Interview with prof.dr. Carlo Leget, Chair Care Ethics, University of Humanistic Studies, The Netherlands.
1. Where are you working at this moment?
Since 2012 I am a full professor in Care Ethics at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, The Netherlands. At the same university I hold an endowed chair in Ethical and spiritual questions in palliative care, established by the Association Hospice Care Netherlands.
2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to care ethics?
My research is situated at the intersection between care ethics and spirituality or meaning, and my main area of expertise is in palliative care and end-of-life issues. In my view care practices are an important source for a meaningful life, and care ethics offers an excellent entrance to reflecting on meaning in a way that makes us aware of how the way we organize society has a great impact on what people experience.
One of my PhD-students e.g. interviewed older people who are tired with life – and who are the subject of a debate on euthanasia in my country – and was able to demonstrate that these people suffer from existential problems that are related to the way we have organized our society.
3. How did you get involved in care ethics?
I was trained as a theologian and during the writing of my PhD thesis on life and death in the theology of Thomas Aquinas I became more and more interested in ethics. I switched from theology to medical ethics, but I gradually became more and more critical to mainstream medical ethics. In 2009 I had the opportunity of switching to an associate professorship in care ethics and that has been a great inspiration ever since.
4. How would you define care ethics?
I see care ethics as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry to which many disciplines are contributing since the beginning of the 1980’s.
5. What is the most important thing you learned from care ethics?
I have a strong tendency to rationalize and abstract from the concrete messiness of life. That is why I was probably so attracted to the scholastic thinking of Aquinas – although getting to know him, I discovered that he is often misunderstood. What many people do not know e.g. is that he wrote the largest medieval treatise on emotions (passiones animae) in the Middle Ages.
When I was young, I was a typical ‘Jake’ kind of guy, and care ethics taught me to see the value of ‘Amy’s way’, to put it in terms of Gilligan’s book. Or to put it differently: epistemologically care ethics has turned my world upside down.
6. Whom would you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?
This is hard to tell, because I have learned so much from so many authors. In the Netherlands I think Annelies van Heijst has been a great inspiration. Internationally the three authors that have changed my way of looking of things are Carol Gilligan, Joan Tronto and Margaret Urban Walker.
7. What publications do you consider the most important with regard to care ethics?
Another hard question. For me personally the books of these four women have been very important: Professional Loving Care, In a Different Voice, Moral Boundaries, and Moral Understandings. After the impact of these books, authors I got to know afterwards seem to be less ground breaking. But I know that my thinking is also influenced by many others, like Maurice Hamington, Daniel Engster, Helen Kohlen, Fabienne Brugères and Sophie Bourgault, to name but a few.
8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?
I think I did a decent job in my paper ‘Analyzing dignity: a perspective form the ethics of care’ that was published in Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy in 2013. And more recently I wrote a paper with the colleagues of my department with the title: ‘Beyond demarcation: care ethics as an interdisciplinary field of enquiry’ which will be published in Nursing Ethics this year. And last week my latest book came out, Art of Living, Art of Dying. Spiritual Care for a Good Death. Although I am a little reluctant to call it a care ethics work, it is very much inspired by a care ethical approach.
9. What are important issues for care ethics in the future?
For me the great thing about care ethics is that it opens a space for interdisciplinary cooperation inspired by a common idea of the importance of creating a complex and life-sustaining web that makes the world a better place to live in, to quote freely from Joan Tronto’s and Berenice Fischer’s definition. Such a web involves all kinds of connections between disciplines and traditions, and for me the integration of empirical and theoretical research is very important. But also the possibility to connect different approaches like phenomenology, practice theory and political theory in order to create something that does justice to the richness of the concept of care.
10. How may care ethics contribute to society as a whole, do you think?
By taking part in societal debates in newspapers, radio, television and social media, and presenting people a different way of looking at the world. But also by educating students. I am very proud of the Master’s degree in care ethics we run at our university, where (mainly) professionals are introduced to care ethics. When they return to their jobs they are important ambassadors of a care ethical way of looking at the world.
11. Do you know of any research-based projects in local communities, institutions or on national levels, where ‘care’ is central? Please describe.
There are many projects that come to my mind, but not all of them have reflected well on what care is. One project I am involved in myself focuses at enabling patients and families who are involved in palliative care to share their thoughts and worries on an existential level. I think palliative care is a very interesting field for care ethical reflection, because it is all about dealing with relationships, corporeality, vulnerability, power relations and meaning or spirituality.
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 for us?
My recommendation is that it is important to travel and to meet people face to face. We cannot live by reading and writing alone: if we take central insights of care ethics like the importance of corporeality seriously, we must meet in person and experience the personal concerns behind our scientific work. Building a care ethical movement is about more than transporting ideas. It is also about building a living network of relations. From there we will develop further agenda’s and collaborations.