Four Paradigm Cases of Dependency in Care Relations

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Dependency functions as a keyword in care theory. However, care theorists have spelled out the ontological and moral ramifications of dependency in different and often conflicting ways. In this article, I argue that conceptual disputes about dependency betray a fundamental discordance among authors, rooted in the empirical premises of their arguments. Hence, although authors appear to share a vocabulary of dependency, they are not writing about quite the same phenomenon. I seek to elucidate these differences by teasing out and comparing different conceptions of dependency found in the literature. Borrowing a phrase from Eva Kittay, I trace four “paradigm cases” of dependency: the infant, the physically disabled person, the profoundly intellectually disabled person, and the refugee. These paradigm cases serve as the empirical touchstone from which theorists extract their conceptions of dependency. Each paradigm case, moreover, permits (or even implores) a particular ethical sensibility toward care. How we understand and value dependency thus seems to determine how we understand and value care, and vice versa. In this way, I contend, our normative orientation toward care might influence what sorts of dependency we see—and, by extension, which forms of dependency we fail to notice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-359
Number of pages22
JournalHypatia : a Journal of Feminist Philosophy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2021

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