Philosophical Perspectives on Care

NEH Summer Institute for Higher Education Faculty, July 10th–29th, 2022

Program of Study

Daily Institute Schedule

Syllabus for Institute Readings

Shared Document Folder

Week One: Foundations in Moral and Political Philosophy

Monday, July 11: Welcome and Introductions

On our first day together, we will focus on getting to know each other, our projects, and the themes of the Institute. We envision that some participants will be preparing a journal article, book chapter, or conference paper; others will be developing innovative syllabi. In the evening, we’ll build community further by heading together to dinner at the Portland food carts.

Tuesday, July 12: Care in Political Philosophy

We continue the study of care ethics in political philosophy by engaging with the productive, mid-career scholar, Daniel Engster. Arguing that we have obligations to care, Engster has developed a theory of care and of the state’s role in supporting us in carrying out our obligations. After lunch, participants will break into small groups—selected by the directors on the basis of their projects—to workshop their Institute research and pedagogy projects.

Wednesday, July 13: Contemporary Families and Other Caregiving Units

Social changes have led to many different family forms today. These include stepfamilies and blended families, single-parent families, same-sex families, extended families cohabiting, and single parents rearing children together. Today, the co-directors will lead discussion in an open-ended, exploratory way. As more women work outside the home, there is also greater demand for paid care workers within the home. Are these changes good, bad, or neutral? To be encouraged or hindered by the state? After all, they reflect greater opportunities for many—but many people worry about the effects of such changes on stability and child welfare. After a free afternoon, we will watch Roma together. The film follows the life of Cleo, a live-in housekeeper/caregiver of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the 1970s. It offers a multi-perspectival look at the questions we consider during the Institute.

Thursday, July 14: Perspectives on Care: Care and Hierarchy

In the morning session, we will hear from Asha Bhandary, an emerging scholar of care, who has developed a new form of liberalism to address care and its overlap with racial and gender hierarchies. We will consider the perspectives of the elderly and people with disabilities, bringing in case studies as well as philosophical work. After lunch, we will have a field trip to Bridge Meadows, an intergenerational co-housing project in North Portland focused on supporting parents who adopt out of the foster care system. Here we will see firsthand the needs of children and parents, and the creative solutions of supporting caregiving.

Friday, July 15: Perspectives on Care: Race, Reproduction, and Eugenics

To understand caregiving from many angles—including the perspective of those who provide it for pay—we will read and discuss narratives of paid caregivers, who are statistically likely to be female, minority, and lower-income. We will study the situation of workers who support basic human needs with Camisha Russell, a specialist in philosophy of race and the family. At the same time, we will begin to examine how changing social norms and economic pressures have increased reliance on paid caregiving. Many question whether this shift is good for us as a society: we will engage these moral and political questions about the value of community and altruistically performed care.

In the afternoon, we will be joined by academic and journalist E.J. Graff for a workshop on writing op-eds as a way to move our scholarly work into the public sphere. As an academic, you’ve dedicated years to researching and understanding ideas that urgently affect our shared public life. Now it’s time to carry those ideas into the public square so you can help others better understand our world—and put your knowledge and insights into action. We will join E.J. Graff for a concentrated workshop that will teach you the key elements of persuasive public writing; will discuss how to pitch your idea or finished piece to appropriate outlets; and will give you assignments for your next steps.

Week Two: Philosophy in Context

Our philosophical inquiry into care deepens by examining care in different contexts. This week, we will focus on different ways in which care has been provided, and how larger forces shape that provision, in order to ask evaluative questions. 

Monday, July 18: History of Families

Families provide care. But families have changed over time, and the way care is provided varies. For example, in many cultures and eras, extended families play a greater role in childcare than they typically do in the contemporary United States. This morning, we will hear from a regional faculty member, Stephanie Coontz, on the history of families. In the afternoon, we will discuss moral and political questions: What should we make of the changing nature of families over time? Is there a best family form? This will be followed by small-group breakout sessions during which participants will discuss progress made over the weekend.  

Tuesday, July 19: Care, Families, and the Role of the State

Today, we will consider how law influences the distribution of benefits and burdens of care through family, property and labor law, educational, health care, and tax policy, and analyze legal arguments for changes to support caregiving. To focus this broad topic, we will consider in depth recent legal arguments for creating legal protections recognizing the special vulnerabilities of care workers. Can such protections adequately achieve their objectives? We will hear from an expert on this topic, law professor and political theorist, Maxine Eichner. In the afternoon, we will turn to practice, visiting Dignity Village, a city-supported response to the homeless crisis, which models how grassroots organizations can work with local government to care for society’s most vulnerable members.

Wednesday, July 20: Care and Migration

We will discuss the effects of the migration of care workers and the moral questions this issue raises. This wide-ranging discussion will look at the effects on the children left behind, the experiences of migrant care workers, and the experiences of the families for whom they provide care. We will be guided in this discussion by regional faculty member Alex Sager, an expert on political philosophy and issues of migration. In the afternoon, we will have a workshop on public humanities: how can we effectively present humanities research to the public? Afternoon and evening will be free time. 

Thursday, July 21: Care and the Global Economy 

Today, we will consider the issue of care in the context of the global political economy. How does the organization of care reflect central assumptions of a global economy—assumptions about what is of value and what constitutes freedom? How do we balance considerations of care as work that needs to be more fairly distributed and supported, and care as a practice of freedom, love, and solidarity? What can we learn from the contrast between an economy oriented toward private property and consituted through radicalized and gendered global care chains, and Indigenous gift economies oriented toward the value of well-being, sustained through cycles of reciprocal care and practices of relational freedom? This morning, we will discuss these topics with Allison Weir, a social and political philosopher who has written extensively on these questions. In the afternoon, participants will break into small groups to consult on their developing projects. Over dinner this evening, we will watch and discuss Chain of Love, which documents how increasing numbers of women are leaving developing countries to provide caregiving in the United States.

Friday, July 22: Care, Disability and the Completion of Care

Today, we will invite Eva Feder Kittay, one of the foremost scholars in care ethics from the beginning, to talk about her early work and changing ideas. Kittay is known for her application of care ethics to political philosophy. We’ll engage with Kittay in discussion in the morning session. After lunch, participants will break into small groups—selected by the directors on the basis of their projects—to work on their Institute research and pedagogy projects. Participants will be able to meet one on one, or in their group, with Kittay during the afternoon session. Directors will meet with break-out groups.

Week Three: Care in Moral and Political Philosophy: New Directions 

In the early evening, we will explore a local history of anti-Black racism and resistance through the Black Panther Party Legacy Tour of Albina.

Monday, July 25: Marriage and Caregiving Under Slavery

Today, we will discuss how enslaved and free African-American practices of marriage and caregiving were imperiled by racism under slavery and Reconstruction with Tera Hunter, author of the groundbreaking Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century.

Tuesday, July 26: Supporting Care Fairly

For many, “disability” signifies distinct and unidirectional needs of care. Disability studies scholars challenge and complicate this assumption. Joseph Stramondo will guide us through these discussions and make the case that philosophies of care are fruitfully reframed by centering the lived experiences of disability as a crucial source of moral knowledge. After afternoon small-group work, we will screen Marjorie Prime as a way to extend the discussion.

Wednesday, July 27: Care Beyond Humans

Recent work in the humanities has turned attention to the moral standing of nonhuman animals and the environment as well as the relationship between humans and technology. This morning, we will engage with a leading scholar in this field, Amelia DeFalco, before visiting a local farm to interact with animals and the natural world, and dining together on the farm.

Thursday and Friday, July 28 & 29: Presentations

The last two days of the institute are reserved for participant presentations of their projects, followed by a closing lunch and walk before participants disperse.

Principles of Civility for NEH Professional Development Programs

NEH Seminars, Institutes, and Landmarks programs are intended to extend and deepen knowledge and understanding of the humanities by focusing on significant topics, texts, and issues; contribute to the intellectual vitality and professional development of participants; and foster a community of inquiry that provides models of excellence in scholarship and teaching.

NEH expects that project directors will take responsibility for encouraging an ethos of openness and respect, upholding the basic norms of civil discourse.

Seminar, Institute, and Landmarks presentations and discussions should be: 

  1. firmly grounded in rigorous scholarship, and thoughtful analysis;
  2. conducted without partisan advocacy;
  3. respectful of divergent views;
  4. free of ad hominem commentary; and
  5. devoid of ethnic, religious, gender, disability, or racial bias.

NEH welcomes comments, concerns, or suggestions on these principles at