Talking about Care: Two Sides to the Story

Talking about Care: Two Sides to the Story

Talking about Care: Two Sides to the Story

Talking about Care: Two Sides to the Story


Despite its familiarity, the realities of care are both complex and contested. This book offers a unique approach to scrutinising the co-existence of both care and abuse in relationships. It demonstrates ways of increasing critical reflexivity when working with people involved in difficult care relationships. The book emphasises that when talking about care, we need to care about talk.Discourse analysis is introduced as a method of investigating relationships, policy and literature in informal care. Analytic tools are considered alongside case-studies to illustrate how both carer and caree construct their relationship and account for difficulties with each other.


Care is diverse and complex. Its diversity is marked by the number of different activities that it can indicate, from assistance with washing and dressing, to ensuring medication is taken or completing household chores. The complexity of care does not necessarily arise from these instrumental or physical tasks, but from the negotiation of relationships and emotional ties, where care is given and received. What is common across care is its mode of delivery; care is always mediated by relationships. Understanding relationships therefore plays an important role in offering support, particularly when difficulties come about.

In this book I argue for one particular approach in developing insights into care. I suggest that paying attention to the detail of the way people talk about their care relationships can illuminate how they manage difficulties, and how practitioners might work most helpfully with them.

The following chapters are a studied account of how people talk about their experiences, with a particular focus on the troubles involved in care. The book is based on a series of research interviews conducted with 12 people involved in informal (family) care. The aim in introducing people’s personal accounts is not to pathologise the individuals concerned, nor their relationships. It is not to set them apart from other people by indicating that the difficulties they encounter are out of the ordinary. Quite the opposite is the case. One of the main arguments of this book is to underline the normality and prevalence of difficulties in relationships. These people are not unique in the troubles they articulate, nor in their style of expressing difficulties; a focused analysis of the minutiae of conversations will reveal similarities in all relationships. This book explores in detail the way that people talk about their care relationships, and asserts that, in hearing talk about care, one must begin to care about talk.

Talking about care: a polarity in the literature

The informal care literature has formed a substantial backdrop to this book, both in terms of contextualising it within the field, and in drawing attention to the less developed and understood areas. In particular, a number of polarities are apparent.

The extensive care literature dates from the late 1970s and has been characterised by a strong emphasis on care as women’s work (Graham, 1983, in Lewis and Meredith, 1988), the provision of care as a private family matter (Sudha and Mutran, 1999) or as a public responsibility (Twigg et al, 1990), the costs and pressures of caring alongside the practical consequences of caring/ support for carers (Kosberg and Cairl, 1986; Twigg and Atkin, 1994), care as . . .

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