The Conditions of Care: Reframing the Debate about Public Sector Ethic


Helena Olofsdotter Stensöta is an assistant professor and lecturer on public policy and administration at Linné University, Växjö, and works with the Quality of Government Institute, Gothenburg University, Sweden. Her research deals with public policy, public administration, gender, and ethics in comparative perspective. Her current research focuses on how public ethics accounts for regional variations in national policy programs and on institutions involved in the well-being of children.


While a growing body of research argues for increased attention to ethics within public administration, scholars diverge on how to conceptualize the character of public ethics. Likewise, empirical evidence regarding the role that ethics plays in the quality of service delivery is rare. The author argues that the concept of a public ethics of care is useful for public administration in welfare states. She examines the idea empirically through a large-N analysis of frontline bureaucrats within the Swedish Social Insurance Administration. The analysis develops two general measures of a public ethics of care as well as a public ethics of justice. The author proceeds to show a clear presence of an ethics of care in the Swedish public sector. Further, analysis shows that these two ethics measures are supplementary, not contradictory, and that age is the main individual determinant behind ethics of care, strongly correlating with number of years in office. The conclusion underscores how public ethics of care results from acquired experience in fulfilling care-oriented tasks.