An Ethos of Care

An Ethos of Care Pledge

Emily Skop, Martina Angela Caretta, Caroline Faria and Jessi L. Smith offer other scholars engaged in research collaborations a pledge to help foster and sustain more equitable relationships.

We take this opportunity to offer other scholars engaged in research collaborations an “ethos of care” pledge that we ourselves use to set new norms and new strategies around collaboration.

Establishing and maintaining collaborations depends on the ability and willingness of scholars to work together and create mutually agreed-upon goals and responsibilities. We argue that collaborations benefit from honestly discussing each of the 10 points outlined in the pledge at the beginning of any collaboration. We encourage research collaborators to revise any of those 10 points so as to tailor the pledge to suit the specific needs of each of the individuals and the team.

We also contend that collaborators must have regular and frequent communication throughout their work together, particularly regarding their respective expectations and obligations. Revisiting and revising the pledge according to the changing interests of the participating scholars and the team are vital to accomplishing agreed-upon goals.

This pledge can also serve as a prompt for navigating difficult conversations around the inherent imbalances of power, acknowledging the vulnerability of various collaborators and the potential consequences for everyone involved. Whether the collaborators decide to sign written agreements based on these prompts and/or other elements typically found in a memorandum of understanding is a decision for the collaborators to make together -- although such more formal agreements are considered a best practice, especially for longer-term collaborations. With that in mind, we offer the following ethos of care pledge.

In our work together, we promise to:

  1. Center our academic pursuits around a feminist ethic of knowledge production -- one that recognizes the long-standing inequities and injustices of academe.
  2. Embrace an explicitly antiracist, feminist approach that highlights the compounded academic pressures and hypervisibility/invisibility of BIPOC scholars.
  3. Develop, promote and reward strategies to do academic work that centers social justice imperatives.
  4. Make space to hear and learn from uncomfortable, innovative and transgressive ideas.
  5. Create transparency and fairness by setting, communicating and respecting clear boundaries. Take time each year to reflect and revise these boundaries in recognition that over the course of our personal and professional lives those boundaries adapt and change.
  6. Protect our mental, emotional and physical well-being and growth in the research process by supporting each other’s professional and personal aspirations.
  7. Share and rotate the labor of intellectually joyful and tedious tasks.
  8. Mentor up, down and across professional and personal life-course stages to unsettle hierarchical relationships and promote an ethos of care.
  9. Disrupt perfection: share insights and experiences overcoming challenges, failures and rejections as well as motivations, successes and ambitions.
  10. Humanize our work by valuing the intellectual and ethical centrality of friendship, connection and responsibility.

A pledge like ours offers a starting point for collaborators to reflect on the norms of power and resolve to disrupt and transform those norms in a mutually beneficial, evolving and inspiring manner. We want to find ways to challenge the ever-present logic of collaborating in a neoliberal academy and introduce alternatives. As Sara Ahmed warns, to do so also means fundamentally upturning the very foundations of neoliberal definitions of academic happiness: discarding ranking, productivity and influence for another, more caring, vision -- equity, justice, reparation and new and radical transformative academic futures. Given the COVID-19 pandemic’s outsize impact on minority-identified and women scholars, leaning on our collaborators is more important than ever. So let us pledge to take care of each other as researchers.

A commitment to an ethos of care with our current and future collaborators can further define what it means to partner on research -- not just in terms of work productivity but also in feeling cared for. This should be imperative for all researchers, if we are to create diverse, inclusive and innovative knowledge centers that respond to our world’s most urgent challenges.