Empowering and caring professionals: Construction of professional identities in rehabilitative elderly care

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearch


    A wave of policies to reform municipal elderly care services is sweeping across Denmark. Under headings such as ‘help for self-help’, ‘everyday rehabilitation’, and ‘re-ablement’, municipalities are working to make their elderly citizens more self-reliant, active and less dependent on municipal care services. The reform programs are put in place to counter the demographic challenges faced by the Nordic (and many other) welfare states, known under the pessimistic expression ‘the burden of ageing’. Based on ethnographic case studies in two Danish municipalities, the paper illustrates how care workers negotiate professional identities and understandings of meaningful care work, in the new regime of rehabilitative elderly care – how they manage the ambiguities of a simultaneously empowering and interventionist practice. The paper’s analytical framework draws on an understanding of empowerment as a form of advanced liberal government. Also included are perspectives on historically shifting understandings of care and professional care work, that serve as a repertoire of meaning and identity for care workers, who are shown to be actively constructing identities and ‘crafting’ their jobs in relation to the new practice of rehabilitative elderly care. The care workers are found to be balancing complex and contradicting identities as ‘paradigm shifters’ who are reforming traditional understandings of care; as facilitators of the choices and control of citizens; as promoters of responsibility and guards of municipal care budgets; as normative experts; as efficient housewives performing practical tasks; and as sympathetic listeners who fulfil the elderly’s needs for contact and empathy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date11 Jun 2014
    Number of pages17
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2014
    EventNordic Working Life Conference 2014 - Göteborg, Sweden
    Duration: 11 Jun 201413 Jun 2014


    ConferenceNordic Working Life Conference 2014
    Internet address


    • Elderly Care
    • Rehabilitation
    • Care work
    • professional identities

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