Politics of the Ordinary – Care, Ethics and Forms of Life

The 11th volume in the Peeters Ethics of Care series is written by Sandra Laugier: Politics of the Ordinary – Care, Ethics and Forms of Life (2020). In the spring of 2019, our editors Tessa Smorenburg and Madzy Dekema, travelled to Paris (FR) to interview her about the book which was also the cornerstone of her key note speech in this year’s conference of the Care Ethics Research Consortium. Her plea is to use ordinary language philosophy as a basis for a re-definition of care ethics and to draw attention to the ordinary life as the focus of care in moral expression.

Due to safety restrictions concerning the current Corona pandemic, this year’s Care Ethics Research Consortium Decentering Ethics: Challenging privileges, building solidarities. (2021, May 3-7) was set on an alienating online platform. Participants were interacting via digital contact, sometimes seated in their own familiar chair (with an enormous book case as a backdrop); or with a cup of morning coffee in hand whilst on the other side of the world they were perceived and received by another participant with a warm after dinner glow.

Sandra Laugier received the honor to give the closing key note speech Care ethics as a return of ethics to ordinary life. (Le care comme retour de l’éthique à la vie ordinaire). The cornerstone of this key note speech was her latest international book Politics of the Ordinary – Care, Ethics and Forms of Life (2020), the 11th volume in the series Ethics of Care of Peeters Publishers (Leuven, BE). She lectured in her native French language, which was simultaneously translated into English (an interesting decision considering her plea for the attention to language).

The ordinary details of human life

In her book Sandra Laugier makes a connection between ordinary language philosophy, represented by Wittgenstein and Austin, and the ethics of care. It thus provides the basis for a re-definition of philosophy as attention to ordinary life, and care for moral expression.

According to Laugier, care is at once a practical response to specific needs and a sensitivity to the ordinary details of human life that matter. She postulates that the ordinary has been variously denied, undervalued, neglected – or simply not taken into account – in theoretical thought. She describes how this disdain stems from the gendered hierarchy of objects deemed worthy of intellectual research. One important aspect of ordinary language philosophy is its capacity to call our attention to human expressiveness through a feminist perspective.

Domestic and the female in the limelight

In the spring of 2019, our editors Tessa Smorenburg and Madzy Dekema, travelled to Paris (FR) to interview Laugier about the book. During this interview she elaborated on the importance of ordinary language and ordinary philosophy to show the relevance of ordinary life for ethical and political issues. Devaluation of ordinary life and ordinary language in philosophy, is in her words demonstrative of carelessness towards the ordinary and is for her illustrative of a fundamental under appreciation of the domestic sphere and the value of the female role there-in.

These convictions, already burgeoning in the pre-corona context, solidified and emerged fully formed during the pandemic. In her blog War on Care she clarifies: “It is indeed the lack of attention (of care) paid by governments over the last decade to all sectors in charge of the care and protection of citizens (health first and foremost, but also education, poverty, old age, disability) that makes now the fight against the Coronavirus so difficult”.

Care is inherently political

In her book Laugier proposes a paradigm shift in ethics, with a reorientation towards vulnerability and a shift from the ”just” to the ”important”. “The ethics of care makes it clear that even in a world that values autonomy so high, we still vitally depend on others. “Vulnerability is a political question, a fundamental aspect of human life,” she explains; “The ethics of care aims at acknowledging a whole portion of the common life which is systematically ignored in political discourse”.

During the conference, she reflected on the pandemic, and elaborated on the renewed relevance for the ethics of care: “Our lives where completely hidden, so many people were not involved and decisions were made from the medical arena”. It showed once more that care is inherently political: “what counts and who decides?” and is from an epistemological perspective, justified in its criticism of a privileged class of scholars within universities claiming knowledge of Carol Gilligan’s different voices. What is contained in the word: “Care. Is it their word or is it ours?”

About Sandra Laugier

Sandra Laugier is Professor of Philosophy at Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, Paris, France, and a Senior member of Institut Universitaire de France. She is Deputy Director of Institut des sciences juridique et philosophique de la Sorbonne (UMR 8103, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne et CNRS). She has extensively published on ordinary language philosophy (Wittgenstein, Austin), moral philosophy (moral perfectionism), gender studies (ethics of care), American philosophy (Cavell, Thoreau, Emerson), popular culture (film and TV series), and about democracy and civil disobedience.

About the author: Tessa Smorenburg

Tessa Smorenburg

Tessa Smorenburg (1987) graduated as a master in Ethics of Care and Policy at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht (NL) in 2015. She currently holds the position of policy advisor in the Centre on the Quality of Life and Survivorship, at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital in Amsterdam (NL). This centre accommodates the physical/psychosocial, supportive and survivorship care for cancer patients. As a sociotherapist she worked in direct contact with patients in psychiatric clinics. Her previous experience at TAAK brought her in contact with visual artists and care institutions to whom she provided an ethics of care perspective during research and project development for the programme “Art & Care”.

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