Mission of the chair
Jeannette Pols studies what it means ‘to be human’ and ‘to be social’ when the starting point is not the cogito, but every day, technologically mediated and embodied practices. These matters are of great importance to both the humanities and humanism. The mission of the chair is to connect scientific, ethical and humanistic questions by developing research in empirical ethics. Empirical ethics consists of comparative ethnographic analyses of knowledge and values embedded in socio-material practices. Research in empirical ethics provides insight into the practical and desirable ways in which technologies shape care and socialities, and the repertoires of ‘being human’ that follow from these practices. The aim is to discover and develop normative directions in complex technological societies.
Jeannette Pols’ recent work is on ethical and aesthetic values in daily life and health care, the shaping of (patient) subjectivities in social material care practices, specifically through the use of health care technology, and the study of practical knowledge that patients and professionals use. Her most recent work is on ‘human dignity’, and how this concept has two meanings that do not go together easily. On the one hand, dignity forms the fundament for human rights, stressing the equality of individuals, simply because they are human (humanitas); on the other hand it refers to differences between people and aesthetic ways of organizing societies in a ways people find proper and of value (dignitas). It is this tension that makes the concept of dignity a challenging tool to think about what individuality and sociality has come to mean in modern societies, and how they might relate.
With the Socrates chair Pols aims to strengthen the collaboration between the department of Sociolgy and Anthropology, the program ‘Health, Care and the Body’ in particular, and the AmC section of Medical Ethics where Pols is employed. Superficially, one might think that anthropologists and sociologists describe social practices, whereas ethicists and humanistic thinkers debate what these social practices should look like. Research in empirical ethics shows, however, that there are many connections between ‘what is true’ and ‘what is good’ and also ‘what is beautiful’; this is inscribed in our methods, concepts and in the technologies we use.
Jeannette Pols studied Social Philosophy and Clinical Psychology in Groningen, and received her PhD from the University of Twente, for an award winning study in empirical ethics. The study unravelled what ‘good care’ is by studying how nurses and patients shaped care ‘in action’. Not only did the ideals differ greatly between long term mental health care and residential care for older people, but so where the ways in which the nurses accounted for these ideals. Washing reluctant patients, for example, was legitimised in a scientific style (‘Our approach measurably develops patient independence!’), or an ethical style (‘You should take care of people who cannot look after themselves!’). Both styles of accounting co-exist, but it is unclear how they might relate. At the time of this study, Pols worked with the Trimbos-institute in Utrecht. Since 2006, Pols works with the staff of the section of Medical ethics, Department of General Practice in the Amsterdam Medical Centre.