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Conceptualisations of care: why understanding paid care is important


Within social policy, the question of what constitutes ‘care’ within the care industry is ill-defined, leading to problematic assumptions that conflate paid and unpaid care. This paper draws on my own experiences of working in the care industry, and data collected during a 4-month ethnography in a Domiciliary Care company. Analysis of these data indicates that three differing conceptualisations of care are influential within the setting: business, medical/professional and familial. These conceptualisations are not discrete, and their interconnections are evident both in the literature and the data. Although the literature emphasises the superiority of familial conceptualisations of care, a more complex picture arose within the data as carers used contextualised definitions of care to draw boundaries around their emotional resources, times and energies in ways which relate to business and medical/professional conceptualisations of care. By exploring these definitions of care, this paper illustrates the often hidden and unrecognised set of skills around emotional management that carers must use in their everyday work in order to care for their clients, challenging notions that care work is both unskilled and a natural capacity. The data also challenge assumptions that commodification is inherently inimical to providing good care. As the need for paid care increases, creating a definition of paid care which incorporates such unquantifiable aspects of care becomes of vital importance for both policy makers and researchers.

  • care of the elderly
  • end of life care
  • health policy

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Due to the size of the study, data are not publicly available as this could compromise participant anonymity.

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