Care Ethics in yet a Different Voice: Francophone Contributions

The edited anthology offers translations of important texts, published by francophone care ethics scholars since the early 2000s. This gives readers a glimpse of the diversity of French-language care scholarship, and its unwavering commitment to showing that care is fundamentally political.

A disturbing image emerges from the pages of Le Monde Magazine; an image of elegant precision, masculine power and control, class wealth and faded colonial grandeur of La République by the crisp black and white ads of sounding names like Chopard, Patek Philippe, Chanel, Renault.
The image is all the more disturbing, as in the streets also the
gilets jaunes are planning for their next rally and some streets in Paris, literally lined with little tents, have been cleared from these makeshift shelters for migrant sans-papiers by the French police.

This relevant anthology could not have been published at a more appropriate time.

Troubled reception

During the interviews made for this website’s series A French Voice, mention was made of the care-ethical voice in France having a hard time making itself heard. In her introduction to the series, Tessa Smorenburg remarks that the leading discourse in France was then, and is still to this day, dominated by the concept of justice, a notion which is greatly influenced by the works of David Hume (1711-1776) and John Rawls (1921-2002).This concept gained a foothold after the French Revolution in 1789, and the creed of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood) is still strongly present in French society, as it lies at the foundation of the traditionally patriarchal French social paradigm.

The Introduction to Care Ethics in yet a Different Voice: Francophone Contributions, edited by care-ethicists Sophie Bourgault and Frans Vosman, also makes mention of a troubled reception of care ethics: “In fact, one could suggest that the history of the reception of care ethics in France was overall a much more troubled one than in countries like the United States, Britain or Canada. […] Unlike most countries around the world, France had care ethics hotly debated in news media and by political figures.”

Irreconcilable with the French Republican model

When statements were made to the effect that using a care approach to rethink politics, solidarity and institutions, could constitute the basis of a new emancipatory project, a few of the reactions denounced this ‘caring society’ as a project simply irreconcilable with the French republican model, and as something that naively and dangerously called for a strong controlling state. For many scholars working on care in France, this public debate was compromised due to misunderstandings, prejudices, and masculinist, anti-feminist posturing. Later, with hindsight, many described the excesses in the debate as emblematic of a generalized discomfort with feminism and as a testimony of all there might be to lose for the priviliged, if care feminists did succeed in making the invaluable yet invisible care labour of so many a crucial matter for public debate.

Showcasing rich care scholarship

One of the objectives of the anthology, according to its Introduction, is to offer some critical reflection on this controversial reception history and to consider what might be behind these responses. Two of the authors in the first part of the volume offer reflections on the roots of resistance, still alive and well in some circles, to a care ethics and politics.
Yet the main intention of the publication is to showcase the rich care scholarship that has come out of the French-speaking world, France in particular, to readers without a command of the French language. It is a mere ‘glimpse’ however, because the anthology cannot be said to be exhaustive, nor can it be said to represent adequately the variety of research done by care theorists in several French-speaking communities. Still the volume might help to correct a unidirectionality in the exchanges between Francophone and Anglophone scholars working on care.

A tribute to Carol Gilligan

The title of the book is not only meant to captivate the view that there are distinctive elements in the French-speaking care ethics community. Also one of the striking elements of several French-speaking care scholars is how deeply and continuously influenced they have been by Carol Gilligan. Her work In a different voice was published in 1982 and translated into French in 1986. Gilligan demonstrated that women have another way of thinking morality than men. But Gilligan’s book was not only an argument about gender. She also contended that care ethics is an important concept that has too often been neglected.

Although it was widely disseminated and read at the time, it was considered to be radically feminist and not acceptable to French academia, considering the traditionally patriarchal French social paradigm. The concept as put forward in In a different voice, regarding a feminist and somewhat neglected voice, ran contrary to the common view and was considered a sensitive and untouchable subject.
Many care ethical publications have since drawn on Gilligan’s work. Vanessa Nurock devoted an entire volume to the work of the psychologist in 2010. On Mai 6 and 7 2020, Carol Gilligan will be one of the guests at a care-ethical conference in Paris.

Rich conversations

Many francophone contributions in care studies are explicit in their ideoligico-political commitments. How these commitments are to be translated into policies and political principles, varies from author to author. Yet the readers of the volume will appreciate the rich conversations proposed by French-speaking scholars over the years, seeking to place the ethics of care in dialogue with other fields of study, in search for ‘allies’ in several cases. In doing so French-speaking scholars have had recourse to authors that are not as commonly or heavily used in other care ethics communities, like Paul Ricoeur, Pierre Bourdieu or Michel Foucault.
The aim of the anthology is to present to English-speaking readers a number of important authors whose work offer valuable contributions to the ethics and politics of care.

Overview of the book

The first part of the volume offers some essays, critically reflecting on the controversies and debates that accompanied the introduction of care-ethics in French-speaking academia. But it also comprises reflections on the concepts of vulnerability and of the ordinary.

The first part contains essays by Sandra Laugier, Claude Gautier, Pascale Molinier, Patricia Paperman, Estelle Ferrarese and Naima Hamrouni.

In the second part of the anthology several essays place care ethics in conversation with various literatures and subfields of the social sciences and humanities. Many of the contributions not only show the resonances between the various bodies of literature and care ethics, but more broadly highlight the political and critical character of care ethics.

The second part contains essays by Marie Garrau, Sophie Bourgault, Solange Chavel, Aurélie Damamme, Vanessa Nurock, Fabienne Brugère and Monique Lanoix.

New vocabulary of ‘attention’

In her Foreword, Fiona Robinson writes “Finally, I am heartened by what Bourgault and Vosman described in their introduction as the tendency among French-speaking care ethicists to foreground ‘attention’ as a key feature of care ethics.”
Francophone care ethicists seem to have taken up the call for a new vocabulary of ‘attention’ – of noticing and attending to others’ needs – moving it squarely to the forefront of several discussions.
“How wonderful that this work will now be shared with a new audience. No doubt its influence will be large and lasting.”

Madzy Dekema


The tenth volume in the series Ethics of Care can be ordered directly via the publisher Peeters Publishers in Leuven.

See the Table of Contents here.

Peeters Publishers Louvain, Belgium
Year: 2020
ISBN: 978-90-429-4083-3
Pages: VI-335 p.

About the author: Webteam

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