Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Renewing the Social Vision of Care (1)

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Renewing the Social Vision of Care (1)

Article excerpt

1. The Emergence of Care as a Public Issue

At different points in our lives, we all need care. This arises from our physical and biological vulnerability and our incapacity to support ourselves at crucial points in our life course. Care may, therefore, be regarded as a fundamental condition of human existence. Because it is not something we can always do for ourselves, but must rely on others, care is, itself, an inherently social activity. In turn, following the work of Turner and Rojek on the social responses to bodily vulnerability (Turner and Rojek, 2001) care arrangements may be considered as providing a basis for social solidarity, or, as we more commonly refer to it, for social life.

Surprisingly, the social phenomenon of care has only recently begun to receive serious attention from social researchers and the public (Tronto, 1993; Bowden, 1997; Daly and Lewis, 2000). This neglect of care in both sociological research and in popular discourse, I venture, is the result of it being regarded as the prime responsibility of the family, with the tasks routinely falling to women for whom it was seen as a natural, even instinctive behaviour (Barrett and McIntosh, 1982). In other instances, intervention was called for and care became the responsibility of the state or of charity acting with the authority and support of the state. In both instances, it had a taken-for-granted quality, as it was hidden away as a private activity behind the picket fence of the family home, or the heavy doors of closed institutions.

Part of the evidence for this claim about the contemporary emergence of 'care' as a social, rather than a private, personal or familial issue, is the very recent invention of the term 'rarer' (Bytheway and Johnson, 1998). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of this term in its modern form, meaning someone who provides intensive personal support to a person with ongoing needs as a result of disability or age, was in 1978. Before that its use was recorded, but with another, very different, meaning. In 1691 and 1850, for example, uses were recorded but these referred simply to 'one who cares', that is a person who is a worrier (2).

The term 'carer' is not just a new word. Along with it have come new organisations, representing the views of people now called caters, and, as an indication of the success of the new approach, new policies in Australia and in countries like Australia, to help carers manage, and, it could be said, to help manage the newly discovered political voice of carers. Care thus moved from being what the sociologist C. Wright Mills would have termed a private concern to a public issue (Mills, 1959). In the process, care has become a battlefield for competing ethical value positions, and has been problematised and opened-up to academic as well as more popular and political scrutiny. This has been reflected in changing patterns of formally organised and provided human services, as well as in moves for the recognition and support of informal care.

Changing patterns of care have become the cause of long and heated debates, often expressed in controversies and open conflicts between protagonists. These changes are evident in almost every sphere, from disputes over the 'work-life' or work and family balance (Hakim, 2000; Duncan, 2002; Kay, 2003; Pocock, 2003) and the development of formal child care services (Brennan, 1998; Mahon, 2002), to the deinstitutionalisation of care for people with disabilities and mental health, and the expansion and reorganisation of community care programs to help older people remain in their homes (Baldock and Evers, 1992; Keith, 1992; Gleeson, 1997; Newton, 2001). Ironically, the expansion of formal service provision, itself a source of much employment for women seeking paid work outside the home, has been accompanied by further increases in demand and by the identification of new needs for intervention. …

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