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Eva Kittay Keynote
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Disability Studies and an Ethics of Care: Partners or Antagonists?

The British Council of Organisations of Disabled People showed its contempt for care and caring services in a 1987 document that declared: “… [T]he need to be ‘looked after’ may well adequately describe the way potentially physically disabled candidates for ‘community care’ are perceived by people who are not disabled …  But, however good passivity and the creation of dependency may be for the careers of service providers, it is bad news for disabled people and the public purse. 

Yet many disabled people could not exist, much less thrive with robust and even constant care.  Some disability have replied that we should think of this as “assistance” instead of care, claiming, for instance that personal assistants aren’t carers but people who enable the disabled person to function independently.  Caring is perhaps a virtue that enhances the carer, but debilitated the cared for. Care, they claim encourages and constructs dependency, evoking images dependent, tragic individuals who are burdens on society, and who are appropriate subjects of paternalistic interventions.  At the same time, a number of feminists have developed and promoted an “Ethics of Care.” They have argued for a notion of care that is universal and non-stymatizing.  They grant that while some ideas of care and their implementation in care services are deficient and disabling in those ways that disability advocates disparage, it is possible to forge a conception of care that takes such criticisms on board; and that doing so, promotes a conception of care that would not only be desirable for people with disabilities, but for all of us, who all, at some point need care. Rather than jettison the notion of care, we need to promote care that serves the needs of all to flourish and be included in the goods of community. 
Last Updated: 11 April 2018

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