These are some of the people who are offering insights into how physiotherapy might develop in the future, and one theme of some of this work that’s emerged in recent years has been around the ethical care of others.
What’s most interesting for me about this work is how it’s inverting the way we’ve traditionally thought about others, placing the ethics of care before our knowledge of them and their world. Ethics preceding ontology if you will.
Here are three examples.
Since the start of the year I’ve been supervising a PG student – Paul Wong – who is reading the work of philosopher Martin Buber (1878 – 1965). Buber is perhaps best known for his work Ich und Du (I and thou) which draws a distinction between the colder ‘I-it’ relationship we have with things in our everyday experience, and ‘I-thou’, which is the relationship we have with things we feel close to, bound to, intimate with. In Buber’s terms, the first is the world of experience, the second is the world of relations.
Then, for a few years now I’ve been working first with Jens Olesen and latterly with Randi Sviland on the writings of Knud Ejler Løgstrup (1905 – 1981), whose work centres on the ways we attune ourselves to the constant ethical claim of the other. Løgstrup rejects ethical codes and standardised approaches to care, arguing for our inherent vulnerability and the risks associated with our interdependence. How we respond to the ethical claim of the other brings us to our ‘self’ and defines who we are as people and practitioners.
And finally, I was honoured last night to take possession of a bound PhD thesis from Filip Maric* – a colleague I’ve been working with for eight years now – whose groundbreaking work looks at how it might be possible to apply Emmanuel Levinas’s (1906 – 1995) philosophy of the other to physiotherapy. Levinas argued that western philosophy has privileged the idea that ‘we’ come into existence first and then go out into the world to ‘consume’ it. Our hunger for knowledge has us assessing, diagnosing, testing, measuring, and ultimately ‘eating’ the other.
Levinas – a survivor of the holocaust – argues that we had our relationship with the other entirely the wrong way around. Rather than us as sovereign human beings first, going out into the the world to consume the other who in western philosophy often comes after us, the ethical call of the other is present always already, and our identity, subjectivity and ‘self’ comes into existence only as a response to the other.
These are radical thinkers, whose work has profound implications for how we relate to others, not only in physiotherapy. Their work asks how might our physiotherapy practice be different if we didn’t set out to ‘know’ the other; consume them; maintain professional judgement and, therefore, power over them.
A lot of things have been written in recent years about how physiotherapy might be different in the future. These people are some of the many in the profession who are venturing into previously unchartered territory to find new ways of thinking and practicing. Hopefully we’ll be seeing some of the fruits of their labours in the physiotherapy literature in the years to come. It’s a privilege to work with them. Long may it continue.
*Filip was the person who came up with the tag-line for the CPN – that we should be a ‘positive force for an otherwise physiotherapy’.