CLOYES KG. Nursing Inquiry 2002; 9: 203–214 Agonizing care: care ethics, agonistic feminism and a political theory of care ‘Care’ is central to nursing theory and practice, and has been described in a variety of ways. Intense conversations about care have been developing in other fields of study as well, from the social sciences to the humanities. Care ethics has grown out of intellectual exchange between feminist thought, moral theory and the critique of traditional western political philosophy. However, care ethics is not without its critics, as these accounts of care have also sparked vigorous challenges. This paper traces the construct of care through nursing theory, care ethics, feminist critiques of moral and political theory and agonistic feminism to outline a set of problematics that a political theory of care should engage. It discusses how care is conventionally posited in more or less essentialist, universalizing and naturalizing terms. It introduces the ideas of feminist theorists who resist dichotomizing care and the political, and situate care in the context of power and politics. The tensions between care feminism and agonistic feminism are highlighted in order to explore the potential of theorizing both care and nursing in political terms.