Beyond demarcation: Care ethics as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry

Nurs Ethics. 2019 Feb;26(1):17-25. doi: 10.1177/0969733017707008. Epub 2017 May 26.


Background:: For many years the body of literature known as 'care ethics' or 'ethics of care' has been discussed as regards its status and nature. There is much confusion and little structured discussion. The paper of Klaver et al. (2014) was written as a discussion article to which we respond.

Objectives:: We aim to contribute to the ongoing discussion about the status and nature of care ethics.

Research design:: Responding to 'Demarcation of the ethics of care as a discipline' by Klaver et al. (2014) and 'Three versions of an ethics of care' by Edwards (2009), we identified shared concerns and formulated criticisms of both texts in order to develop an alternative view.

Participants and research context:: This paper has been written from the academic context of a master in care ethics an policy.

Ethical considerations:: We have tried to be fair and respectful to the authors discussed.

Findings:: Both Klaver et al. (2014) and Edwards (2009) raise important concerns about the question if care ethics can be considered an academic discipline, and to what extend it can be seen as a moral theory. Despite shared concerns, their arguments fail to convince us in all respects.

Discussion and conclusion:: We propose to conceive care ethics as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry, incorporating a dialectical relation between empirical research and theoretical reflection. Departing from the notion of caring as a practice of contributing to a life-sustaining web, we argue that care ethics can only profit from a loosely organized academic profile that allows for flexibility and critical attitude that brings us close to the good emerging in specific practices. This asks for ways of searching for a common focus and interest that is inherently democratic and dialogical and thus beyond demarcation.

Keywords: Care ethics; empirical; interdisciplinary; normative theory; theoretical.

MeSH terms

  • Empathy
  • Ethical Analysis
  • Ethics, Nursing*
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication