Contested Concepts in Gender and Social Politics
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Contested Concepts in Gender and Social Politics

Edited by Barbara Hobson, Jane Lewis and Birte Siim

An important contribution to the current literature on gender and social politics, this book challenges mainstream thinking on welfare states, citizenship, family, work, and social policy. Contested Concepts in Gender and Social Politics analyses the corresponding shifts in political discourse, and the changes in socio-political configurations that mirror changing gender relations.
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Chapter 3: Care: actors, relationships and contexts

Arnlaug Leira and Chiara Saraceno


Arnlaug Leira and Chiara Saraceno1 THE MULTIDIMENSIONAL CARING PUZZLE Until the 1970s, ‘care’ apparently represented few if any theoretical challenges for social research, either as a concept or a social activity. Since then the academic debate about the meaning and contents of terms like ‘care’ and ‘caring’ has flourished. With feminist scholarship as the main driving force, the many threads that make up the relational, symbolic, political and practical tapestry of care and caring relationships have been progressively unravelled. In this process different actors have emerged, both on the side of care givers and of care receivers. Not only have needs, interests and conflicts of interest been acknowledged, named and contrasted, but locations of care giving and care receiving have been identified. As the ‘caring deficit’ (Hochschild, 1995), that is, the shortage of resources available for providing care, becomes more widely acknowledged, there is increasing debate about the rights and responsibilities of the care dependent and care providers. The analysis of care, and the actors, relationships and contexts involved, is not a linear or additive process. Rather, it is a reflective process shifting in focus of attention, as well as changing in perspective and in levels of analysis. This implies the need to readjust previous insights and acquired knowledge. In doing so, the concept and the vocabulary of care – to paraphrase Ungerson’s (1990) insightful expression – have been expanded, even risking becoming either too generic, or too partial. From this point of view, it is interesting...

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