Ethical Sensemaking in Childcare Practice: Applying care ethics and practice theory to early years provision in the UK

Zoe Raven

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The UK early years sector is facing an ongoing ethical challenge of balancing quality with affordability and accessibility, with a workforce that is underqualified, undervalued and underpaid. The purpose of my research is to identify the factors which facilitate or deter ethical practice, from macro to micro levels. The feminist ethics of care perspective provides insights into the historic underappreciation of the practice of childcare, and the valorisation of education over care, and I combine this with practice theory to examine the phenomenological experience of providing childcare, providing insights into the nature of ethical childcare practice.
Using data from interviews of a purposive sample of leaders and practitioners from early years organisations across England, and supplemented with field notes and diary entries, I examine the facilitating factors, or barriers, for embedding ethical practice in early years settings. Key findings of the research are, firstly, that ethical childcare practice is inhibited by the current underfunding and marketisation of the sector, and that organisational purpose affects the inclusivity of childcare provision. An ethics of care evaluative framework exposes the unintended consequences of political or business decisions. Secondly, using practice theory, I evaluate the agency of individuals, highlight the importance of routine dynamics and sociomateriality and demonstrate the embodied nature of childcare practice. Thirdly, by combining the ethics of care and practice theory I develop the concept of ethical sensemaking to create a model of embodied ethical sensemaking, demonstrating how ethical sensegiving can be used by leaders and practitioners to raise awareness of ethical issues in childcare settings, and how these can then be embedded in embodied ethical practice.
My argument is that an ethics of care perspective is needed throughout the early years sector, from government and organisational policies through to care routines and practices within early years settings. Ethical sensemaking and sensegiving can provide a way to evaluate and instil high quality care in daily routines and practices, and embodied ethical sensemaking can help to embed ethical childcare practice in early years settings.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Zeyen, Anica, Supervisor
  • Spence, Laura, Supervisor
Award date1 Dec 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • Early Years
  • Ethics of Care
  • Practice Theory
  • Ethical Sensemaking
  • Embodied Care
  • Ethical Childcare
  • Ethical Sensegiving

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