Maurice Hamington

Maurice Hamington

Interview with Maurice Hamington, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA.

1. Where are you working at this moment?

I work at Portland State University where I am a Professor of Philosophy and the Executive Director of University Studies which is an interdisciplinary integrated undergraduate general education curriculum. Our community of 50 full time faculty, hundreds of part-time faculty, and 100 peer mentors emphasize inclusion and justice in a caring culture for ourselves and the students we work with.

2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to care ethics?

I am a feminist ethicist who addresses both theoretical and applied elements of care ethics.  In particular, I have emphasized the embodied and performative aspects of care in contending that care ethics is more than a normative theory of morality.  For me, care has ontological and epistemological dimensions in addition to its ethical significance.

In terms of books, I most recently co-edited the volume Care Ethics and Political Theory with Dan Engster (Oxford 2015).  In 2017, I have published articles on care ethics and design thinking (Journal of Business Ethics) as well as on care ethics and haiku (Juxtapositions: The Journal of Haiku Research and Scholarship with Ce Rosenow).
Also in 2017, I have contributed chapters on care ethics to Compassionate Migration and Regional Policy. Steven W. Bender and William Arrocha, eds. (Palgrave Macmillan), Evaluation for A Caring Society, Merel Visse and Tineke Abma, eds. (Information Age Publishing, Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy, Heidi Maibom, ed., (Routledge), and Pets and People, Christine Overall, ed. (Oxford University Press).

As one can see, my research interests are quite varied.  At this time, I am working on chapters on care ethics and phenomenology as well as care ethics and performance.  I will be editing a special issue of the International Journal of Care and Caring on care ethics.

3. How did you get involved in care ethics?

I was introduced to care ethics in a graduate feminist theory course.  I was attracted to the idea from my first exposure.  I can remember where I was when in the early 1990’s I first read Nel Noddings’ Caring. I wrote my philosophy Ph.D. dissertation on care ethics and embodiment.

4. How would you describe care ethics?

Care ethics is a relational approach to morality that emphasizes understanding the context of others to better deliver responsive care. More than a normative ethical theory, care ethics has ontological and epistemological dimensions. It is founded in a relational ontology and human corporeal existence.  Rather than abstract rules or rights, all care recenters ethics on our humanity and its fundamental relational existence.
Furthermore, all care originates and is experienced through the body. In this manner, I have argued that care can be described as a performance, the iterations of which can develop skill, habits, and sense of identity.

people in conversation
Listening and exchange are necessary for care

5. What is the most important thing you learned from care ethics?

I have learned so much from exploring care ethics that I could respond to this question in many ways.
One response is in regard to how important listening is to care.  Authentic and active listening is a skill of inquiry that is crucial for effective care. Without listening, caring actions are undertaken without complete understanding of context and are more likely to be ineffective and off the mark. Listening is not given much attention in ethical theorizing but it is hard to imagine caring without the attentiveness of listening.

6. Whom would you consider to be your most important teacher(s) and collaborators?

I have had the good fortune of working with a number of outstanding care theorists including Nel Noddings, Joan Tronto, Fiona Robinson, Dan Engster and Michael Slote on various publications. Care is such a rich field of exploration that I find all of these scholars and their unique approach to care ethics as contributing to my understanding of care. I am particularly attracted to theorists who view care ethics as something more than an alternative way to adjudicate ethical dilemmas. Although care has important normative implications, it is much more than just another ethical theory.

7. What publications do you consider the most important with regard to care ethics?

This was an easier question to answer twenty years ago than it is today given the burgeoning number of publications in this area. For me, foundational texts include Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (1984); Joan Tronto, Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for An Ethic of Care (1993); and, Fiona Robinson, The Ethics of Care and Global Politics (1999).  Each of these authors has sharpened their arguments about care in subsequent books. The number of care authors that I am interested in has grown tremendously in recent years including the works of Daniel Engster, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Elena Pucini, and Vrinda Dalmiya.

Given my interest in the performativity of care, I am interested in seeing where James Thompson takes the notion of care and aesthetics after his article, “Towards An Aesthetics of Care” Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance (2015). This is a very generative time in care ethics and I look forward to seeing what new insights will emerge.

8. Which of your own books/articles/projects should we learn from?

Although it is a bit dated now, Embodied Care (2004) lays out an understanding of care ethics grounded in embodiment.
“Care Ethics and Confronting Intersectional Difference through the Body,” in Critical Philosophy of Race 3:1 (2015) is an article that endeavors to apply the embodied care framework to issues of race.
“Knowledge, Competence and Care” in Merel Visse and Tineke Abma, eds., Evaluation for A Caring Society. Information Age Publishing, 2017 is a chapter that addresses issues of both epistemology and the effectiveness of care.

Given the range of applications and theoretical concepts I have endeavored to address, I recommend checking out my works at and seeing if there are subjects of interest.

9. What are important issues for care ethics in the future?

Care ethics is no longer a boutique theory of a few people in one or two disciplines. It has garnered world-wide attention across many fields. As such, theorists are framing care within their own discipline or branch of discipline. Although the widespread interest is exciting, it also means that many scholars are endeavoring to describe care in definitive ways.
I worry that care will lose its critical and postmodern edge if it is boxed into certain theoretical constraints. So, I think an important issue for care ethics is how its definition evolves as it moves into mainstream academic discussions.[pullquote]How will care ethics make its way into narratives outside of academia?[/pullquote]

Another, major issue is how will care ethics make its way into narratives outside of academia. Today, care ethics is almost exclusively an intellectual narrative. To make a significant difference in the world, scholars will need to translate care into accessible discourse for a wider audience.

10. How may care ethics contribute to society as a whole, do you think?

The potential of care ethics to positively impact the world is enormous. Deep authentic care is a product of inquiry in an attempt to really understand the other. If societies and their leaders and institutions adopted this approach as their guiding moral framework then there would be less stereotyping and scapegoating of groups of people.

We could learn from our differences and build stronger communities committed to the welfare of all members. Care can be a grassroots revolution that leads policy change as societies adopt a disposition of understanding rather than fear of difference. Ultimately, violent action would be seen as more of a last resort than it is today.

11. Do you know of any research-based projects in local communities, institutions or on national levels, where ‘care’ is central?

One of the challenges of this question is definitional. Care is a ubiquitous term. There are many institutions, including for-profit corporations, that have placed care as their central theme, such as in the field of health care.  However,” care ethics” has a more precise understanding as a relational moral approach responsive to the contexts of individuals.

I am only aware of a few institutions that have taken care ethics seriously in their work. The University of Humanistic Studies and its graduate programs in care ethics headed by Carlo Leget is one of those institutions. Another is the care ethics laboratory in Belgium, sTimul. I am hoping that the efforts of the new The International Journal of Care and Caring is a sign that more such research efforts grounded in care ethics will emerge.

12. The aim of the consortium is to further develop care ethics internationally by creating connections between people who are involved in this interdisciplinary field, both in scientific and societal realms. Do you have any recommendations or wishes yourself?

I am humbled and honored to participate in the consortium. There are many possibilities for collaborative projects to emerge from such a gathering. Perhaps one recommendation is that the group consider the possibility of public scholarship projects. In other words, are their means by which this important care ethics scholarship might be translated for public consumption so as to infuse care ethics language and thinking into social narratives rather than just academic discourse.