The Capacity to Care: Gender and Ethical Subjectivity, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Capacity to Care

Gender and Ethical Subjectivity, 1st Edition

By Wendy Hollway


162 pages

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Paperback: 9780415399685
pub: 2006-10-05
Hardback: 9780415399678
pub: 2006-10-12
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pub: 2007-01-24
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Wendy Hollway explores a subject that is largely absent from the topical literature on care. Humans are not born with a capacity to care, and this volume explores how this capacity is achieved through the experiences of primary care, gender development and later, parenting.

In this book, the author addresses the assumption that the capacity to care is innate. She argues that key processes in the early development of babies and young children create the capability for individuals to care, with a focus on the role of intersubjective experience and parent-child relations. The Capacity to Care also explores the controversial belief that women are better at caring than men and questions whether this is likely to change with contemporary shifts in parenting and gender relations. Similarly, the sensitive domain of the quality of care and how to consider whether care has broken down are also debated, alongside a consideration of what constitutes a ‘good enough’ family.

The Capacity to Care provides a unique theorization of the nature of selfhood, drawing on developmental and object relations psychoanalysis, as well as philosophical and feminist literatures. It will be of relevance to social scientists studying gender development, gender relations and the family as well as those interested in the ethics of care debate.


'This book is significant for its scholarly exploration of psychological aspects of caring and compassion, marking an important development in the field.' - Dr Ann Weatherall, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

'Building on her ground-breaking earlier work on gender, subjectivity and method, Wendy Hollway's new book makes an exciting intervention in recent debates about care. It is a wonderful example of how psychoanalytic perspectives can transform social scientific, feminist and public understandings.'Sasha Roseneil, University of Leeds, UK

'Wendy Hollway, one of the foremost psycho-social thinkers of our time, weaves psychic and social reality together in a fascinating account of the development and vicissitudes of the capacity to care.' - Lynne Layton, Harvard Medical School, USA

'The Capacity to Care provides a thought-provoking and complex analysis of a subject both long neglected and oversimplified. Hollway creates an urgency to take this topic seriously.' - Leanne R. Parker, PsycCRITIQUES

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introducing the Capacity to Care. Approaches to Care. In Search of Subjectivity in the Literature. Meeting Needs, Attentiveness and Compassion. Psycho-Social Subjectivity in Care. Outline of the Book. Chapter 2. Care, Ethics and Relational Subjectivity. The Model of Self Behind the Ethic of Care. Women's Care as Mothers. Separation. Boys' and Girls' Oedipal Conflict. Reasoning, Thinking, Omnipotence and Care. Conclusions. Chapter 3. Intersubjectivity In Self Development. Infants Don't Care. An Early Gesture of Care. Three Modes of Organising Experiences. Intersubjectivity and the Learning of Care. Needing an Adult to Care for the Self to Develop. Beyond the Dyad in Developing the Capacity to Care. Conclusions. Chapter 4. Maternal Subjectivity and The Capacity to Care. The Uniqueness of Maternal Subjectivity. The Impact of Infantile Demands. The Infant in Adult Subjectivity. Images of the Maternal. Maternal Development. Being a Maternal Subject in One's Own Right. Conclusions. Chapter 5. The Gender of Parenting, The Gender of Care. The Shift to 'Parenting'. A Psycho-social Approach. Developmental Challenges to a Young Boy's Capacity to Care. Beyond the Parent-Child Dyad. Different Bodies and Their Significance. Identificatory Love. Fathers' Difference. Conclusions. Chapter 6. Difference, Ethics and The Capacity To Care. Does Difference Have to Mean Othering? Ethics, Self and Relationship. Identification and Difference. Individuality, Individualization and Friendship. Self Care and Other Care. Institutional Care. Distance, Othering and Care. Conclusions. Chapter 7. Conclusions. Self, Morality and Acquiring the Capacity to Care. Families, Good Enough Parenting and Changing Gender Relations. The Capacity to Care and Ethical Subjectivity. Caring Across Distance and Difference. The Capacity to Care and Why it Matters.

About the Author/Editor

Wendy Hollway is a Professor in Psychology at the Open University. She has worked in several social science disciplines and has pursued a critical psychology perspective in many areas. She is especially interested in the development of subjectivity and the use of psychoanalysis in qualitative methodology.

About the Series

Women and Psychology

This series brings together current theory, research and practice on women and psychology. Drawing on scholarship from a number of different areas of psychology, it bridges the gap between abstract research and the reality of women's lives by integrating theory and practice, research and policy.

Each book addresses a 'cutting edge' issue, covering topics such as postnatal depression, abortion, pregnancy, sexual violence, mothering, madness or eating disorders. Authors draw on a wide range of theories and approaches – including post-structuralism, social constructionism, psychoanalysis, social cognition, development psychology, and intersectionality. Some books include research data, primarily of a qualitative nature, others focus on theory or practice.

The series provides accessible and concise accounts of key issues in the study of women and psychology, and clearly demonstrates the centrality of psychology debates within women's studies or feminism.
If you are interested in contributing a book to the series, contact the series editor for information about the process of submitting a proposal: [email protected]

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Women's Studies
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Gender Studies