The French Voice

The current discourse on the Ethics of Care in France has great potential to contribute to the broader international discussion surrounding the Ethics of Care.

The French discourse is mostly presented only in the French language, and therefore has remained hitherto largely unrecognised by the international community. In an attempt to expand the French voice to a broader audience editorial board members Tessa Smorenburg and Madzy Dekema of visited Paris (FR) to interview some of the leading scholarly experts in the field. In the coming months, will publish these interviews in the new series: The French Voice.

Firstly, as an introduction we will first present a brief description of the current and historical academic landscape of the Ethics of Care in France.

The dominant voice of justice

In 1982, Carol Gilligan presented her thesis ‘In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development’ ((2)), which is seen as one of the most influential books in the theory of the Ethics of Care. In 1986, her book was translated into the French language ((3)). Although it was widely disseminated and read at the time, it was considered to be radically feminist and was not acceptable to French academia. 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 slogans of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood) are still strongly presented in French society and lie at the foundation of the traditionally patriarchal French social paradigm. Therefore, a thesis such as A different Voice, regarding a feminist and somewhat neglected voice, which ran contrary to the common view was considered a sensitive and untouchable subject.

An ear for A Different Voice

Since the beginning of this century, there has been a widescale cultural shift towards greater gender equality in France facilitating the re-introduction of the ideas Ethics of Care, and thus a renewed academic interest in ‘a different voice’. For example; ‘Le souci des autres – éthique et politique du care’ (2008) ((3)) by Patricia Paperman and Sandra Laugier, and ‘L’ethique du Care’ (2011) ((1)) by Fabienne Brugère, books which are radically reshaping the current intellectual landscape are both strongly influenced by the work of Gilligan. These scholars could be considered to be a part of the first new generation of care ethicists in France, and are of great influence to the international Ethics of Care. Another scholar who is also of tremendous influence in the French discourse is the American Joan Tronto. Her book ‘Moral Boundaries’ (1993) was translated into the French language under the title ‘Un Monde vulnérable. Pour une politique du care’ (2009) ((5)). Gilligan and Tronto are still feature prominently in the Ethics of Care in France.

L’éthique du Care

Interestingly, in the French terminology of the Ethics of Care, scholars have adopted the word ‘Care’ quite literally from the English language; namely, L’éthique du Care. In the French Language the word ethics translates as éthique, but Care translates inadequately as: d’attention, de souci, de solicitude, or de soin. With this definition, the true practice of care with its dispositions and activities are lost. Therefore, to sustain the richness of its semantics and in order to make understandable the debates that have been developed regarding its definition, French academia has chosen to conserve the English term in its entirety; a practice quite uncommon in francaphone universities.

The Series: The French Voice

Further elaborating on the discourse of the Ethics of Care in France, the interviews that we will be highlighting attempt to extrapolate on the following topical issues:

  • the notions of vulnerability and dependency;
  • the theory of care in dialogue with a theory of justice;
  • the notion of care discussed from a political perspective;
  • the relational positions of care receiver and caregiver;
  • the issues of migrant crisis and neo-populism;
  • empirical research on several topics.

The first edition of The French Voice is orientated towards the French scholars; Sandra Laugier, Delphine Moreau and Vanessa Nurock who are contributing to the Ethics of Care in France.

Brugère, F.  L’éthique du Care. (2011). Presses Universitaires de France – PUF.

Gilligan, C. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. (1982) Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Gilligan, C. Une voix différente : pour une éthique du care. (1986) Traduction: Annick Kwiatek et Vanessa Nurock

Laugier, S. Le souci des autres – éthique et politique du care (coedited with Patricia Paperman), Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS, 2006

Tronto, J. Un Monde vulnérable. Pour une politique du care (2009), trad. de ‘Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care’ (1993)

Collages © Tessa Smorenburg 2019

About the author: Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg

Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg

Tessa Roberts-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 double position of ethical consultant, and 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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