Care ethics is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry, which is driven by societal questions. Since the beginning of the 1980s, in this field various movements and disciplines have an interdisciplinary conversation, among which philosophy, ethics, social sciences, political and policy sciences, and nursing sciences.
The contribution made by the research group at the University of Humanistic Studies is a specific form of ethics. The key question of the Utrecht Care Ethics is: What is good care, given this particular situation? In order to answer this question we use a theoretical framework, which functions as a multifocal interpretative lens.
The theoretical framework is built around the concept of care, which is broadly understood. Caring is primarily seen as a social and political practice. This means that people continuously attune to others and themselves, in professional settings or otherwise, and always in an organised society. People ‘attune’ in order to maintain, continue, and repair our 'world' so that they can live in it as well as possible. In practices the morally good can emerge and be experienced by those involved. In this process those who receive care play a crucial role.
The theoretical framework, built around the concept of care, is fed by two sources. On the one hand, the interdisciplinary discussions known as ethics of care, which run for more than thirty years now, and various forms of empirical research on the other.
Conceptual and empirical research
These two sources, conceptual and empirical research, are in a dialectical relation to each other. Conceptual and theoretical insights are being questioned and enriched by empirical research and vice versa. In other words: we have a normatively loaded care ethical theory that is simultaneously used as a theoretical framework and as a hypothesis that is tested and adapted on the basis of empirical research and theoretical reflection.
What is good care, given this particular situation?
Within the theoretical framework a number of developed concepts (‘critical insights’) are guiding, such as relationality, contextuality, affectivity, practices, vulnerability, bodiliness, attention to power and position, and meaning.
The empirical research methods used in Care Ethics at the University of Humanistic Studies focus on lived experiences, practices of care, and the way society is organised (the political-ethical dimension). The methodological toolkit, which is used and developed further for this goal, contains the following methods: phenomenology, narrative analysis, discourse analysis, institutional and auto-ethnography, visual data-analysis, and responsive evaluation.
Summarizing: the theoretical framework, drawing upon the above mentioned ‘critical insights’, directs the empirical research approaches towards the lived experiences of those who are involved in caring practices, on these practices as such and/or their political context. In this way(s) insights are gained about the morally good that emerges here.
Thus, the epistemological position of the Care Ethics research group can be described as expressive-collaborative and embodied. We only get access to the good when we relate different positions, perspectives and types of knowledge to each other, by being in dialogue and using participatory types of research.
Dr. Merel Visse works as senior researcher and associate professor Care Ethics and Policy at the University of Humanistic Studies in The Netherlands. As a scholar and artist, she combines theoretical and practice-based work to inquire about the moral good in care. In addition to regular scientific output such as publications, she also makes publications, installations, objects, drawings, research projects and communities to inquire ‘care’.