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.