Feminist research on care and elderly care spans a large and diverse field of research, often framed within an ethics of care. This approach has helped us understand the role of care in societies, described its main characteristics, its gendered division of labor and brought care onto the scientific agenda. However, it has also brought along a vocabulary limiting our understandings of elderly care in today’s realities of increasing migration, late modern societies and neo-liberalist governance, just to mention a few social and political developments. Concepts such as the ‘care meeting’, ‘web of care’, ‘professional carer’ and ‘relations of care’ delimit our investigation of elderly care. Care has changed turning more discontinuous and fragmented (Dahl, 2017; Thelen, 2016) with an increasing number of different, alternating people involved. This necessitates a new scientific vocabulary and I have elsewhere suggested tentative concepts e.g. ‘assemblage’, ‘relatedness’, ‘silence’ and ‘strangers’ (Dahl, 2017). They need further clarification pursued in the research question: How can we develop concepts like ‘assemblage’, ‘relatedness’, ‘silence’ and ‘strangers’ so they become useful in feminist research on elderly care?
This question will be answered using theorizations from philosophy, sociology, STS and feminist research and empirically grounded in diaries, novels and short stories.
In an interdisciplinary vein, my research project draws upon insights from philosophy, sociology and feminist research as well as studying the hearth of the matter: elderly care in different settings, for theoretical clarification. Developing new concepts cannot exclusively take place in an Oxford armchair, but need to be grounded (Mol, 2008). I will develop the new thinking vehicles by going back and forth between theorizing and matter such as found in different forms of empirical material e.g. diaries and novels. Crosscutting are four themes guiding my thinking and analysis of the material: continuity vs. discontinuity, unity vs. fragmentation, intensity vs. indifference and success vs. failure. Firstly, in my theoretically oriented studies I study the relevant literature, and unfold it for the new context along the four themes.
The concept of ‘assemblage’ introduced by the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Feliz Guattari (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988) strikes a balance between the ephemeral, emergent on the one hand and structure and order on the other (Marcus and Saka, 2006). ‘Assemblage’ refers to an intermingling of bodies in a society traversed with all kinds of emotions (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988: 90). To rethink care as an assemblage enables us see care as something unpredictable in changing connectivities, a failure to provide (adequate) care, and makes us more attentive to the variety of affects at play.
Within the feminist care ethics the doers of care are often labelled ‘care professionals’ in order to recognize their various knowledge bases. However, for fragile elderly they are perhaps more like strangers i.e. unknown persons. This concept draws upon the writings of Julia Kristeva and Georg Simmel (Anderson, 2007; Isaksen, 2011: Simmel (2016 )). The encounter between an elderly and the stranger can create both closeness and distance, and be both a positive and threatening experience (Andersson, 2007: 30). Not ignoring the insights of feminist research, I will consider the usefulness of the ‘stranger’.
‘Relatedness’ is a concept of my own invention. It is meant to supplement the existing notion of ‘relations’ signifying less stability between the fragile elderly and significant others, volunteers and professionals. Lately I have discovered seemingly similar notion of ‘relationsscapes’ (Mannings, 2009) and ‘relationalities’ (de la Bellacasa, 2017), and I will consider whether they bring new insights to a feminist ethics of care.
Now silence is an old issue within feminist research, but it has never been adressed within the feminist ethics of care. I have so far been interested in how processes of silencing take place in discursive policy processes, but at NIAS I would like to extend it the emotional work performed by the vulnerable and the professional carers. So I will link contemporary sociological theorizing of affects (Ahmed, Massoumi, Hardt, Hemmings et.al.) with silencing and consider it in relation to the emotional regime in elderly care and how particular emotions by particular subjects can be silenced with it. Ellen Grootegoed (2013) using Hochschilds concept of emotional labor has shown how elderly citizen in a contemporary Dutch context do not complain about reduced services due to shame. This is one example of how particular emotions being silenced. Taking up silence is about the silencing of particular affects, and bringing new insights to the ethics of care.
In my empirical work I will analyze fiction about elderly in need of care along the four themes listed above. Before my stay at NIAS I have begun the collection of relevant novels and short stories in Danish, German and English. By collecting stories from different welfare regimes, I can ground the concepts more thoroughly.
Currently, we witness a changing landscape of elderly care with neo-liberalism, new forms of governance, transformed gender relations and migration. Elderly care becomes more discontinuous and fragmented with an increasing number of different, alternating people involved e.g. close others, voluntaries, care workers and welfare professionals. Existing theorization cannot grasp this new caring landscape and I will therefore develop a new scientific vocabulary answering the question: How can we develop concepts like ‘assemblage’, ‘relatedness’, ‘silence’ and ‘strangers’ so they become useful in feminist research on elderly care?
I will use theorizations from Philosophy, Sociology, STS and feminist research to develop concepts and ground them empirically in novels and short stories from three different, European welfare state contexts.