Founded on moral and knowledge authority, NGO activities influence state behavior and international politics more broadly. NGO authority is understood to be composed of moral and knowledge claims and practices that are (often implicitly) founded in justice ethics. Justice ethics is founded on universal, abstract rules and principles, assumes all humans are autonomous and equal, and values impartial, rational decision-making. Knowledge authority is based on expert knowledge, on a reputation for “rigorous, objective” research. Moral authority is based on apolitical representation of human beings across the globe, codified by international law. This foundation on justice ethics is implicit, but it is the dominant frame in which NGOs exercise authority in public. I find that the above definition of moral and knowledge authority is incomplete, because these definitions of moral and knowledge authority do not accurately explain all of the moral and knowledge authority that is evident in human rights advocacy. I argue that care ethics is a foundational, yet often undervalued element in the deployment of NGO knowledge and moral authority. ❧ In addition, understanding that NGO work depends on care ethics in addition to justice ethics helps explain the gendered and complex relationship between moral and knowledge authority in practice. For example, it helps us understand why certain types of work and certain styles of arguing, particularly those that depend on care and the feminine, are carefully managed in public, and are viewed with more ambivalence than other more typically masculine roles and arguments. Tensions emerge between the need to motivate people to action—to mobilize shame, empathy and outrage on one hand, and the need to argue for objective, dispassionate, rational policies and legal findings on the other. While elements of care may often be feminized and devalued, it does not follow that women only practice care or that care is relatively unimportant or ineffectual, however. ❧ Using a critical feminist methodology to examine NGO authority, I argue that moral and knowledge authorities depend on both justice and care ethics, ethics that are differently valued and deeply gendered in practice. This makes care ethics hard to see, particularly in public practices of NGOs, but while it may often be hidden from view, care ethics is fundamental to human rights advocacy and NGO authority. I show how care ethics apply in the everyday work of NGOs, in the theoretical foundations of NGO authority, and in the deployment of that authority in arguments against torture. To accomplish this, I develop a framework of care ethics based on concepts of mature care, reciprocity and co-feeling and apply this framework to the human rights advocacy. I show how this care ethics framework fills in theoretical gaps in our understanding of ethics in international politics, and how human rights advocacy can be improved through the application of a care ethical framework.
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