Philosophical Perspectives on Care

NEH Summer Institute for Higher Education Faculty, July 7th–29th, 2022

Program of Study

Week One: Foundations in Moral and Political Philosophy

Monday: Care in Moral Philosophy

In the morning, the co-directors will begin to build an intellectual community through introductions.  The morning discussion will introduce the themes of the Institute. For our first readings, we will discuss foundational work in care ethics. Care ethics emerged in the 1980’s, sparked by research on different male and female moral perspectives. It took care as a distinct moral perspective and attempted to base moral and political norms in care and caregiving practices. We’ll discuss the lively debate which flourished in the 80s and 90s over these ideas. After lunch, participants will briefly introduce their own projects to one another, to give all participants an idea of where others are coming from intellectually. 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: Development of Care Theory

Today we’ll 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 begin workshopping 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.

Wednesday: Care in Political Philosophy

Wednesday we will continue the study of care ethics in political philosophy by engaging with a 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. In the afternoon, as a concrete example of how the state can support such obligations, we’ll consider the case of women serving as primary caregivers within the family. How might the state support such roles - through maternity leave, for example? What different moral and political considerations bear on such policies? We’ll extend the classical discussion of the role of the state in supporting families into contemporary political philosophy. Following this intense day of study and discussion, we’ll watch “Roma” (2018) together. The film follows the life of the 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: Perspectives on Care: Age and Disability

In the morning session, we’ll hear from Asha Bhandary (Philosophy, University of Iowa), 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’ll consider the perspectives of the elderly and people with disabilities, bringing in case studies as well as philosophical work. After lunch, we’ll 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’ll see firsthand the needs of children and parents, and creative solutions to supporting caregiving.

Friday: Perspectives on Care: Race and Class

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, along with Camisha Russell (Philosophy, University of Oregon), a specialist in philosophy of race and the family. At the same time, we’ll 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: in the afternoon we’ll engage these moral and political questions about the value of community and altruistically performed care. After a long week, we’ll close out Friday with break-out group meetings, in which groups consult with the directors about their developing projects. 

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: 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 US. This morning, we’ll hear from a regional faculty member, Stephanie Coontz, Evergreen College, on the history of families. In the afternoon, we’ll 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: Care and 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 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: 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.  In morning and afternoon sessions, the directors will facilitate discussion of these complex questions. In the late afternoon, we’ll switch pace as a Reed librarian will familiarize us with different research and dissemination tools in digital humanities.

Thursday: Care and the Global Economy

Today we’ll consider another force which affects the provision of care: work and the global economy. How do the demands of paid work outside the home affect those performing unpaid care work, through family-work balance? What are the economic and opportunity costs of providing care for unpaid caregivers? How does the economy value paid care work, and how does that relate to and affect unpaid care?  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 the film “Chain of Love,” which documents how increasing numbers of women are leaving developing countries to provide caregiving in the US.

Friday: Care and Migration

Drawing on the previous evening’s film, 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 (Philosophy, Portland State), 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? This evening, we will have an optional, community-building trip to the Portland Art Museum. 

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

Monday: Marriage, Care, and Racial Justice

To many, marriage is the ideal context for supporting and providing intimate care. Others have challenged this view. How does marriage intersect with demands of care and imperatives of racial justice? Philosopher Anika Simpson (Philosophy and Religious Studies, Morgan State University) will offer insights into this question and related debates. In the afternoon, we reckon with the history of slavery and explore the history of resistence to anti-Black racism as they have unfolded in Portland on the Portland Pioneers of Color Walking Tour.

Tuesday: Supporting Care Fairly

Recent philosophical work on caregiving has investigated how policies to support care can be fair to all citizens. Especially, how can controversial policies be justified in the face of disagreement among citizens? For example, some scholars have argued for equal maternity and paternity leave, in order to protect women’s equal opportunity and encourage paternal bonding. Others have opposed such policies as intrusive or inefficient. Gina Schouten (Philosophy, Harvard University), author of a recent book examining these issues, will lead us through these debates. In the afternoon, participants will break into small groups to work on their projects.

Wednesday: 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: 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