Ready to give up on life

The lived experience of elderly people who feel life is completed and no longer worth living.

Els van Wijngaarden, Carlo Leget and Anne Goossensen ((University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, Netherlands))

In the Netherlands, there has been much political and public debate on the question whether elderly people, who are tired of life and who consider their life to be completed, should have legal options to ask for assisted dying.
So far there has been little research into the experiences of these elderly people. In order to develop deliberate policy and care that targets this group of elderly people, it is necessary to understand their lifeworld.
The aim of the research by dr. Els van Wijngaarden is to describe the phenomenon ‘life is completed and no longer worth living’ from a lifeworld perspective, as it is lived and experienced by elderly people.

Reflective lifeworld research design

Between April to December 2013, we conducted 25 in-depth interviews. A reflective lifeworld research design, drawing on the phenomenological tradition, was used during the data gathering and data analysis.

The essential meaning of the phenomenon is understood as ‘a tangle of inability and unwillingness to connect to one’s actual life’, characterized by a permanently lived tension: daily experiences seem incompatible with people’s expectations of life and their idea of whom they are.[pullquote]“Deep inside, you are very much alone. Totally, totally alone”[/pullquote]

While feeling more and more disconnected to life, a yearning desire to end life is strengthened. The experience is further explicated in its five constituents:

  1. a sense of aching loneliness;
  2. the pain of not mattering;
  3. the inability to express oneself;
  4. multidimensional tiredness; and
  5. a sense of aversion towards feared dependence.

This article provides evocative and empathic lifeworld descriptions contributing to a deeper understanding of these elderly people and raises questions about a close association between death wishes and depression in this sample.

E. van Wijngaarden et al. / Social Science & Medicine 138 (2015) 257e264.
Doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.05.015

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Utrecht Care Ethics

Care ethics is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry, which is driven by societal questions. Since the beginning of the 1980s, in this field various movements and disciplines have an interdisciplinary conversation, among which philosophy, ethics, social sciences, political and policy sciences, and nursing sciences.

The contribution made by the research group at the University of Humanistic Studies is a specific form of ethics. The key question of the Utrecht Care Ethics is: What is good care, given this particular situation? In order to answer this question we use a theoretical framework, which functions as a multifocal interpretative lens.

Theoretical framework

The theoretical framework is built around the concept of care, which is broadly understood. Caring is primarily seen as a social and political practice. This means that people continuously attune to others and themselves, in professional settings or otherwise, and always in an organised society. People ‘attune’ in order to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that they can live in it as well as possible. In practices the morally good can emerge and be experienced by those involved. In this process those who receive care play a crucial role.

The theoretical framework, built around the concept of care, is fed by two sources. On the one hand, the interdisciplinary discussions known as ethics of care, which run for more than thirty years now, and various forms of empirical research on the other.

Conceptual and empirical research

These two sources, conceptual and empirical research, are in a dialectical relation to each other. Conceptual and theoretical insights are being questioned and enriched by empirical research and vice versa. In other words: we have a normatively loaded care ethical theory that is simultaneously used as a theoretical framework and as a hypothesis that is tested and adapted on the basis of empirical research and theoretical reflection.[pullquote]What is good care, given this particular situation?[/pullquote]

Within the theoretical framework a number of developed concepts (‘critical insights’) are guiding, such as relationality, contextuality, affectivity, practices, vulnerability, bodiliness, attention to power and position, and meaning.

Methodological toolkit

The empirical research methods used in Care Ethics at the University of Humanistic Studies focus on lived experiences, practices of care, and the way society is organised (the political-ethical dimension). The methodological toolkit, which is used and developed further for this goal, contains the following methods: phenomenology, narrative analysis, discourse analysis, institutional and auto-ethnography, visual data-analysis, and responsive evaluation.

Epistemological position

Summarizing: the theoretical framework, drawing upon the above mentioned ‘critical insights’, directs the empirical research approaches towards the lived experiences of those who are involved in caring practices, on these practices as such and/or their political context. In this way(s) insights are gained about the morally good that emerges here.

Thus, the epistemological position of the Care Ethics research group can be described as expressive-collaborative and embodied. We only get access to the good when we relate different positions, perspectives and types of knowledge to each other, by being in dialogue and using participatory types of research.

CERC Launch

Joan Tronto and Carlo Leget launch Care Ethics Research Consortium (CERC)

Prof. Tronto is one of care ethics’ pioneers and an internationally recognized political theorist; Prof. Leget is chair of the Dutch Care Ethics group at the University of Humanistic Studies (UHS) in the Netherlands, the place where a Master in Care Ethics is being taught. Tronto presently holds a honorary doctorate at this university. Springing from this collaboration, the consortium will be based at the University of Humanistic Studies. Furthermore, the consortium will build on the European network of care ethical scholars that has been developed over the past few years.[pullquote]We do it in a care ethical way: we build the consortium from what there is already, building upon existing relations. – Carlo Leget[/pullquote]

Up to date, there is no consortium in the world that aims to connect scholars who work in the field of the ethics of care and care theory. Therefore, this venture is seen as a potentially valuable contribution to the field of research in the ethics of care worldwide. The initiators aim for a close collaboration with other parties (also non-European) as to ensure shared ownership and commitment.

The International Care Ethical Research Consortium is envisioned to function as an epicenter where scientists from a rich variety of continents (Europe, North-America, Africa, Asia) meet each other. As such, the consortium can be seen as a:

  • Clearing house: where ideas and research projects or publications are negotiated and carried out;
  • Meeting space: to freely explore and connect emerging insights with colleagues during conferences and shared publications or to explore possibilities for visiting scholarships;
  • Knowledge platform: to systematically gather, connect and share critical insights with each other, students, the world.[pullquote]There are a lot of possibilities, so this is an invitation to you.- Joan Tronto[/pullquote]

Care ethical scholars who are interested to join the International Care Ethical Research Consortium can contact Prof. Joan Tronto (, Prof. dr. Carlo Leget ( , Dr. Inge van Nistelrooij (, and/or Dr. Merel Visse (

Who cares? Caring with technology

‘Who?’, put short and simple, sounds rather banal, but has turned out to be a missing question in current debates about future perspectives of care arrangements in Germany for the („more and more demented“) elderly. Who cares for whom – concretely, day to day with attention and competence since we are facing a huge care gap from the side of the care-givers: While the number of future care-receivers is doubling, the amount of potential care-givers is declining (Klie 2014; Kohlen 2010).

Over the last couple of months I have been observing a discourse in politics and academia in Germany that shows an excitement about technological advancement in home care and which is supposed to secure the elderly in their home despite certain diagnostic signs and self-perceptions of frailty. Nevertheless, as studies have revealed (see especially Alistair Niemeijer 2015, Jeannette Pols 2012) the use of technology is arranged and continuously re-arranged by somebody.

Home Care

In home care, the cyclic process of integrating technology is mostly done by nurses who keep an eye on how patients handle the self-made measurements on their body and do the interpretation. In her ethnographic studies, Jeannette Pols (2012) shows how nurses and patients re-shape care when they start using telecare devices. Actual care practices employing surveillance technology do not resemble the hopes of the industry and policy makers. Surveillance technology cannot substitute care practitioners and it is not known whether there will be new challenges including pressing ethical questions facing “good” practices as we can learn from Alistair Niemeijer’s study (2015).

Last week after my lecture on Ethics, care and gender, students handed in their essays about the topic. While reading the essays over the last days I realized that the question “who is taking care of whom in the future?” was something they have not come across before. One student put it like this: “In order to prepare the future of home care we need to consider different structural formats, that is to say, what are possible arrangements; and who is supposed and willing to do the care work” (Theresa Wied).


Right now, we know: Not only the care-receivers are mostly women, but also the care-givers. In home-care as well as in the elderly homes, two out of three carers are women. Among the care-givers who do informal care – without support from professional care practitioners – are more than 70% female and less than 30% male. Professional home care is done nearly only by female nurses (90%) and the numbers are closely the same when we look at the female care givers in nursing homes (Schneekloth 2006, Kohlen 2010).

One concluding thought: to engage with current scholarly work as well as political statements by policy makers on care and technology is to enter different discussions and see how is dealt with the who- questions. “Thinking from women’s lives” (Harding 1991) in which care often occupies an important place through the life span might be a fruitful idea.


Practice Theories Conference 2014

On September 24th and 25th 2014 the Graduate School of the University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, the Netherlands presented a two-day conference on Practice Theories entitled ‘An Inquiry into theories of practice: Rethinking actors, materiality and organisations’.

During this conference central issues raised by practice theories were explored and discussed. The conference was a joint effort to reflect on our own practices as researchers in order to develop a stronger methodological awareness about knowledge creation as social practice.

Practice theories conceive actions of people as part of a practice, a larger set of activities. This means, for instance, that organisations are not regarded as entities but as an assembly of practices. In interaction, people ‘carry’ different practices. Practice theory gives us an alternative view on practitioners as well.
Not only people, but also material ‘objects’ are interacting, and therefore not ‘just objects’. Knowledge emerges from within interactive practices and theories of practice concentrate on the ethos of these practices. Practice theories offer another view on the social, valuing differences.

Key note speakers

Two leading key note speakers, prof. Davide Nicolini (University of Warwick, GB) and prof. Robert Schmidt (Eichstatt University, Germany), presented their thoughts and views on Practice Theories.

Prof. Dr. Davide Nicolini from the University of Warwick, GB. He discussed practice theories in
plural and the idea that practice theory is not a (new) school. The ‘family resemblances’ in the theories of practice however do offer explanatory power that other approaches were not able to offer.

Prof. Robert Schmidt from Eichstatt University, Germany. He explained what praxeology is about, drawing on Bourdieu and taking praxeology as a research strategy. Praxeology is a game changer with regard to several ethical and sociological approaches.

Both share a vivid interest with researchers at the University of Humanistic Studies in complex organisations, and thorough qualitative and conceptual research.

All lectures from the conference ‘An Inquiry into theories of practice: Rethinking actors, materiality and organisations’, organised by the Graduate School of the University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, the Netherlands on September 24th and 25th 2014, are available on the next page.

Short Interviews

Sophie Bourgault

Interview with dr. Sophie Bourgault, director of the axis Ethics of Care and Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa.

1. Where are you working at this moment?

I teach political theory at the University of Ottawa, Canada.

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

Some of my recent publications have considered the ethics of hospitality (whether articulated in some ancient Greek political thought, in French Enlightenment sources or in contemporary political theory).  In all three cases, I was struck by the affinities between the ethics of care and the ethics of hospitality (both attach great importance to empathy, openness to alterity, attentiveness, etc.).
But rather than claim that both ethics are more or less about the same thing, I have argued that the ethics of care is a powerful critical tool with which to reexamine accounts of hospitality ethics (too many are insufficiently attentive to the heavily gendered dimensions of hospitality).
Also, much of my work in the last three years has concerned itself with the political thought of Simone Weil and Hannah Arendt, two thinkers who are often invoked in the literature on care as you know.

3. How did you get involved into the ethics of care?

During my doctoral studies, I had already spent some time writing on the question of whether an ethics of care could be a truly feminist ethics (I answered in the affirmative then and I am still convinced that this answer was the correct one).  But then I largely put that literature aside as I wrote my doctoral thesis.  It is only five years later, at the University of Ottawa, that I returned to care ethics.  What largely drew me back was my work on Simone Weil (and more specifically, her understanding of love/compassion and her account of human needs and political obligations).

4. How would you define ethics of care?

If I had to define it most simply, I would say that it is an ethics that gives pride of place to the fundamental vulnerability and interdependence that are constitutive of the human being.  It is also an ethics that attaches great weight to particulars, contexts, and relationships in moral and political judgment. It is an ethics that places human needs (rather then rights) at the forefront of its account of socio-political life, and it is an ethics that is primarily concerned (as Carol Gilligan’s early work showed well) with answering the following question: “how should I respond?” (instead of ‘what is right?’).

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

I think that one of the most important things the ethics of care have offered since Gilligan is a rich and original conception of voice. It is a highly relational account that attaches a great deal of importance to attentive listening, to hearing. As I argued last year in a talk on care, I think that the ethics of care profoundly challenges our logocentric, Aristotelian tradition—a tradition that has assigned great importance to speaking, and almost none to genuine listening.

Here is one of the chief ideas of Simone Weil, who insisted repeatedly during her short life that social justice and a decent, meaningful civic life was impossible without genuine, active listening.  While this might strike some as a platitude, I would suggest that theorizing listening and making listening central to democratic life today is really far from obvious and that it is a great challenge.

6. Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?

There have been so many.  To name a few: I’ve learned a great deal from Fiona Robinson, Patricia Paperman, Pascale Molinier, Sandra Laugier, Fabienne Brugère, Carol Gilligan, Elena Pulcini and Joan Tronto.  More recently, I’ve also taken a great deal of interest in the work of Marie Garrau and Alice LeGoff, who have, as you know, worked on orchestrating an exciting (if not entirely unproblematic) dialogue between neo-republicanism and care ethics.

7. What works in the ethics of care do you see as the most important?

Like countless others, I think that Gilligan’s In a Different Voice was the pivotal work in the development of the ethics of care. And so was Joan Tronto’s Moral Boundaries. It is unfortunate that Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking has fallen off the radar (I think it is a book that has been misunderstood and that it would be worth revisiting).

8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?

I suppose that in order to understand why I’m convinced that care theorists should return to Simone Weil (not for her concept of attention but for her account of human needs and her critique of rights discourse), they should read my piece ‘Beyond the saint and the red virgin: Simone Weil as feminist theorist of care’ ((Sophie Bourgault. (2014). Beyond the Saint and the Red Virgin: Simone Weil as Feminist Theorist of Care. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 35(2), 1-27. )).  I also have a forthcoming (2015) edited volume on the ethics and politics of care (co-edited with Julie Perreault), which would allow you to appreciate the wonderful and diverse work done on care in French-speaking Canada.

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

As I have argued a few times in the past, I think that care theorists should take a much closer look at the question of institutions -including bureaucratic ones. My colleague Julie Perreault is involved in a great project which I also think would be worthy of a lot more attention by care theorists all over the world; establishing a conversation between care feminism and aboriginal feminism.

10. Our ambition is to promote ethics of care nationally and internationally. Do you have any recommendations or wishes?

I think that this is a wonderful project! I will admit that I’m particularly excited about the fact that your network will likely overcome the linguistic divides that have affected care research in Europe and North American. Hopefully, your network and University will manage to bring together, on a fairly regular basis,  researchers from all over the world.

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Fiona Robinson

1. Where are you working at this moment?

I just completed a first draft of a chapter for a new edited collection, Care Ethics and Political Theory (2015).  It is edited by Maurice Hamington and Daniel Engster and will be published by Oxford University Press.  My chapter is called ‘Care Ethics and the Future of Feminism’, and it addresses care ethics as a basis for feminist theory and practice in the contemporary context of neoliberalism.  I am excited about the book, as it brings together many wonderful care ethicists, including Joan Tronto, Virginia Held, and Margaret Walker, to name just a few.

I have also recently completed a first draft of a policy paper for the Canadian policy think tank – IRPP, or Institute for Research in Public Policy.  The paper addresses our assumptions about the nature of care, vulnerability and dependency related to the issue of elder care. Finally, I am writing a paper – ultimately destined to be another book chapter – on care ethics and the politics of recognition in the international context.  This is somewhat new territory for me so it is proving to be a challenge.

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

My research addresses the ethics of care in the context of global politics.  Within this broad idea, I have a number of different interests.  My first book (1999) was a preliminary, and largely theoretical, exploration of the relevance of care ethics to global politics or ‘International Relations’.  Since then I have developed this idea in relation to a number of different themes – human rights, labor rights, poverty, global justice and ‘ethical globalization’.  My most recent book (2011) considers ‘care’ as a theoretical and practical basis for building a new approach to human security.  In 2011 I also published another book – a co-edited collection (with Rianne Mahon) — on care ethics and social policy.  This book looks directly at care work in a transnational context and is explicitly aimed at bringing together the ‘ethics’ and ‘policy’ literature on care.

3. How did you get involved in the care ethics?

I have always been interested in questions of moral responsibility across borders.  After my undergraduate degree in Political Studies and English Literature, I did an MA in Development Studies.  Finding this to be too ‘policy-oriented’ I went on to a PhD, where my research focused on ethics and global justice.  I was very dissatisfied with the literature on global justice, most of which I found to be very abstract, individualist, contractualist and apolitical. After reading Carol Gilligan and other works on care ethics, I began to consider the possibilities of this paradigm for transnational or global questions – primarily questions of inequality and poverty.

4. How would you define care ethics?

I would define the ethics of care a moral disposition and set of practices that revolve around an understanding of the self as constituted by relations with others.  Care ethics presents responsibilities and practices of care as the substance of morality and reveals the extent to which the prevalence of women in widely undervalued caring positions is a social construction rather than a ‘natural’ feature of femininity.  Politically, the ethics of care seeks solutions to problems related to the giving and receiving of care that are nonexploitative and equitable.  I see care ethics not primarily as a normative theory, but as a feminist critical theory.  Because it fundamentally challenges the gendered public-private dichotomy, care ethics disrupts and challenges historically-constructed gender norms, roles and power relations.

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

I have learned that ‘ethics’ can never stand apart from politics.  I have also learned that the ability to listen properly to others and to develop patience are a key part of what it means to ‘act morally’ to and with others.

6. Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?

I have learned so much from reading the work of Carol Gilligan, Sara Ruddick, Joan Tronto, Virginia Held, Carol Gould and Margaret Urban Walker, among others. Virginia, Joan and Carol have offered me great encouragement and support over the years.  My fellow ‘International Relations’ scholar Kim Hutchings, at the London School of Economics, does wonderful work from which I have learned a great deal.

7. What works in the ethics of care do you see as the most important?

It is difficult to name only a few.  If pressed, I would say Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking, Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice, and  Joan Tronto’s Moral Boundaries.

8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?

My first book (1999) – Globalizing Care:  Ethics, Feminist Theory and International Relations – was really the first sustained attempt tot hink about the ethics of care in the context of international or global politics.  So for that reason, I think it is important.

I see my most recent book (2011), The Ethics of Care:  A Feminist Approach to Human Security, as continuing where that book left off.   Because it seeks to apply the ideas of care ethics to important transnational political issues – the environment, HIV/aids, peacebuilding, women’s work in the global political economy – I think that it may be of interest to students and scholars in a wide range of disciplines.

I still recommend to students one of my oldest pieces (1998) – ‘The limits of a rights-based approach to international ethics’ in Tony Evans, ed., Human Rights Fifty Years On.

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

I am increasingly convinced that there should be sustained attention by care ethicists to the effects of neoliberalism and the increasing financialization of both global politics and our daily lives.

10. In Utrecht our ambition is to promote care ethics nationally and internationally. Do you have any recommendations or wishes?

Your organization and website are wonderful.  It is important to bring together scholars working on different aspects of care ethics.  I think that the next challenge is to introduce the ideas of care ethics to a wider audience – both within academia and beyond.

Image: Robinson at CGEP (2013)
Published originally at (2014)

Eva Feder Kittay

Interview with Eva Feder Kittay, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, at the Department of Philosophyat Stony Brook University, New York. 

1. Where are you working at this moment?

I am at Stony Brook University, where I have been since 1979.

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

I am working on a number of projects, some are directly on the ethics of care and some are in the area of philosophy and disability—especially cognitive disability—which is also deeply informed by the ethics of care. The work in the ethics of care includes a piece I will be writing on how to think about a politics in which the first virtue is care. Joan Tronto’s latest book promises to be an exercise in just this line of thought. The work of numerous scholars has shown the many ways in which care is relevant to realms outside the domain of the intimate and the domestic. But an ethics of care is an ethic, not a politics. It is still concerned with relations individuals bear to individuals not with the institutional structures and forms that are the concern of politics. How should we think about institutional structures when we consider the first virtue of social organization to be care rather than justice? What sorts of institutions can foster caring relationships? What sorts of institutions are indifferent or even hostile to promoting them?

Answers to these questions require a genuinely normative conception of care. If care is to be a normative conception, we should not be able to speak of such a thing as “too much care” any more than we can speak of “too much justice.” Uses of the term “care” that countenance care as overweaning or paternalistic or merely a “natural disposition” fall outside the normative sense. This is not to say that we never speak about care in such ways, nor that a normative conception cannot build on a moral psychology that includes natural human capacities to respond empathetically to others. But if an ethic of care is to be a true ethic that guides us and helps us evaluate actions are good or morally desirable ones and steers us away from those that are harmful or gratuitously hurtful, and if we are to build institutions that promote the values inherent in a true ethic of care, then we need to sort out the normative sense of care—that is, those that are prescriptive, that tell us what we ought to do to act in a caring way.

Such a notion of care can perhaps best be approached from what Nel Noddings called “the completion of care.” Noddings, along with Tronto spoke of an aspect of care that few others have pursued. Tronto called it the fourth phase of care, the receiving of care, while Noddings spoke of care needing to be completed in the other. This is a profoundly important aspect of care that has been glossed over and that can, I believe help us identify the truly normative sense of care. If care must be received as care by the one cared for, then many things that we sometimes identify with care, such as caring intentions or affect will be insufficient to be care. If care needs to be completed in the other, then actions that are overweaning or paternalistic will not be taken us as something desirable—as something that is really caring—by the cared for. The project to take up the consequences of “the completion of care” is then another project I am engaged with.

And finally, a third project I am continuing to work on is the global care chains, about which I have written several articles. I have just completed a third piece on the topic that I call “The Body as the Place of Care.” I am working with a group on Care and Place and my thinking about migrant carework is being informed by the study of the relationship between Care and Place.

The work on disability that I am now doing is a manuscript tentatively entitled “Disabled Minds and Things That Matter: Lessons Toward a Humbler Philosophy.” In this work I am pulling together the themes that have emerged in my essays as I have confront traditional philosophical thought with the fact of cognitively disabled individuals. My thinking here is grounded in an ethics of care. Questions such as the dignity of people with cognitive impairments, the personhood of people with severe cognitive disability and justice toward the cognitively disabled on the role of care in human social life and in creating us as the relational beings we are ones that I treat using an ethics of care.

In addition I will be doing a paper on disparities of health care resources directed at the disabled. This is a new concern, but it comes out of the work on the efforts of some to reduce the moral status of people with cognitive disabilities and there is a danger that this will result in cut backs to people with these disabilities.

3. How did you get involved in the ethics of care?

I have been interested in feminist philosophy from its inception. I taught my first course in feminist philosophy in 1978 when there were only about five books on the subject, one of which was The Second Sex. I worked in the philosophy of language, and had not studied much ethics in graduate school because I found the sort of ethics being done then, mostly analytic metaethics, not interesting to me. Nonetheless the reason I first got interested in philosophy was because of my interest in ethics.

When Gilligan published “In a Different Voice” I asked my friend Diana Meyers, who worked in ethics, to help me put together a conference in which moral philosophers and feminist philosophers would look at the proposition that there was an ethics of care that philosophers had neglected. The conference issued in what was a ground-breaking collection, Women and Moral Theory. At that point, I was not yet ready to write in the area because I felt I was insufficiently schooled in ethics. But I taught the material regularly and wrote in the area of feminist philosophy. An invitation to give a talk on the “Elusiveness of Equality” plunged me into the literature on equality and I began to see the relevance of the relational approach to ethics that an ethics of care presented.

Equality, I saw, has been elusive to women because women continued to do the work of care even as they entered the workplace, and neither men, nor accommodations in the workplace, eased the traditional work of caregiving for women. Women accepted their caregiving obligations because they had a stronger sense of responsibility to do this work; they had a more abiding ethic of care which they did not give up as they joined the world of men, a world created upon, and without the recognition of, women’s work of care—and most especially care of dependents. Women caring for dependents made women dependent and unable to function and compete on par with the “independent” unencumbered men. In order to understand the dynamics and the place of care and an ethic of care in allowing women to, as Beauvoir writes, “share the world in equality,” I had to think through important conceptions in an ethics of care: the asymmetric relationships, the relational self, the relationship of care and justice, and so forth.

4. How would you define ethics of care?

An ethics of care takes caring relationships as a morally fundamental form of relationship and value. The moral agent is a caring self, who can look past her own immediate needs and desires and takes on the cares of the other as her own. An ethics of care sees the affective connection between people as prior to a calculative reason that binds self-interested person. An ethics of care is fundamentally other-directed, but it is an ethic that understands that our own well-being is never entirely independent of the well-being of the other. An ethics of care understands responsibility to be bound by the connection to and an understanding of the needs and wants of the other. Asymmetrical and partial relations are as morally relevant as symmetrical and impartial ones and the mode of deliberation at once respects both emotional responses as well as rational considerations.

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

Eva Feder Kittay
Eva Feder Kittay

An ethics of care allowed me to make sense of how my mother could be as good a person as she was given that she failed to personify the rational impartial moral deliberator that I had learned to prize in my readings in philosophy. My father, also a good man, answered to those criteria, but in some ways my mother was generous with herself, and more giving (although her political judgment was often off). Not untill I read Gilligan did I see why there was such a dissonance between the moral conception of the person as I understood it philosophically, and the fact of my mother’s moral character. In addition, an ethics of care has given me another way of seeing how my own disabled daughter fits into the moral universe. I never doubted she did, but the conceptions at hand were not helpful in allowing me to identify her place in any fully articulated philosophical scheme.

6. Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?

Although there has been wonderful work done in care theory, I keep going back to Gilligan and Sara Ruddick whose initial insights continue to yield fruit.

7. What works in the ethics of care do you see as the most important?

To enumerate a list would inevitably leave out work that is equally important. I don’t like to play the “most important” game.

8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?

Well, Love’s Labor is still a good statement of my fundamental vision. But I have done much else since then. Much of it is also connected to my work on issues of disability. Woman and Moral Theory, although old, is still chock full of good things. I am very proud of The Subject of Care that I coedited with Ellen Feder. Among my articles I would note:

  • Not My Way, Sesha, Your Way, Slowly: ‘Maternal Thinking’ in the Raising of a Child with Profound Intellectual Disabilities.” In Mother Trouble: Legal Theorists, Philosophers and Theologians Reflect on Dilemmas of Parenting. Edited by Julia Hanisberg and Sara Ruddick. New York: Beacon Press, 1999, pp.3-27.
  • “At Home with My Daughter: Reflections on Olmstead v. L. C. and E. W.” In Americans With Disabilities: Exploring Implications of the Law for Individuals and Institutions. Edited by Leslie Francis and Anita Silvers, Rouledge, 2000.
  • “Relationality, Personhood, and Peter Singer on the Fate of Severely Impaired Infants.” APA Newsletter on Philosophy and Medicine, Winter 2000. Reprinted in Pediatric Bioethics, edited by Geoffrey Miller, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2009.
  • “When Care is Just and Justice is Caring: The Case of the Care for the Mentally Retarded” Public Culture, vol. 13, no. 3, Special issue “The Critical Limits of Embodiment: Reflections on Disability Criticism.” September 2001, pp. 557-579. Reprinted in Kittay and Feder, The Subject of Care.
  • “On the Margins of Moral Personhood,” Ethics, October 2006, 100-131. Reprinted in Journal Of Bioethical Inquiry (2008) Volume: 5, Issue: March, Publisher: Springer Netherlands, Pages: 137-156
  • “Equality, Dignity and Disability” in Mary Ann Lyons and Fionnuala Waldron (eds.) (2005) Perspectives on Equality The Second Seamus Heaney Lectures. Dublin: The Liffey Press, pp. 95-122.
  • “Dependency, Difference, and Global Ethic of Longterm Care” (with Bruce Jennings and Angela Wasunna) The Journal of Political Philosophy, vol. 13 (2005), 443-469. Reprinted in Philosophy, Politics & Society, 8th Series (Population & Political Theory), ed. James S Fishkin and Robert E Goodin (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008 or 9). Reprinted in the Taiwanese Journal of Social Welfare, 2006.
  • “Beyond Autonomy and Paternalism,” Denier & T. Vandevelde, editor, Autonomy and Paternalism. Between Independence and Good Intentions, Leuven: Peeters, 2006, pp 1-29.
  • “A Tribute to an Idea: The Completion of Care” in Letters to Nel Noddings: Mother,Teacher, Scholar, Friend. ed. Robert Lake, Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2011.
  • “The Ethics of Care, Dependence and Disability “Getting from Here to There: Claiming Justice for People with Severe Cognitive Disabilities” in Rosamund Rhodes, Margaret Battin P., and Anita Silvers, editors, Medicine and Social Justice: Essays on the Distribution of Health Care, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press: New York (2012), pp. 313-324.
  • “The Moral Harm of Migrant Carework: Realizing a Global Right to Care” Polity volume, Gender & Global Justice. (revised and reprinted from Philosophical Topics, vol. 37, no. 1, Spring 2010, pp. 53-73) forthcoming
  • “Getting from Here to There: Claiming Justice for People with Severe Cognitive Disabilities” in Rosamund Rhodes, Margaret Battin P., and Anita Silvers, editors, Medicine and Social Justice: Essays on the Distribution of Health Care, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press: New York (2012), pp. 313-324.

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

A critical question, of course, is how to see an ethics of care as a global ethics and a politics. I also think it is important to understand the place of respect within an ethics of care. As I said, I think that most fundamentally we need to articulate the normative heart of care and to prune away those senses of care that come with its being borne of a practice done by those who are in a subordinate relatively powerless position. I think we need to understand the relationship between care and violence in order to see how the first aspect of our nature can be promoted and the second curbed. And finally, I think we need to connect an ethic of care to the struggles of marginalized, subordinated and endangered others. Understanding the self relationally has a great deal of power to help release us from oppressive conditions and oppressive practices. We need to develop an ethics of care in these directions.

10. It is our ambition to promote ethics of care nationally and internationally. Do you have any recommendations or wishes?

Encourage care ethicists to bring their considerations to bear on questions of disability, sexual minorities, questions of immigration and globalization. Encourage economists to come together with care ethicists to understand the economic structures that keep the work of caring as the responsibility of the disempowered. Encourage politicians to talk about issues of care. Engage in projects that help us to see what the best caring practices are for groups that find current practices unsatisfactory or oppressive.

? Eva Feder Kittay

Tula Brannelly

Interview with Tula Brannelly, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand.

1. Where are you working at this moment?

I currently work at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand in the School of Nursing. I have been at Massey since I emigrated from the UK in 2006. Previously I worked at the University of Birmingham, as a Research Fellow from 2003 – 2006 and was a PhD student there from 2000 – 2004.

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

My research is about facilitated participation and how people are enabled to participate in their own care. Broadly I am interested in the experiences of the implementation of health and social policies on marginalized groups, particularly older and younger people with mental health problems. My PhD, Citizenship and Care for People with Dementia, used ethics of care to understand how detention decisions were made with (or without) older people with dementia and their families.

More recently, I have considered drug and alcohol service provision for young people aged 12 – 16 in the same way. My current research, ‘Acts of Citizenship’ asks mental health service users and activists about influences on the outcomes of care, as well as identifying the issues that they think most need to change in practice as part of their change advocacy. Analysis in these projects uses care ethics to consider Tronto’s integrity of care and how that is experienced by people using services.

I have a practice background as a mental health nurse and that prompted my interest in the impact of care practices on people who use services. I once interviewed a nurse who had trained as I had in an asylum, and she recalled her training as a ‘catalogue of human rights abuses’. My research interest was shaped by my firsthand experience of seeing service provision as a lack of care, and equally that there are ample opportunities when care can happen.

3. How did you get involved into the ethics of care?

When I began my PhD research I was thinking about how people with dementia have or do not have rights, but rights based approaches reinforce that people are not able to have rights rather than answer the problems of trying to provide good care. Marian Barnes, who was also at the University of Birmingham at the time, gave me a copy of Joan Tronto’s Moral Boundaries and I instantly recognized the power of care ethics when considering experiences of marginalization.

4. How would you define ethics of care?

Ethics of care surfaces the essential role of care in society, and this includes who does care and who benefits from that care, both paid and unpaid. Ethics of care can be used to examine classed, gendered and racialised aspects of care. Ethics of care also provides a critical framework by which the intentions and realities of care can be assessed. Broadly, it is able to challenge overvalued notions of independence and autonomy and this is long overdue to quell some of the ferocity of neoliberalism.

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

The most important thing for me about ethics of care is that it provides a coherent and applicable framework for the consideration of ethics in practice. When I first read Moral Boundaries, I wondered why I never knew about ethics of care as a practitioner. So, as well as my research area, I teach ethics of care to experienced practitioners and they instantly ‘get it’ about the usefulness of ethics of care to articulate why and how care needs to occur in practice. Beyond the analysis of care practices, ethics of care begins to demystify how care can possibly be so undervalued.

6. Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?

Joan Tronto for Moral Boundaries (1993) and I am looking forward to the next edition; Selma Sevenhuijsen for both Trace analysis and her 1998 book Citizenship and the Ethics of Care. Feminist Considerations on Justice, Morality and Politics; and most recently Marian Barnes’ latest book Care in Everyday Life (2012).

7. What works in the ethics of care do you see as the most important?

In addition to those listed above I welcome the plethora of new publishing in the area in the special issues in 2010 and 2011 of the journals Ethics and Social Welfare and Nursing Ethics. It was fabulous to see hem and Pettersen’s work about acute mental health care.

8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?

Many of my publications are about the experiences of people with dementia and their families and more are in development about, for example, how responsiveness may be practiced when working with people with mental health problems. Another area of interest is the commonalities of care ethics and values practiced in Māori centered practice. An edited book is planned from the Critical Care conference in Brighton UK in September 2012 with Marian Barnes, Lizzie Ward and Nicki Ward.

  • Brannelly T, Boulton A and Te Hiini A (2013) A relationship between the ethics of care and Māori worldview – the place of relationality and care in Maori mental health service provision, Ethics and Social Welfare, DOI:10.1080/17496535.2013.764001.
  • Brannelly, T. (2011). Sustaining citizenship: People with dementia and the phenomenon of social death. Nursing Ethics. 18(5), 662-671
  • Brannelly, P. (2011). That others matter: The moral achievement – Care ethics and citizenship in practice with people with dementia. Ethics and Social Welfare 5(2), 210-216
  • Barnes, M., & Brannelly, T. (2008). Achieving care and social justice for people with dementia. Nursing Ethics. 15(3), 384-395
  • Brannelly, PM. (2006). Negotiating ethics in dementia care: An analysis of an ethic of care in practice. Dementia. 5(2), 197-212

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

I would like to see more discussion within the group of care ethicists to see how the theory is used and what people think could be added to it, so an inward facing discussion. Also an outwards facing discussion is required to get others on board to demystify the importance of care, interdependence and a critical review of care and who is cared for. One struggle seems to be getting the message across about the political impact of considering democracy and care.

10. Our ambition is to promote ethics of care nationally and internationally. Do you have any recommendations or wishes?

Thanks for the invite to contribute here and for the compilation of the other interviews which are fascinating. The Critical Care conference in September 2012 captured some of the current lively interest and dynamism about care ethics and the hope is to continue that conversation through the Global Care Ethics Network hosted on the website eSocSci. People with an interest in care ethics are invited to contribute to discussions about the development of care ethics and to spread the word about their work. If anyone wants to join the network please email me at eSocSci aims to foster engagement at all levels of social science, and is live from April 12th 2013.

Maurice Hamington

Interview with prof.dr. Maurice Hamington.

1. Where are you working at this moment?

I work at Metropolitan State University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, USA. My title is Associate Vice President of Academic Centers and Programs and I am a Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies.

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

My work with care has taken on three directions:

  1. Exploring the embodied nature of caring.
  2. Framing care as a performative endeavor.
  3. Applied aspects of care.

In Embodied Care (University of Illinois Press, 2004), I argued that human bodies facilitate caring and that our bodies contain prenoetic caring knowledge.  My most recent work, which builds on the notion of embodied care, frames care as performative and thus views care as more than an ethical theory but an ontological and epistemological theory as well.  Finally, an ongoing stream of my work has been to apply care theory to social and political policies and practices as in the anthologies, Socializing Care (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), Feminism and Hospitality (Lexington Books, 2010), and Applying Care to Business Ethics (Springer, 2011)

3. How did you get involved into the ethics of care?

I was first exposed to the theories during the course of study leading to my first Ph.D. in Religion and Social Ethics (University of Southern California, 1994) and then the focus of my second Ph.D. in Philosophy was developing the notion of embodied care.  If find care theory a compelling way to understand identity, knowledge creation, as well as morality.

4. How would you define ethics of care?

I prefer to think of “care theory” rather than the ethics of care.  The reason is that I find care does a different kind of work than other forms of ethics.  Rather than simply answering the question, “what is the right thing to do?”, care addresses what I know and who I am as well as how to act toward one another.  I view care as possessing elements of postmodernism in that it defies neat categories of understanding.

Care is fundamentally, an embodied, performative, and imaginative endeavor that has significant implications for what we know, who we are, and the nature of the good.

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

Ethics is more than rules, rights, or consequences.  We cannot address issues of morality without integrating issues of identity and epistemology as well.

6. Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?

Nel Noddings

7. What works in the ethics of care do you see as the most important?

  • Dalmiya, Vrinda, “Why Should Knowers Care?” Hypatia vol. 17, no. 1 (Winter 2002)
  • Noddings, Nel, The Maternal Factor: Two Paths to Morality (University of California Press, 2010).
  • Verducci, Susan, “A Moral Method? Thoughts on Cultivating Empathy Through Method Acting” Journal of Moral Education 29:1 2000.

8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?


  • Hamington, Maurice and Maureen Sander-Staudt, Eds., Applying Care Ethics to Business, Issues in Business Ethics Series, Springer, September 2011.
  • Hamington, Maurice, Ed., Feminism and Hospitality: Gender in the Host/Guest Relationship, Lexington Books (a Division of Rowman & Littlefield), August 2010.
  • Hamington, Maurice, and Dorothy C. Miller, Eds., Socializing Care: Feminist Ethics and Public Issues, Rowman and Littlefield, January 2006.
  • Hamington, Maurice, Embodied Care: Jane Addams, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Feminist Ethics, University of Illinois Press, September 2004.


  • Hamington, Maurice, “Caring, Journalism, and the Power of Particularism,” Expositions: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities, Fall 2011.
  • Hamington, Maurice, “Care Ethics and Corporeal Inquiry in Patient Relations,” International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics 5:1 (Spring 2012): 52-69.
  • Hamington, Maurice, “Liberté, Égalité, Sororité: How Care Ethics Informs Social Justice,” Social Philosophy Today, 26:1, 2011.
  • Hamington, Maurice, “Care Ethics, John Dewey’s ‘Dramatic Rehearsal’ and Moral Education,” Philosophy of Education Yearbook 2010.  Spring 2011.
  • Hamington, Maurice, “The Will to Care: Performance, Expectation, and Imagination,” Hypatia, 25:3, Summer 2010.
  • Hamington, Maurice, “Toward a Theory of Feminist Hospitality,” Feminist Formations (formerly National Women’s Studies Association Journal), 22:1, April 2010.
  • Hamington, Maurice, “Business is Not a Game: The Metaphoric Fallacy,” Journal of Business Ethics, 86:4, 2009.
  • Hamington, Maurice, “Learning Ethics from Our Relationships with Animals: Moral Imagination,” International Journal of Applied Ethics, 22:2, Fall 2008.
  • Hamington, Maurice, “Care Ethics and International Justice: The Cosmopolitanism of Jane Addams and Kwame Anthony Appiah,” Social Philosophy Today, 23, 2008.
  • Hamington, Maurice, “Touching the Other in Myself: Merleau-Ponty, Tactility, and Care Ethics,” Review Journal of Political Philosophy, 4:1, 2006.
  • Hamington, Maurice, “Jane Addams and the Politics of Embodied Care,” Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 15:2, Fall 2001.

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

Care theory needs to be more than an academic pursuit.  It is gaining popularity but only among some academics.  Care needs to be a social and political value that helps repair our world.  Traditional Western approaches to ethics are inadequate to address the challenges of our diverse social existence.

10. Our ambition is to promote ethics of care nationally and internationally. Do you have any recommendations or wishes?

I wish to be supportive. Your mission is much needed and I would like to see it be successful.