A Practical Ethics of Care: Tinkering with Different ‘Goods’ in Residential Nursing Homes

  • Katharina MoltererEmail author
  • Patrizia Hoyer
  • Chris Steyaert
Original Paper


In this paper, we argue that ‘good care’ in residential nursing homes is enacted through different care practices that are either inspired by a ‘professional logic of care’ that aims for justice and non-maleficence in the professional treatment of residents, or by a ‘relational logic of care’, which attends to the relational quality and the meaning of interpersonal connectedness in people’s lives. Rather than favoring one care logic over the other, this paper indicates how important aspects of care are constantly negotiated between different care practices. Based on the intricate everyday negotiations observed during an ethnographic field study at an elderly nursing home in Germany, the paper puts forth the argument that care is always a matter of tinkering with different, sometimes competing ‘goods’. This tinkering process, which unfolds through ‘intuitive deliberation’, ‘situated assessment’ and ‘affective juggling’ is then theorized along the conceptualization of a ‘practical ethics of care’: an ethics which makes no a priori judgments of what may be considered as good or bad care, but instead calls for momentary judgments that are pliable across changing situations.


Professional logic of care Relational logic of care Ethics of care Practical ethics Tinkering Residential nursing homes 



We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the section editor Raza Mir and the anonymous reviewers who have guided our revision process in a most constructive and collegial manner. Moreover, we would like to thank Gazi Islam and Marianna Fotaki for their friendly reviews and helpful comments of an earlier version of this paper, which was presented at the 33rd EGOS Colloquium (2017) in Copenhagen. We would especially like to thank our colleagues Mark Laukamm, Julia Nentwich, Christina Lüthy, Björn Müller and Florian Schulz who supported us with their substantial feedback during our writing process. Funding was provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declared that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katharina Molterer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patrizia Hoyer
    • 1
  • Chris Steyaert
    • 1
  1. 1.Research Institute for Organizational PsychologyUniversity of St. GallenSt. GallenSwitzerland

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