Association for Feminist Ethics and Social Theory Conference, Arizona, United States Of America, 17 - 20 October 2013
Care ethics has been defined as “an approach to morality that is relational, emotive, contextual, and lacking in a dependence on rules or formulaic considerations of consequences.”1 With its notable stress on relationality and expanded notion of responsibility, care ethics seems much compatible with Jane Addams’ pragmatist ethical project,2 as she emphasizes our inherent connectedness to one another in a pluralist democratic society, and calls for an expansion of our relations of care to include others who are not a part of our immediate surroundings.3 Addams develops her ethical theory through communal practices of care that she was engaged in especially during her time at the Hull House, a settlement home of which she was a co-founder. In her writing, care is posited as a habitual practice imbued with emotion that can be observed in everyday communal relations. It is that which brings people together, forms emotional bonds, and creates a unity within plurality. It is the glue, as it were, of the American society of her time (and perhaps, of our time, as well).
This account of care intersects with, in some ways, but stands in contrast to in others, that of Joan Tronto’s. Tronto in her 1993 book Moral Boundaries attempts to bridge the gap between ethics and politics by reformulating a politically capacious notion of care that is responsive to issues both on a national and an international scale. Even though some of Addams’s concerns are shared by Tronto, Tronto takes up care as an institutional practice (as opposed to communal) whereby not only the care work that is so often undervalued is given its rightful place, but also an efficacious politics of care can be instantiated from ethics of
care. In this formulation, the institution could be the family, where we would be compelled to recognize the care work of a mother. In a hospital, that of a nurse. On a global scale, this would amount to an efficacious, yet-to-come response to war, famine, and poverty. All in all, care relations that must be recognized and socially sanctioned are formed between two parties whereby the needs of the care-receiver are addressed by a care-giver who is in a relatively better off position. What this problem-oriented model overlooks, however, is care as it operates within a community, as a peer-to-peer practice that Addams takes as the focus of her ethical understanding. I will argue that theories of care must not be exclusive to the institutional model, but attentive to communal practices of care in order to assert a compelling and viable political project of care. In order to make this case, I shall put these two projects in a dialogue that hopefully will prove fruitful for ethics and politics of care.