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Re-visioning the ethics of care: femininity, cosmopolitanism and contemporary women’s writings

MISRA, JAHNAVI (2012) Re-visioning the ethics of care: femininity, cosmopolitanism and contemporary women’s writings. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Abstract: Carol Gilligan proposed the concept of an ‘ethics of care’ in her book, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, published in 1982. Her argument was written in agonistic response to a revival of neo-Kantian ethical theorising in the seventies philosophical arguments that granted women a distinctly subordinate place to men as fully fledged ethical beings. In opposition to these theories-- particularly those of Lawrence Kohlberg-- which considered women to be too involved in personal relationships to be able to achieve the requisite levels of detachment to morally gauge ethically demanding situations, Gilligan argued for an ethical code that privileges relationships of involvement and care over abstract principles of a categorical imperative type. She argued that women who felt the need to prioritise such relationships are not deficient in their ethical sensibility but function according to a different but most certainly fully viable value system. Gilligan’s thesis came under fire from later feminists and ethical theorists as the concept of difference took a new turn in feminist theory-- especially post-structuralist-inflected theory of the later eighties and nineties. It is my contention in this thesis that her ideas are still crucially important. And as ethical theory comes to recognise the important role of affect in moral and ethical judgement, her ideas can be revisited in relation to contemporary preoccupation with these issues about knowing and judging. Although revolutionary in its proposition that different people may have different ways of responding to ethically significant situations, Gilligan’s theory of care does not question the traditionally imposed binary between man and women as being rational and emotional respectively. My argument, substantiated by my analysis of current fiction by women (and two men), centres around the proposition, that although these responses
do not necessarily and directly correspond with either sex, the responses themselves have a lot of merit. It is revealed in my examination of contemporary novels from different parts of the world that rational/emotional responses relate, instead, to the particular situation of individuals-- advantaged/disadvantaged-- in different social and political structures. I have termed these responses masculine and feminine in my thesis, but have attempted to define masculinity and femininity as related to these socio-political situations, instead of being biologically determined. The definition of femininity in my thesis encompasses particular kinds of responses to various ideas such as cosmopolitan interactions between cultures and even beauty and shame. The novels that I look at in my thesis are: Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, Toni Morrison’s Paradise, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, Latife Tekin’s Dear Shameless Death, Salman Rushdie’s Shame, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child and Ben, in the World. My argument is that by coming to a more or less general understanding of what I am regarding as the variously inflected feminine/disadvantaged position, it is possible to arrive at a coherent ethical value system that is directed to the margins of various social and political structures

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:10 Dec 2012 09:43

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