A Practical Ethics of Care: Tinkering with Different ‘Goods’ in Residential Nursing Homes

Journal of Business Ethics 165 (1):95-111 (2020)


In this paper, we argue that ‘good care’ in residential nursing homes is enacted through different care practices that are either inspired by a ‘professional logic of care’ that aims for justice and non-maleficence in the professional treatment of residents, or by a ‘relational logic of care’, which attends to the relational quality and the meaning of interpersonal connectedness in people’s lives. Rather than favoring one care logic over the other, this paper indicates how important aspects of care are constantly negotiated between different care practices. Based on the intricate everyday negotiations observed during an ethnographic field study at an elderly nursing home in Germany, the paper puts forth the argument that care is always a matter of tinkering with different, sometimes competing ‘goods’. This tinkering process, which unfolds through ‘intuitive deliberation’, ‘situated assessment’ and ‘affective juggling’ is then theorized along the conceptualization of a ‘practical ethics of care’: an ethics which makes no a priori judgments of what may be considered as good or bad care, but instead calls for momentary judgments that are pliable across changing situations.

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