Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Provisioning Responsibilities: How Relationships Shape the Work That Women Do

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Provisioning Responsibilities: How Relationships Shape the Work That Women Do

Article excerpt

SINCE THE GROUND BREAKING WORK OF Marilyn Waring's Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth (1988) was published, there has been a veritable explosion of research and theory about the various types of work that women do, where and how the work is done, its characteristics, and perhaps most contentiously, how it is valued (for a summary see Neysmith and Reitsma-Street 2005). There is little doubt about the importance of charting and accounting for all the work that women do. The debate is around approaches that best capture both its depth and complexity and then the relative merits of different strategies for imputing its value (Bourgeault and Khokher 2006; Craig 2007; Hoskyns and Rai 2007; Neysmith and Reitsma-Street 2000; Statistics Canada 2003, 2005:116). Although the different approaches that make up this literature have implications for research and theory, of particular concern is how the associated policy impacts affect the quality of life experienced by different groups of women. In this paper data are presented on provisioning, defined as the paid and unpaid relation-shaped work responsibilities carried by women who belonged to six different types of community groups in Ontario and British Columbia, Canada. These groups focused on the interests of women marginalized by income, race, and age. Our findings confirm the complex nature of the activities that make up women's work across spheres and social locations (Luxton 2001; Staeheli and Clarke 2003; Vosko 2006). The study also conceptualizes practical and transformative strategies women use to meet their provisioning responsibilities. Provisioning responsibilities flow through pathways of relationships (Adkins 2005; England and Folbre 2003; Misztal 2005; Nelson 2006; Neysmith 2000). We argue that centering the work-relationship connection is necessary if multiple types of work are to be inserted into theory and policy debates (Cooper 1994; Funk and Kobayashi 2009; Neysmith et al. 2009). Doing so is an important step toward changing a discourse that devalues the contributions that women make to civil society.

THE WORK OF PROVISIONING IN NEOLIBERAL TIMES

Nation state regimes, such as those found in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, delineate through public policy the responsibilities and rights of those living within their borders. Policies are based on assumptions, an important one being understandings of public and private life. Boundaries set around these two spheres result in quite differing lived experiences for different groups. In this study the research sites were situated in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and British Columbia. Both provinces elected governments late in the twentieth century committed to rapid implementation of neoliberal policies that radically decreased social and health services. During this time, in both provinces, employment equity legislation was revoked, labor legislation was weakened, social assistance rates were deeply cut while eligibility criteria became very restricted, and education, health, and social services underwent massive restructuring (Creese and Strong-Borag 2005; Neysmith, Bezanson, and O'Connell 2005).

Neoliberalism is a term used since the early 1970s to refer to national and international policies that reflect a philosophy of liberal individualism. Programs that flow from such policies rest on the theory that the best approach to securing and protecting human well-being is through individual economic and social freedoms and that state interventions in market activities should be kept to a minimum (Harvey 2005 as quoted in Cohen and Pulkingham 2009:16). Some of the effects of neoliberal programs are quite visible and are documented (Cohen and Brodie 2007), especially the expectations placed on persons and communities to prioritize employment in the labor market, even if jobs are insecure and poorly paid. Less visible, and a challenge to document empirically, are the effects on women of the off-loading of responsibilities from public into private spaces. …

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