In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Global Ethic of Care

  • Introduction
  • Refugees, Migration, and Humanitarianism
  • A Global Ethic of Care in Human Geography
  • Care Ethics, Environmental Ethics, and Indigenous Knowledges
  • Global Care Ethics and International Political Theory

International Relations Global Ethic of Care
Fiona Robinson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 March 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0182


The “ethics of care” is an approach to morality that focuses on the moral salience of responsibilities to particular, concrete others and the relationships and connections from which they arise. It emphasizes the importance of context in moral judgment and action and starts with a view of moral agents as inherently and necessarily vulnerable and interdependent. It is widely seen as a feminist approach to morality, although theorists now approach care ethics from a variety of perspectives. Care ethics represents a critical alternative to dominant (often seen as “masculinist”) traditions in ethics, including deontological, rights-based, and contractualist ethics. The term ethic of care is usually attributed to Carol Gilligan, who provided one of the earliest articulations of this “different voice” of morality (see Gilligan 1982, cited under Foundational Works). The idea of a global ethic of care is a more recent development in care ethics scholarship that builds on the idea of a political ethic of care. Political theorists of care have argued that care ethics reaches its full potential when understood politically. Specifically, the idea of a political ethics of care recognizes that relations of care operate within and through relations of power. Most recently, scholars have argued that care ethics has significance not only beyond personal, proximate relations, but also beyond the borders of the nation-state. Robinson 1999 (cited under Monographs) explores how care ethics can provide a compelling alternative to rationalist, rights-based, or “justice” reasoning in international ethics. Since then, work on global care ethics has revealed the transnational and global implications of both existing relations of care—and the racialized, gendered relations of power in which they are embedded—and the potential for new and transformative caring relations and responsibilities across borders. By and large, scholars engaging with global care ethics share a theoretical and/or methodological commitment to feminism. Of course, these understandings of and approaches to feminism vary substantially; that said, the recognition of care as a moral disposition and a set of practices and type of work usually involve attention to unequal gender relations. Moreover, the task of globalizing care usually requires attention to other social structures, including race, class, and geopolitical location. Since the 1990s work on global care ethics has proliferated, with scholars relating the theory and practice of care ethics to such diverse issues as political violence, human security, peace and peacebuilding, global political economy, migration, and global social policy.

General Overviews

The ethics of care has only recently begun to feature in the discipline of international relations (IR). While some scholars writing on a global ethic of care may come from within IR, others are situated within cognate disciplines upon which IR scholars often draw, including political and critical geography, sociology and global social policy, moral philosophy, and political theory. Research on global care ethics is either primarily theoretical—teasing out the implications of care as a normative theory relevant to the sphere of global politics—or largely empirical/policy-based—focusing on the transnationalized practices of care relating to the global political economy, migration, and human security. Unlike the literature on the ethics of care, research on a global ethic of care tends to be focused on specific issues or fields of research, such as war and peace, migration, or global social policy.

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