HRM Seminar Series: ‘You’ve gotta learn there’s good enough’: Feminist care...

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‘You’ve gotta learn there’s good enough’: Feminist care ethics and a good enough caring space for teachers

Michaela Edwards, Lecturer in Organizational Health and Wellbeing, University Lancashire

Caroline Gatrell, Professor of Organization Studies, University of Liverpool Management School and;

Norman Crump, Senior Lecturer in Organization Studies, Department of Organization Work and Technology, Lancaster University,

Care has often been thought of as 'pre-political and private' serving to 'reinscribe existing power relations' (Atkinson et al 2011) between between those who care and the cared for.

This paper emphasises the way in which research on feminist care ethics seeks to redefine constructions of care, and care work, as primarily an activity associated with workers identifying as female. Challenging a masculinist, rationalised discourse that conflates care with gender, associating in particular caring roles at work with a supposedly feminine, high pastoral-yet low work-orientation, we argue for a broader and more inclusive understanding of ‘care’

We make this challenge through exploring the organizing of childhood, and of child-care, within a high school setting using ethnographic research, (conducted among teachers in a school for 11-18 year olds in Northern England,) to illustrate our line of thought. Drawing upon the work of Donald Woods Winnicott, we highlight how the influence of broad social constructions of ‘good mothering’, combined with individual childhood experiences, shape an organizational environment where children are the focus. Choosing a professional group who are, by the nature of their roles’ in loco parentis’ we consider the extent to which the teachers feel themselves to be in a space in which they can both care, and feel cared about. We observe teachers’ concerns regarding how neo-liberal, market oriented perspectives increasingly compromise care and we highlight one incidence in which the prioritising of a feminist ethic of care (what seemed best for children) conflicted with and a more masculine, commercial, discourse. Using school settings as the basis for our discussions, we ask what a good enough caring space might look like, relating this to the work of Winnicott and emphasising the problems that arise when ‘caring space’ is not available. We consider the impacts on teachers, and the children in their care, of the rise of a care-less and commoditised culture, in what may traditionally be thought of as a caring profession.

In so doing, we extend the care ethics literature by of re-defining the types of spaces in which we expect care to take place, and therefore what we see as care. While contesting the idea that care, and care work should be classified as a supposedly ‘feminine’ activity, we nevertheless emphasise the importance of a feminist ethics of care within organisations – not only those where care is a fundamental attribute of the job (such as school teaching) but in organizations more broadly. In this We argue that demonstrating the relevance of a non-gendered ethic of care in a working environment can contribute to disrupting conventional gendered understandings of care, care relating not only to those traditionally thought of as ‘the carer’ or the ‘cared for’, or those traditionally assumed to be the 'caring type' (usually women) but rather to the human condition more broadly.


'Dr Michaela Edwards is a Lecturer in Organisational Health and Wellbeing at Lancaster University and a Director and Trustee of Lancashire Mind. She is currently working on a number of funded projects with public and private sector partner organisations in the North West. Dr Edwards is particularly interested in how organisations can better support the wellbeing of their employees, and in how we can understand wellbeing and coping more effectively with a holistic approach.Theoretically she is influenced by Critical Management Studies, Psychoanalytic Geography and Winnicottian Object Relations Theory. She argues for the importance of advancing our understanding of coping and wellbeing beyond an organisationally bounded or reactive approach.'


Atkinson, S; Lawson, V. and Wiles, J 2011. Care of the body: spaces of practice. Social & Cultural Geography, 12, (6), pp.563-572

Gazi Islam
, (2013) "Recognizing employees: reification, dignity and promoting care in management", Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, Vol. 20 Issue: 2, pp.235-250,

Winnicott, Donald. W. (1986) Home is where we start from: Essays by a psychoanalyst. London: Penguin Books.

Winnicott D W (1971) Playing and Reality. London: Routledge.

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