Brock University

A Sociology of Care: Challenging Borders and Boundaries in Problematizing Care

What is care and how do we investigate it? This panel starts with the assumption that care is more than the performance of tasks, more than an expression of concern, more than an ethic or a labour of love. Care involves distinct ways of being and relating to others. It involves its own specific styles of knowing and judging. It requires particular forms of institutional and social organization. Yet care also marks off contested terrain at the intersections of public and private boundaries. Care is shaped byand in turn shapesinequities in power, divisions of labour, affective relations and discursive constructions. Care is deeply implicated in the social relations of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, and ability in global and local contexts. A Sociology of Care: Challenging Borders and Boundaries calls us to explore the possibilities and limitations of care. It raises questions around policy priorities and the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth and human resources. Can a sociology of care contribute to a way forward? We invite papers that advance our understanding of care as a social, political, and global process and/or strive to produce knowledge in support of a more caring society.

Session Organizer: Rachel Barken, McMaster University, ; Suzanne Day, York University,


Vote, and Walk Me There: Images of (Better) Care

Christina Sinding, McMaster University,

This presentation draws from a study that highlighted the range of ways women with cancer respond to the call to ‘take charge’ of treatment decision making and care co-ordination. It aims to extend critical dialogue about patient involvement, and professional disengagement, in contemporary healthcare contexts. The presentation is premised on the idea that the metaphors used by lay people in their efforts to articulate good (or better) care can deepen our understanding of the limitations of current care relations, and help us imagine and justify new ones. The metaphors that are the focus of the presentation – ‘vote’ and ‘walk me there’ – emerged as one research participant reflected on her meetings with physicians (and, especially, as she reflected on what she wished had been different about those meetings). I show how these metaphors can be used to raise critical questions about the ideals of patient autonomy and choice that dominate Western cancer care contexts; sharpen our attention to practices of care obscured by these ideals; and suggest alternative value frameworks for the knowledge, identities and practices enacted between health professionals and patients.


Compromised Care: Contesting the ‘Robot’ Substitution Opportunity in Elder Caregiving

Louisa Hawkins, Carleton University,

Despite the incredible importance and relevance of care both to the individual and to the collective, the activity of caregiving is consistently and systematically devalued, and in many cases dehumanized. This paper examines different theories of care (Held, 2002; Tronto, 1993) and frames care as a critical category of analysis. The gendered nature and invisibility of care work is investigated in the context of a social hierarchy of caring that devalues elder care. Further, this paper questions what is communicated about care when it becomes primarily a commodified activity, bought and sold within a global market that prioritizes efficiency and affordability. The assessment that care is compromised when it becomes mechanized is informed by examples of ‘robot’ care and a common presumption that elder care can be robotically mediated (Parks, 2010). Understanding care as an active and ongoing process, this paper argues that the care needs of elders (as determined by elders) be prioritized, and that a shift in social attitude towards aging and elder people is a vital element in the development of a society that is able to provide uncompromised and equitable care to elders.


Wasted or Well Spent: Temporalities of Intimacy in Person-Centred Dementia Care

Katie Aubrecht, CIHR Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Family Studies & Gerontology, Mount Saint Vincent University;  Research Coordinator, Nova Scotia Centre on Aging, Mount Saint Vincent University, , Janice Keefe, Professor, Department of Family Studies & Gerontology, Mount Saint Vincent University; Director, Nova Scotia Centre on Aging, Mount Saint Vincent University,

Within discourses of person-centred dementia care emphasis is placed on developing more finely tuned instrumental relations to dementia and often at the expense of a consideration of the social, political and economic conditions that shape the meaning and purpose of person-centred dementia care. Both dementia and care are made meaningful in the form of questions concerning people’s capacity and competency to seek diagnosis and intervention in time, and thus to be positioned and empowered to recognize ‘abnormal aging’ in intimate relations and everyday life. Drawing on disability studies theory and governmentality studies and a critical review of the literature on person-centred dementia care, this presentation explores the bureaucratic (dys)organization of intimacy in nursing home settings. Particular attention is paid to processes of responsibilization (Burchell, 1996; Rose, 1996), the role that unexamined notions of personhood play in ordering the relations between individuals with dementia diagnoses that live in nursing homes and their family and friend caregivers, and the authorization of psy-knowledge and expertise.


Works Cited:

Burchell, G. (1996). Liberal government and techniques of the self. In A. Barry & N. Rose (Eds.) Foucault and political reason: Liberalism, neo-liberalism and rationalities of government. London, University College London.

Rose, N. (1996). Inventing ourselves: Psychology, power and personhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



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