In our unpredictable times, where knowledge is increasingly contested, it seems there is no more urgent a time to ‘get back to the matters’ and to explore and reveal what has been overlooked right there. There is an increasing need for a solid foundation that we can stand on, which is complex enough to do justice to understandings of the dilemmas and vulnerabilities in human life. Such a knowledge foundation, built on ideas from phenomenology, can not only inform directions for practice (in my case nursing, health and social care), but can usefully undergird new understandings for shared human experiences that are highly relevant for our precarious times.
Using delineation of well-being, suffering and dignity as an entry point, this lecture will make a case for an existential foundation for care which strikes at the heart of the capacity to care. Such existential foundations can offer a rich descriptive vocabulary that goes far beyond ‘signs and symptoms’, can act as a sensitising resource, opening up connection to our shared vulnerable heritage. The paper will draw on phenomenological research, philosophical writings, and the arts to point to ‘what is shared’ as a way of guiding care that can meet humans in their vulnerabilities and in their freedoms. Beginning with remembering care as not just ‘doing’, it will point to how care has become obscured, not just by the necessities of efficient and effective health care delivery but also within a wider cultural context where human values are increasingly ruptured from the lifeworld. Phenomenology is one way to remember the essence of care, rightly taking care back to the existential matters of wellbeing, suffering, freedom, vulnerability and dignity.