Elisabeth Conradi started to study philosophy, German literature and educational theory at Heidelberg University and then continued and completed her studies at Frankfurt University where she earned the Master’s degree in philosophy, presenting a thesis on Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy of Right. As a visiting scholar she conducted research at the Political Science Department at the University of Chicago, Illinois, and at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Austria. Prior to that she was engaged in postgraduate studies with Karl-Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas, as well as with guest professors Seyla Benhabib, Nancy Fraser, Judith Butler, Iris Young, and Joan Tronto. She also took courses at the Graduate School for Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
1. Where are you working at this moment?
Since March 2009 I am Professor of Philosophy and Social Theory and member of the social work faculty at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University Stuttgart. I am also affiliated to the University of Göttingen, where I qualified to supervise doctoral candidates by the process of habilitation in the academic field of Political Science.
2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to the ethics of care?
The two questions at the centre of my work are: How can the reflection of practice and the reflection of theory become systematically connected? And: How can the tension as well as the relation between politics and ethics be understood? Engaging these questions, my current book (Frankfurt 2011) introduces a conception of “social transformation through successful practices” in the context of a “cosmopolitan civil society”.
Both questions – the connection between practice and theory as well as the relation between politics and ethics – have been also discussed in my book “Take Care” (2001). Here I interrogate the deontological foundation of respect through equality, autonomy, and reciprocity as well as the idea of a contractual society. As an alternative I propose a foundation of an ethics of attentiveness and explicate how people take responsibility, and act in a careful and cooperative way.
3. How did you get involved into the ethics of care?
During my graduate studies of philosophy at Frankfurt University I got to know the “discourse ethics” as a predominant moral theory. In this approach Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel adopt the justice perspective explicated by Lawrence Kohlberg. This perspective refers to conflicting individual rights, general rules and obligations. In contrast to it, the care perspective developed by Carol Gilligan emphasises communication and personal responsibilities, the situational context, and the preservation of relationships.
During my graduate studies of philosophy at Frankfurt University it was one of my main interests to transfer Gilligan’s critique of Kohlberg to the theories of Kant, Rawls and Habermas. Furthermore it was my concern (and still is) to expand the care perspective from the moral realm to political theory.
4. How would you define ethics of care?
Carol Gilligan as well as Joan Tronto lay stress on the moral requirement ‘not to turn away from someone in need.’ While Gilligan locates the moral problem in the fact that someone is hurt through detachment, Tronto points to the need that should be met.
If care is understood as a perspective, one does have to assume that it is located within the individual subject. If care is understood as an activity, it can be seen as located between subjects. Both aspects of care – relatedness and activity – integrate into the concept of a social practice.
5. What is the most important thing you learned from the ethics of care?
In the course of care interactions the persons involved enter into (or continue) a relationship with one another. The relationship is intensified through care.
6. Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?
At Frankfurt University I became acquainted with the work of Carol Gilligan and Virginia Held through Andrea Maihofer who criticised “discourse ethics” from a gendered perspective. I also participated in a group of graduate students that planned and organized an international guest professorship inviting Seyla Benhabib, Nancy Fraser, Iris Marion Young, and Joan Tronto.
7. What works in the ethics of care do you see as the most important?
I already referred to Carol Gilligan (In a Different Voice 1982, Mapping the Moral Domain (ed) 1988) and Joan Tronto (Moral Boundaries 1993).
Especially for opening the care debate in the direction of global responsibility I further suggest Virginia Held (The Ethics of Care 2005, Justice and Care (ed) 1995) and Margaret Walker (The Curious Case of Care and Restorative Justice in the U.S. Context, in: Hamington 2006 pp. 145-162) as well as Iris Young (Responsibility, Social Connection, and Global Labor Justice, in: Young: Global challenges 2007) and Christine Koggel (Poverty and Global Justice, in: Cragg, Koggel 2004).
For the Debate in German these authors have been especially important: Andrea Maihofer (Geschlecht als Existenzweise 1995), Herlinde Pauer-Studer (Das Andere der Gerechtigkeit 1996), Annemarie Pieper (Gibt es eine feministische Ethik? 1998) and Ina Praetorius (Skizzen zur feministischen Ethik 1995). While I disagree with Silvia Käppeli (Vom Glaubenswerk zur Pflegewissenschaft 2004) I consider her work to be important.
8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?
- Elisabeth Conradi: Ethik und Politik. Wie eine Ethik der Achtsamkeit mit politischer Verantwortung verbunden werden kann. In: Hartmut Remmers, Helen Kohlen (Hg): Bioethics, Care and Gender. Herausforderungen für Medizin, Pflege und Politik. Universitätsverlag Osnabrück: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2010, S. 91-117.
- Elisabeth Conradi: Was ist Achtsamkeit? In: Orientierung. Fachzeitschrift der Behindertenhilfe. Heft 3, August 2008, S. 1-4.
- Elisabeth Conradi: Take Care. Grundlagen einer Ethik der Achtsamkeit, Frankfurt am Main 2001.
- Elisabeth Conradi: Kosmopolitische Zivilgesellschaft. Wandel zur Weltgesellschaft durch gelingendes Handeln. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag 2011.
9. What are important issues for the ethics of care in the future?
- The relationship between the care ethics of attentiveness as a professional ethics (of nurses, social workers, politicians, therapists, assistants etc) and the more comprehensive (philosophical) concept should be reflected in an interdisciplinary dialog between philosophy and pedagogy, social work education and nursing science, disability studies and medical ethics, theology and political science.
- The secularity of care ethics could be discussed: How can forgiveness be thought in a secular conception (see Walker: Moral repair 2006)? How does the care ethics of attentiveness differ from buddhist meditation?
- The political importance of care ethics (and its relevance for political theory) should be discussed more intense in an interdisciplinary dialog. Keywords are: citizenship, global communities, global responsibility, state sovereignty, migration, security, forgiveness and restorative justice, responsibility and care for a postcolonial work, peace, poverty (See above point 7: Held, Walker, Koggel).
- Care ethics should investigate in thinking about (possible ways of and theoretical approaches to) social transformation: How can the practice of care (and care-takers as well as care-givers) increase more respect in society? How to organize (public) need interpretation?
- Can care ethics offer a concept of (the structure and institutionalisation and politics of) help, support, empowerment, need interpretation (etc.) beyond and beside economic (as well as state-controlled) interests?
- To what kind of (participative) politics leads the care ethics of attentiveness?
10. Our ambition is to promote ethics of care nationally and internationally. Do you have any recommendations or wishes?
It would be important to also take into account positions from African colleagues, for example the work of H. Odera Oruka or more contemporary for example the thoughts of Fainos Mangena.
The International Care Ethics Research Consortium (CERC) connects scholars who work in the field of the ethics of care and care theory; an epicenter where scientists from all continents meet each other.