The Ethic of Care and Women's Eexperiences of Puplic Space

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Women's use of public space has been the subject of much recent research. Existing theory in environment-behavior studies is inadequate to explain these findings. This paper proposes the adoption of the feminist theory of the 'ethic of care' to synthesize and explain much existing research on women's experience of public space. The ethic of care is a model of moral development in which the highest moral imperative requires taking care of needs and sustaining relationships. This paper examines how the ethic of care creates constraints for women's use of public space, by encouraging women to put others first and by reinforcing women's primary responsibility for care-giving. The ethic of care constrains women's use of public space through the association of women with low status 'caring' occupations, and through actions that extend restrictive caring to women. At the same time, through women's use of public space, the ethic of care generates possibilities for women to give and receive care from others and themselves, and creates possibilities for extending care to encompass public spaces. The ethic of care is explored in detail in light of two areas of environment-behavior research on women and public spaces: preference and fear of crime. In conclusion, the paper advocates the ethic of care as a framework for future activism, design, and scholarship concerning public spaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-124
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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