Interview on February 12th, 2014
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. 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 is 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 ethics of care?
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, labour 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 coedited 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’ literatures on care.
3. How did you get involved into the ethics of care?
I have always been interested in questions of moral responsibilty 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 ethics of care?
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 — 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, 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, wormen’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 ethics of care 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 ethics of care 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.