With my colleague Andrew King (University of Surrey), I’m starting work on a paper which aims to explore informal care practices within the lives of older lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people. This will problematize the framing of ‘informal care’ within policy that most often assumes that these forms of care take place either within assumed heteronormative familial relationships and/or within a dyadic relationship, with one person the ‘carer’ and one the ‘cared for’. We are drawing on ‘case stories’ which we’ve developed from our research with older LGB respondents, selected to represent wider issues within LGB communities and illustrative of a range of care practices, including care provided by friends and strangers, reciprocal care and other expressions of care within LGB communities. We anticipate our paper will also contribute to wider debates about the increasingly diverse range of family forms and social relationships that are not easy to name or recognize.
In developing this paper, we are also searching for our theoretical framework within which to situate this; the thoughts on this below are my own, although it will be something that I work on in collaboration and further feedback from members of the networks are welcome.
I’m leaning towards defining and exploring ‘care practices’ – akin to Morgan’s (1999, 2011) concept of family practices – as a way to investigate and interrogate care and caring relationship and practices and in particular, unpack the meanings of such practices – emotional, relational, moral, and symbolic. The concept of family practices seeks to shifts the focus towards what families do rather than a focus on family structures; but nevertheless also recognising that at everyday levels the ‘family’ is still a term used by individuals to describe their most meaningful relationships. Morgan suggests that this perspective offers the possibility to see the family as ‘less of a noun and more of an adjective or, possibly, a verb’ (1999:16).
Care practices could encompass a whole range of practices that bind people together, that may include conflicts, tensions and ambivalence as well as affection and love. Thus addressing some of the complexities of care – interdependence, reciprocity, conflicts (workings of power/imbalance), resources, identities, moral deliberations, emotions, labour, working across time and space, involving networks as well as individuals and dyadic relationships.
There are of course other ways of theorising care, including carescapes and an ethics of care framework. Carescapes (Mckie et al 2002) seeks to add a dimension to thinking about care across time and space – the concept developed out of concerns focused on the changing yet gendered nature of caring for children and time-space relations implicit in combining caring and working and shifting roles as children grow (but that may have wider application to other relationships of care):
Mapping routes through the shifting and changing multi-dimensional terrain that comprises their vision of caring possibilities and obligations: routes that are influenced by everyday scheduling and by combining caring work through paid work and the paid work of carers (McKie et al 2002: 904)
And of course, an ethics of care framework has been developed and drawn upon to theorise values of care (key references include Tronto, 1993 and more recently Barnes, 2012) – involving both thought and action and placing value on notions of responsibilities of providing good care; valuing connectedness, incorporating values of dignity and respect. It seems to suggest and encompass a moral framework – though not prescriptive – about the delivery of care and how it is delivered. Is that distinct from or similar to the meanings ascribed to relationships through the doing of care?
I’m left with questions that I don’t yet have answers to. Are there overlaps between the three – care practices, carescapes and ethics of care? Is it that they have developed within different spheres and that they do say the same things in different ways or do they offer distinct contributions to debates on care? All thoughts and ideas most welcome in taking these reflections forward.
Name, address, contact details.
Dr Kathryn Almack
Senior Research Fellow
B Floor, QMC
School of Health Sciences
University of Nottingham
Tel: +44 (0)115 8231204
Barnes, M. (2012) Care in Everyday Life: an ethic of care in practice. Bristol: Policy Press
McKie, L., Gregory, S. and Bowlby, S. (2002) Shadow Times: The temporal and spatial frameworks and experiences of caring and working. Sociology, 36,4: 897-924
Morgan, D. H. J. (1999) “Risk and family practices ” in Silva, Elisabeth B. and Smart, Carol (Eds.) The New Family? London: Sage Publications, pp. 13-30
Morgan, D. H.J. (2011) Rethinking Family Practices. London: Palgrave Macmillan
Tronto, J. (1993) Moral Boundaries: a political argument for an ethic of care. London: Routledge