Beyond Caring Labour to Provisioning Work

By Tyyskä, Vappu | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Beyond Caring Labour to Provisioning Work


Tyyskä, Vappu, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Beyond Caring Labour to Provisioning Work Sheila M. Neysmith, Marge Reitsma-Street, Stephanie Baker Collins, and Elaine Porter Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012

In its 10 chapters written by the four authors, with individual chapters from two research assistants, Sandra Tam and Judy Cerny, this book examines the work that women do to sustain themselves and their families. In this welcome addition to the rapidly growing research on women's work, citizenship, and neo-liberalism, the authors start by reviewing the main theories and concepts driving this multidisciplinary discussion. In Chapters 1 and 2, the authors give a conceptual overview of women's work and outline the book's empirical project. The central aim of these chapters is to question both social capital approaches and much of the feminist literature arising from the work of T.H. Marshall and Gøsta Esping-Andersen that focuses on market economy as a central determinant of women's citizenship. Through this theoretical questioning, they challenge the notion of dual spheres (p.19): where women work at home while men participate in wage work.

Although their main criticism of the dual spheres argument is not new, the authors offer a fresh approach to long-standing feminist debates on the notion of "work." They move beyond the market economy to use a core concept from economic feminists of "provisioning" which they define as "work needed to realize the necessities and conveniences of life" (p. 4) "to those for whom [women] have responsibility" (p. 5). In chapters 3 to 9, the authors present empirical evidence to engage with different strands of feminist literature, arguing that the provisioning concept changes how we look at women's work, allowing us to challenge the oppressive policies of the Neo-Liberal era.

The book's empirical project was designed to be a type of participatory action research (described in a detailed Appendix). It is based on 100 interviews, plus focus groups with 138 key informants, all women, in six sites/organizations in British Columbia and Ontario, half in large urban centres and half in medium-sized cities. The participants reflect "intersectionalities" (p.17, 23) with regard to gender, age, social class, immigrant status, and racialized group membership. The sites/organizations were selected for their capacity for "innovative work with marginalized groups" (p.6). The interviews and focus groups were aimed at uncovering the full range of women's provisioning activities, including paid work, caring work, and community work, all of which contain activities and strategies that are largely invisible, due to dominant public/private and paid/unpaid work dualisms.

Chapter 3 presents useful conceptual and operational summaries and tables of women's provisioning activities and strategies. These are presented as manifesting women's agency, or "civil society engagement",(p. 43) as community activism, forming a basis for alternative citizenship claims that have the potential to challenge the neo-liberal tide, a point further elaborated in the two concluding chapters. This chapter and the following one also outline how provisioning can be operationalized. This is a complex framework, and considers women's work in the paid economy, household, and community, as well as their activism, or "civil society engagement" (p.43). In so doing, the book brings attention to women's agency, and the meaning of work for women's identity.

The provisioning framework is elaborated upon in the middle chapters (5-8), with examples from young, racialized women, immigrant mothers, older women, and low-income women, facing neo-liberal attacks on the range of services that would alleviate their difficulties. The authors compare the examples of provisioning and agency, with the stated goal of observing intersectionalities. For example, they find that child care, community work, and health and safety emerge as key concerns for immigrant mothers (Chapter 6), whereas careers are the focus of young, racialized women (Chapter 5). …

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