic Studies
Read the laudatio from prof.dr. Carlo Leget for prof. dr. Joan Tronto.

Call for abstracts: Ethics in action

EACME annual conference, September 2018 Amsterdam

Ethics in Action

The significance of ethics in clinical practice, education & research

Doing ethics consists of reflecting, reasoning and contributing to a good life: in practice, with practice and for practice. Ethics is about thinking what it means to realize a better practice and which moral competences are needed in order to do so. More and more, doing ethics requires acknowledging different perspectives on what is morally right and justified. Truly meeting other perspectives requires a participatory, systematic and critical dialogue with various stakeholders. Stakeholders are not merely objects of study but are partners in research and contributing to a good life. At this conference we will continue to do so, together with you and other stakeholders.

The Department of Medical Humanities at the VU University Medical Center Amsterdam (VUmc) welcomes you to the 35th conference of the European Association of Centres of Medical Ethics (EACME) in beautiful Amsterdam. In addition, the European Clinical Ethics Network (ECEN) and the Cambridge Consortium on Bioethics Education will organise satellite pre-conference meetings on the 5th of September 2018.


The conference ‘Ethics in action’ will focus on the following four themes:

  • Towards a further professionalization of Clinical Ethics Support (CES)
  • Rethinking the ethics of ageing and the end of life
  • Chances and challenges of participation and diversity
  • Resilience and recovery in psychiatry


Interested in sharing your experiences and research at EACME conference 2018 in Amsterdam?
Please submit your abstract form for your oral paper, poster presentation, workshop or panel session (symposia).
To submit your abstract and read further details about this conference please click here.

If you have questions about abstracts you can mail them to: EACME2018@vumc.nl.
Deadline for submission of abstracts is 15th of April, 2018.


Vacancy: PhD Student Maastricht

PhD Student “Synthetic embryos: an ethical reflection”. Dept Health, Ethics & Society, Maastricht University, The Netherlands, start between 1 June and 1 September 2018, 48 months, full time

For a PhD-project on the ethics of ‘synthetic embryos’, a vacancy will become available for a PhD student at the Department of Health, Ethics & Society of Maastricht University, the Netherlands. This concerns a full-time 4 year dissertation opportunity for a philosopher/bioethicist. A project description can be acquired from dr Wybo Dondorp, email: w.dondorp@maastrichtuniversity.nl


Recent reports have shown that, under the right conditions, human pluripotent stem cells can form structures that resemble early human embryos. These “synthetic human entities with embryo-like features (SHEEFs)” seem highly useful for studying early human development, but also raise ethical concerns that are relevant for how this emerging field of research should be regulated.

Aims and methods

This project aims to contribute to a robust and sustainable normative framework for creating and using SHEEFs. In addition to contributing to the international debate, an explicit goal of the project is to advice policy makers in the Netherlands on whether the Dutch Embryos Act is sufficiently ‘SHEEFS-proof’. Methods: conceptual analysis, normative analysis, qualitative stakeholder research (focus group discussions).

Funding and collaboration

This project is funded by The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw), GROW (School for Oncology & Developmental Biology, Maastricht University) and MERLN (Institute for Technology-Inspired Regenerative Medicine, Maastricht University). Collaborating centers are the Department of Health, Ethics & Society (HES), GROW and MERLN (all Maastricht University), the University Medical Center Utrecht (Department of Medical Humanities)  and the Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research (both Utrecht University).

Location and supervision

The PhD student working on this project will be based at the Department of Health, Ethics & Society of Maastricht University, in Maastricht, the Netherlands with regular visits to Utrecht. The project will be supervised by prof dr Guido de Wert and dr Wybo Dondorp (bioethicists, Maastricht University) together with prof dr Annelien Bredenoord (bioethicist, Utrecht University).

Candidate profile

Completed research master in Philosophy or Applied Ethics. Proven interest in bioethical aspects of developmental biology. Experience with qualitative empirical research. Mastery of writing English for publication. Mastery of Dutch will be considered an advantage.

Start: The start date of the project is 1 June 2018.

Terms of employment

The terms of employment of Maastricht University are set out in the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (CAO). Furthermore, local UM provisions also apply. For more information look at the website www.maastrichtuniversity.nl > staff > index and forms > HR from A-Z.
Temporary employment: 4 years.


Applications consisting of a motivation letter and CV can be sent until 8 April 2018 to the below postal or email address (on the envelope/in the header please state “Synthetic embryos”). The first interview round will be held on Monday 16 April 2018 in Maastricht.

Maastricht University
Dept of Health Ethics & Society
t.a.v. Angelique Heijnen
Postbus 616
6200 MD Maastricht
00 31 43 3882145 (except on Wednesdays)
a.heijnen@ maastrichtuniversity.nl

Call for Papers: Why Care?

July 2018 the Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICI Berlin) organizes the symposium Why Care? This symposium will explore aesthetic and political practices of care in their historical dimensions and contemporary manifestations across critical disability studies, crip, queer, feminist theories, political theory, and literary studies.

Call for Papers

From care for the environment to care for the young and elderly, from mental health care to humanitarian care, from care understood as an obligation, as a gift, or as an affect, from the intimacy of care among loved ones, to the work of care giving in institutional settings, to the responsibility to care for those one does not know, the notion of ‘care’ encompasses a proliferating field of diverse relations. The question of care presents a central ethical and political challenge that is bound up with the increasing regulation and management of care relations by governmental institutions as well as its privatization, quantification, and commodification on the global market. As a result, certain kinds of care – for certain people, animals, things, or the environment – are dismissed or ignored in the name of ostensibly more urgent, more practical, and often more profitable concerns.

To ask: Why care? is an attempt to critically explore the massive mobilization of care in modern life. It interrogates the biopolitical ambivalences of the modern institutionalization of care as well as the prevailing economies and economics of
care regarding what counts as care, the value of care, and its differential allocation. [pullquote]Download the full Call for Papers.[/pullquote]


Participants are welcome to submit formal academic-style papers or to experiment with the form of presentation. We ask that participants be prepared to pre-circulate a short piece of writing (8-10 pages) among participants, which will then form the basis of discussion at the symposium. Please email an abstract (300 words max.) and a short bio-bibliographical profile (100 words max.) to why.care@ici-berlin.org by 30 March 2018.

Eleonor Faur

Interview with Eleonor Faur, IDAES-National University of San Martín, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

1. Where are you working at this moment?

I am a Professor at the Institute for Higher Studies on Social Sciences, National University of San Martín. Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I teach graduated courses on Gender and Care Policies, and on Gender Relations and Welfare in Latin America.

2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to care ethics?

My PhD focused on Childcare Policies and Gender Inequalities in Argentina. In addition, I participated in a Global UNRISD Project called “The Political and Social Economy of Care”, and I developed some qualitative, quantitative and institutional research on care relations, gender and social inequalities. The key argument I developed was that Argentina’s social policies themselves are reproducing gender inequalities (assigning the care workload mainly to women) and class inequalities among families (by making different kinds, and qualities, of care services available targeted at different social groups, instead of promoting genuinely ‘equal rights’ for all of them) (Faur, 2009, 2011, 2014).
For this reason, I refer to these arrangements in terms of a political and social organization of care, one which is constantly developing through the interventions of public and private offerings, and which has different shapes and outcomes across social class.

Although I did not explicitly analyze care and social policies arrangements from a `care ethics approach`, my interest on how much inequality are societies capable to support deserves further exploration from an ethical perspective, which I shall be doing in the future.

Lastly, I began to think about grass-root women’s activism in response to gender violence and feminicides as a development of a “popular care ethics”. That is, an ethics that is constructed through collective action in the public sphere, recreating feminist practice as a way to take care of the youngest and their rights. (See Revista Anfibia).

3. How did you get involved in care ethics?

I got involved in care ethics due to my work on gender and human rights issues.

3. How would you describe care ethics?

Care ethics is about interdependency and empathy as dispositions to giving and receiving attention, affection, and support. It is also about getting basic need satisfied. Care ethics may be considered also as a paradigm shift in the study of welfare.

4. What is the most important thing you learned from care ethics?

The most important think I learned from care ethics was to shape a philosophical approach to analyze daily social relations and public policies, from a human dimension.

5. Whom would you consider to be your most important teacher(s) and collaborators?

My closer teachers were Elizabeth Jelin, Rosalía Cortés and Shahra Razavi. My colleagues Luz Gabriela Arango and Valeria Esquivel. And many authors that I read.

6. What publications do you consider the most important with regard to care ethics?

Joan Tronto’s Moral Boundaries and Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice, are the most important to me, as a breakthrough in this concept.

7. Which of your own books/articles/projects should we learn from?

  • My book: El cuidado infantil en el siglo XXI. Mujeres malabaristas en una sociedad desigual. (2014(Childcare in 21st.Century. Juggler Women in an Inequal Society.)
  • My article “A Widening Gap? The Political and Social Economy of Care”, in Development & Change (2011).

8. What are important issues for care ethics in the future?

First, it shall be important to reinforce the analysis on national and socioeconomical contexts in care relations, maybe through the development of comparative studies. Second, to identify how care develops in different scales and spheres. Third, to legitimize as a special “lens” to analyze, design and evaluate public policies.

9. How may care ethics contribute to society as a whole, do you think?

I think that care ethics may contribute in at least three ways. On the one hand, it is key to reinforce social bond and empathy on an equality basis. On the other, it could be considered as a lens to the design of public policies and thus contribute to reach the poorest population. Lastly, it may contribute by making economy sustainable. All of them are key to produce and maintain welfare.

10. Do you know of any research-based projects in local communities, institutions or on national levels, where ‘care’ is central? Please describe.

In Latin America, Uruguay has developed a National Integrated System on Care, which is considered as a pillar of social protection. Chile and Colombia are also working on this direction. Local communities in Argentina are more and more interested in care issues and developing programmes aimed to child and aging population care services, which are dramatically insufficient for the time being.

11. The aim of the consortium is to further develop care ethics internationally by creating connections between people who are involved in this interdisciplinary field, both in scientific and societal realms. Do you have any recommendations or wishes yourself?

I hope we can come out with an agenda for this consortium, that includes interregional research collaborations and projects to expand this approach internationally.

Call for Papers: Societas Ethica’s Annual Conference

Call for Papers: Feminist Ethics and the Question of Gender
Societas Ethica’s 55th Annual Conference, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium — 23-26 August 2018

Why should feminist ethics and gender be a central focus in the work of philosophical and theological ethics? While this question has been discussed within the fields of feminist and gender theory, philosophers and theologians have often overlooked the category of gender in their work.

Is feminist ethics a distinct ethical theory, or rather a category of inquiry in any approach to ethics? How does the feminist perspective enrich our ability to address such subjects as power, social, cultural, and political participation, poverty, racism, misogyny, homo/transphobia, economic inequality, and healthcare? And how does this lens sharpen the reinterpretation of
normative understandings of moral, ethical, and religious traditions? To what degree is the rise of nationalism connected with normative imageries of masculinity and femininity, which now require ethical interrogation, especially against the backdrop of social disintegration?

At our conference, we want to strike a balance between theoretical inquiries and historical or contemporary case studies.
We welcome contributions from philosophical, theological, and applied ethics, as well as from political and social theory, history, psychology, and the sciences. The conference languages will be English, French and German. The deadline for submitting proposals is 03 April 2018.


Proposals may be submitted for concurrent sessions addressing the following areas:

  • Feminist ethics, gender, and the traditions of ethics
  • Gender roles, gender identity, and gender justice
  • Concepts of autonomy and care
  • Concepts of masculinity, femininity, and gender fluidity
  • Gendered representations of the Divine
  • Embodiment and gender
  • Nature and freedom in relation to gender
  • The pandemic of sexual violence
  • Responses to sexual violence, such as #MeToo
  • Poverty, racism, structural injustice
  • Faces of misogyny and homo/transphobia
  • Sexual difference and “gender ideology”
  • Political, economic and healthcare inequalities
  • Aging and ageism
  • Nationalism and populism in relation to gender

Paper proposals should contain no more than 800 words (excluding bibliography), and clearly present a moral question or argument addressing one of the aforementioned topics. The deadline is 03 April 2018.

Please send in the following two documents as Word attachments to Dr. Silas Morgan at smorgan2@luc.edu, using the subject line “Societas Ethica 2018 Conference.”

  • Document 1: Your name, first name, email address, institutional address, the title of your abstract, the topic under which your paper proposal falls, and, if eligible, your application to participate in the Young Scholars’ Award competition.
  • Document 2: Your paper proposal including bibliography (max. 10 references), keywords and title with all identifying references removed. Please use Times New Roman 12 pt for body, references and keywords, and Ariel (bold) 16 pt for headline.

The abstract of the conference papers will be published in the conference proceedings.
Selected papers (voluntary) will be published in a special issue of the journal De Ethica; A Journal of Philosophical, Theological and Applied Ethics.

Societas Ethica Young Scholars’ Award is awarded to the best presentation by a young scholar. Young scholars for the purpose of this competition are doctoral students and researchers who earned their degree less than two years ago and do not have a tenure-track academic position. For more information about Societas Ethica Young Scholars’ Award, please visit the website at

Societas Ethica – the European Society for Research in Ethics – has more than 270 members from approximately 35 countries. Led by the current president Dr. Hille Haker (Loyola University Chicago), Societas Ethica endeavors to stimulate contacts between scholars in different countries, surpassing political, ideological and religious curtains. We welcome papers from non-members and members.

Interdependency: The fourth existential insult to humanity

Tom Malleson, PhD recently published an interesting article on interdependency, from a care ethical point of view. He argues that taking interdependency seriously would lead to profound changes in our culture, our central political concepts, and even our major institutions. We contacted Tom Malleson for an insight into the background of the article and the author.


“I’m one of those academics who is always curious, always jumping around between disciplines, like some kind of intellectual nomad, between the fields of political science, philosophy, sociology, political economy, and feminist theory.
One strand of my research interest revolves around the study of Real Utopias, which are institutions designed to be both normatively emancipatory and empirically grounded. My interests in this area include things like economic democracy, the solidarity economy, basic income, participatory budgeting, carbon taxes, universal caregiving, and so on.

Another strand of my research interest involves certain debates in contemporary political philosophy. One of the major positions in political theory, as well as in the mainstream public, is that of libertarianism. I had long been uncomfortable with libertarian ideas – which conventionally start from a mysterious “state of nature” of independent men walking around in the woods, creating private property, and trading with other men. Where are the women in this picture? Where are the kids? Where are the disabled and the elderly, in short – where were the real human beings?”

Ethics of care feminists

“Thinking through these questions led me to feminist philosophy, and in particular, the work of ethics of care feminists. For them, a fundamental feature of human life is relationality and interdependency. Human beings are not born free. We do not emerge from the birth canal fully attired in suit and tie. In fact, human beings are born helpless, vulnerable, and inherently dependent on others. To the extent that we become free, it is due to the support, nurturance, and care provided to us by others.

Delving into this area made me realize all the myriad ways in which our current society is still tied to old ideas of “independence”; it is woven into our culture, our basic concepts, even our economic institutions. Yet once we come to grip with the fact of our actual interdependence, many of these old ideas and practices will need to change. That’s what this paper is all about.”

Malleson, T. (2017). Interdependency: The fourth existential insult to humanity. Contemporary Political Theory. doi: 10.1057/s41296-017-0167-2.
Read the full article here.
Tom Malleson
Tom Malleson

Tom Malleson

Assistant professor of Social Justice & Peace Studies at King’s University in Western University, Canada.
Research interests are interdisciplinary, crisscrossing contemporary political theory, feminist theory, political economy, philosophy, and sociology.
Contact: tommalleson@gmail.com
Website: www.tommalleson.com

Merel Visse

Interview with Merel Visse, PhD, associate professor, University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

1. Where are you working at this moment?

Currently I work as an associate professor Care Ethics and Policy at the University of Humanistic Studies in The Netherlands. As a scholar and artist, I combine theoretical and practice-based work to inquire about the moral good in care. In addition to regular scientific output such as publications, I also make installations, objects, drawings, paintings, projects and communities.

I have received a grant of my university and for the next three years I will focus on the meaning of creative and artistic practice for understanding the moral good in care. I prefer to work in close collaboration with scientific and civic partners, like health care and policy institutions and local governments, so my work is always the outcome of a relational process. I also teach several courses for graduate students, such as care ethical qualitative inquiry, narrative inquiry and responsive evaluation.
On my website www.merelvisse.com you can find an overview of my work, activities and inspirations.

2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to care ethics?

Our view of care ethics is dialectical: we understand and foster good care by dialectically exploring care through both theoretical and empirical, practice-based, lenses (Leget, Van Nistelrooij & Visse, 2017)((Leget, C., Van Nistelrooij, I., & Visse, M. (2017). Beyond demarcation: Care ethics as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry. Nursing ethics, doi: 10.1177/0969733017707008.)). Originally, I began my work in care as an evaluator and qualitative researcher, but I’ve always had a strong focus on theory as well. During the last four years, we have developed a care ethical qualitative inquiry approach that is ‘fed’ by theories and practices of phenomenology, relational ethnography and responsive evaluation approaches. These are approaches that support us in understanding people’s singular and collective experiences with care.

But while working with these approaches, we felt a strong need for a different epistemology and method to enhance our understandings. It’s also due to a new ‘critical turn’ in qualitative inquiry that includes attention for the sensory and affective dimensions of care, and more. The process of drawing or working with photo voice and making artistic objects can be seen as a mode of inquiry. Looking at visual data, and producing visual data help us know differently than knowing through verbalized accounts.

So how to study care by the inclusion of attention for affective, sensory, embodied dimensions of life? I believe this is necessary, because as many care ethicists have emphasized, care is not a virtue, but a practice. And therefore we can only theorize and think ‘care’ by approaches that are congruent with a practice-view.

3. How did you get involved in care ethics?

After the publication of my book and PhD thesis, ‘Openings for Humanization in Modern Health Care Practices’((Visse, M. A. (2012). Openings for humanization in modern health care practices)) in 2012, I received a phone call from professor Frans Vosman. He read my work and invited me to join the Care Ethics group in Utrecht. It was the start of a path that has deepened my work and view on care ethics profoundly.

Originally, I was trained by professors Tineke Abma and Guy Widdershoven of the VU University of Amsterdam, Medical Humanities, who introduced me to the fields of responsive evaluation, qualitative inquiry, practice-based work and Gadamerian hermeneutics and empirical ethics. I was introduced to evaluation scholars like Bob Stake, Thomas Schwandt and Jennifer Greene with whom I’ve just developed a special Volume on Evaluation for a Caring Society (in press, to be published by IAP publishers this fall).

In my book from 2012, among other topics, I discussed the meaning of the work of Margaret Urban Walker in the light of several empirical (phenomenological) studies on how caregivers and care–receivers experienced good care. The book consists of published papers that – each in its own way and each based on empirical studies – were built upon the collaborative-expressive model of Walker. Professor Andries Baart, my former colleague, introduced me to a care ethical view on qualitative inquiry. That opened up a whole new way of thinking about ‘practising care ethics’.

4. How would you describe care ethics?

My father is in cultural heritage and as a child, I remember him closely looking at buildings. I learned that the material world embodies many traditions and stories. I remember him telling me about different kinds of mortar in between the bricks and how the mortar (which is tiny and detailed) strongly influenced the outlook of the whole. That is what care does, the performative dimension of care: just like mortar, it is in ‘liminal’ space, holding people together (or not) in ‘life sustaining webs’, to use Fisher’s and Tronto’s words. In addition, I saw my father negotiating with owners, engineers, restaurateurs and representatives of local governments. All these people had different stakes when living in and preserving the built environment. In hindsight I know that this is where my training in responsive evaluation (which is all about negotiation and dialogue) and later on, in care ethics began.

It’s a little bit of a long introduction to show you how my view on care ethics has grown. I see care ethics as a way of knowing and inquiring about what is ‘good’ in historical, aesthetical, temporal and spatial ways. Care ethics is an epistemology that is featured by hermeneutical understanding, listening and experiencing the world around us, together with others. It is about the moral dimensions of living in (and on) our own tapestry of people and relationships. Care ethics  – as described in Leget, Van Nistelrooij & Visse (2017) – asks about the normative in a dialectical way: honoring both theory and practice.

A practice view on care acknowledges that people and their lives are part of an intrinsic and complex tapestry that critically counter-thinks notions like agency, (self) management and  control. Care ethics acknowledges the ambiguity and complexity of everyday situations in care: that is what matters to me profoundly. People ‘undergo’ and ‘accept’ being in certain kinds of positions (e.g. of a caregiver and –receiver). Care ethics is, as my colleague Alistair Niemeijer so aptly phrased it, ‘inherently dialectic’. The dialectic nature of care ethics has been developed by our chair Carlo Leget in his publication on the re-examination on the empirical and the normative (Leget, Borry, De Vries, 2009)((Leget, C., Borry, P., de Vries, R. (2009). ‘Nobody tosses a dwarf!’ The relation between the empirical and the normative reexamined. Bioethics. 2009 May;23(4):226-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2009.01711.x.)). By keeping theory and practice ‘in tension’, care ethics can be further developed and understood.

5. Whom would you consider to be your most important teacher(s) and collaborators?

Currently, my most important teachers are outside the field of care ethics, if I may speak of an “in- and outside”. For example, I especially admire the work of the philosopher Hans Georg Gadamer and more recently, the French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion. I prefer to work ‘slow’: I learn through careful, slow reading and reflection.

Currently, my most important collaborators and teachers are my colleagues and (former) students of the Care Ethics group. We carry out research in collaboration with several Dutch cities and health care institutions and this work ‘in the mud’ humbles me and shows me new perspectives and challenges. Every project is run by a core team of researchers who I feel privileged to collaborate with.

Co-authoring papers with colleagues is very rewarding. I have written papers with colleagues, such as Alistair Niemeijer, Inge van Nistelrooij and Carlo Leget. With Tineke Abma, I have just developed a special Volume on Evaluation for a Caring Society. Several care ethicists contributed to that Volume, like Helen Kohlen, Karin Dahlberg, Maurice Hamington and Jeannette Pols, as well as several responsive evaluators like Melissa Freeman, Anders Hanberger, Gustaaf Bos, Hannah Leyerzapf and others.

I have always found myself on the intersection of several disciplines and I believe this is vital for the quality of my work. Now, while developing this Consortium, I discovered that there are so many people from a wide range of fields who contribute to care ethics and theory. I look forward to meeting them very much.

6. What publications do you consider the most important with regard to care ethics?

  • Eva Feder Kittay’s Love Labor
  • Joan Tronto’s Caring Democracy


  • Margaret Urban Walker’s Moral Understandings
  • Richard Bernstein’s Beyond Objectivism and relativism. Science, Hermeneutics and Praxis.

And with regards to our dialectical view between they and empirical work:

  • Johnson & Parry’s Qualitative Research for Social Justice.

7. Which of your own books/articles/projects should we learn from?

This depends on your own background and interests. Soon, the special volume on Evaluation for a Caring Society will be published (fall 2017, IAP publishers). In the past, I have published about different topics, mostly related to how to ‘operationalise’ care ethics as a political ethic. On my website, you can find an overview for my publications and projects. Please email me when you would like to receive one of my papers, I’d be happy to share them.

8. What are important issues for care ethics in the future?

I see many opportunities to increase the socio-political impact of care ethics. To do so, we need to build bridges between care ethicists who are conceptually oriented and care ethicists who mainly do empirical work, both empirical research and policy design and programs. By collaboration, we can create synergy. The new Care Ethics Research Consortium will be a platform for that.
I also believe in creativity. That is the topic I’m currently focusing on: creativity in the moral domain.

9. Do you know of any research-based projects in local communities, institutions or on national levels, where ‘care’ is central? Please describe

Yes: there are so many! Our research group carries out a rich variety of practice-based care ethical projects in close collaboration with several Dutch cities, residential elderly care institutions, hospitals, for-profit organisations (like a pharmacy) and communities. Most of these projects result in peer-reviewed publications as well. One example is a large Dutch elderly care organization that aims to work according to relation centered care. We facilitated an action-research project, based on a care ethical stance, to guide participants towards new understandings on relation centered care.

10. The aim of the consortium is to further develop care ethics internationally by creating connections between people who are involved in this interdisciplinary field, both in scientific and societal realms. Do you have any recommendations for us?

I would especially like to build bridges between conceptually and empirically oriented care ethicists, to develop international research grant proposals together. I believe that by increasing our practice based work, we will put care ethics more centrally on the societal agenda.

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Elena Pulcini

Interview with Elena Pulcini, Department of Political and Social Sciences (DSPS), University of Florence, Italy.

1. Where are you working at this moment?

I am a full professor of Social philosophy at the Florence University, DSPS. I teach at the Department of Philosophy in Florence.

2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to care ethics?

The starting point for my main research path is a critique of modern individualism (the figure of homo oeconomicus) from two fundamental perspectives: the role of the passions in forming the subject and social bond, and the idea of difference (see my The Individual without Passions((Pulcini, E. (2012). The individual without passions: modern individualism and the loss of the social bond (K. Whittle, Trans.). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.)) ). Owing to its attention to both these aspects, the ethics of care immediately struck me as very promising, not just because of its critical approach to the dominant liberal model, but also because it allows us to think normatively of a different idea of subject. Subsequently, and above all, the ethics of care has given me a precious viewpoint from which to put forward a philosophy of the global age (see my Care of the World((Pulcini, E. (2013). Care of the world: fear, responsibility and justice in the global age (K. Whittle, Trans.). Dordrecht: Springer.)) ).

3. How did you get involved in care ethics?

I discovered the ethics of care years ago on reading the text by Gilligan, In a Different Voice, which over a long period I also discussed in feminist and university groups. I found points of contact with two theoretical perspectives that were already present in my reflection: the feminist theory of difference (very widespread in Italy), and gift theory, inspired by Marcel Mauss.

4. How would you describe care ethics?

I consider very convincing the vision that describes care theories, despite their differences, as a contextual ethics based on the importance of relationships and interdependence, attentive to the everyday and at the same time capable of affecting the social and political dimension. And, above all, I appreciate the idea of an ethics based on sentiments and emotions.
However, I think that this last point needs looking into further: understanding which emotions and feelings are at the basis of a caring attitude in my opinion enables us to free care from the risk of an altruistic and sentimentalist vision and to better define the idea of a “good” care. It is on this aspect that my present research concentrates.

5. What is the most important thing you learned from care ethics?

The fact that people do not just act on the basis of interest or rational calculation, but also on affections, empathy and the consciousness of relationships. A fact that is now also confirmed by neuroscience. In this sense I have found further confirmation of what I had already learnt from gift theory and its radical critique of utilitarian individualism.
However, in the ethics of care, there is an aspect that I consider particularly important: the accent that it places, in some of its expressions in particular (e.g. Kittay), on the human being’s constitutive vulnerability and people’s reciprocal dependence on each other.

6. Whom would you consider to be your most important teacher(s) and collaborators?

For the critique of modernity, the Frankfurt School. For the critique of the modern subject, I would like to cite feminism (especially the theory of difference), French deconstructionism (Derrida, Foucault), and the Collège de Sociologie (Bataille, Blanchot). The concept of care is not very present in philosophy, but it is possible to find some points of contact, as well as in Heidegger, also in authors who have greatly inspired my research path, such as Anders, Arendt, Lévinas, Jonas, Nancy, the communitarians (Taylor), and Mauss and the gift theorists (Caillé, Godbout); and last but not least the ethics of sympathy (Hume, Smith, Scheler etc.).

7. What publications do you consider the most important with regard to care ethics?

The works by Carol Gilligan, Joan Tronto, Eva Kittay, Virginia Held, Michael Slote, Sandra Laugier and Fiona Robinson.

8. Which of your own books/articles/projects should we learn from?

  • Care of the World. Fear, Responsibility and Justice in the Global Age (2013)((Pulcini, E. (2013). Care of the world: fear, responsibility and justice in the global age (K. Whittle, Trans.). Dordrecht: Springer.))
  • Donner le care (2012)((E. Pulcini (2012). Donner le care. Revue du Mauss Semestrielle, vol. 39, pp. 49-66, ISSN: 1247-4819, EN vers. Giving the care.))
  • Per una filosofia della cura, in ‘La società degli individui’ (2010)((E. Pulcini (2010). Per una filosofia della cura. La società degli individui, vol. 38, pp. 9-19. Angeli. ISSN: 1590-7031.))
  • Care et convivialisme. Un commentaire du Manifeste convivialiste (2014)((Pulcini, E. (2014). Care et convivialisme. Un commentaire du Manifeste convivialiste. Revue du Mauss, 43,(1), 41-43. doi: 10.3917/rdm.043.0041.))
  • Quelques questions sur le convivialisme (2014)((Pulcini, E. (2014). Quelques questions sur le convivialisme. Revue du Mauss, 43,(1), 253-257. doi: 10.3917/rdm.043.0253.))
  • What Emotions motivate care?, in ‘Emotions Review’ (2016)((Pulcini, E. (2016)  What Emotions Motivate Care? Emotion Review. Volume:9, issue:1, pages: 64-71. doi: 10.1177/1754073915615429.))
  • Between Vulnerability and Contamination. Rethinking the Self in the Global Age (2016), in ‘Genero y Direito’, Centro de Ciências Jurídicas – Univ. Federal da Paraíba.((Pulcini, E. (2016). Between Vulnerability and Contamination. Rethinking the Self in the Global Age. Genero y Direito. V. 5, no. 03. doi: 10.18351/2179-7137/ged.v5n3p30-48. ))
  • Cura ed emozioni (2017); co-editor with Sophie Bourgault. Bologna: Il Mulino 2017 (forthcoming)

9. What are important issues for care ethics in the future?

I believe it is important to stress, as I hinted above, the research in the neurosciences, as well as the rediscovery of empathy (from Edith Stein and Max Scheler to Jeremy Rifkin), in order to consolidate the paradigm of care in its universalistic potentialities. I consider it fundamental not just to extend this paradigm to both sexes, and to the social and political dimension (as many care theorists already do), but also to show how it can bear fruits in proposing an ethic for the global age (an ethic for the environment and future generations).
I think that the idea of care is not just decisive in order to show the partiality of the liberal and mainstream paradigm of justice, but also to integrate and enrich the concept of responsibility (which I try to do in my book Care of the World): with respect to the abstract principle of responsibility, care introduces the fundamental dimension of concrete commitment, work and practice

10. How may care ethics contribute to society as a whole, do you think?

I think that care should become a way of life, a way of dealing with all the aspects of life, from the private to the social to the political. Against the pathologies of the contemporary age (individualism, narcissism, indifference, violence) care is a revolutionary word that can transform our vision of the world, and our relationships with each other, as well as with nature and the environment.

11. Do you know of any research-based projects in local communities, institutions or on national levels, where ‘care’ is central? Please describe.

As a philosopher I am not very familiar with practical projects and initiatives based on care in Italy. Nevertheless, on several occasions I have been able to collaborate with various initiatives (local associations, training courses, volunteer communities) that seem to testify to a growing interest and liveliness in this perspective at a practical level too.

12. The aim of the consortium is to further develop care ethics internationally by creating connections between people who are involved in this interdisciplinary field, both in scientific and societal realms. Do you have any recommendations or wishes yourself?

I think that it is an invaluable initiative to spread the ethics of care, and that the consortium can be very useful in this endeavour. I would like to add that, even though some fundamental texts on this topic have been translated into Italian and recently the attention of Italian scholars has grown, in Italy the ethics of care has not yet been paid the attention that it deserves. I hope that the CERC will make a significant contribution to this.

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