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Care, Paid Work, and Work-Family-State Nexus: Learning from the US
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Care is a topic that has been exciting interest for at least 30 years now. Europe was the location of much of the pioneering work on the concept. Care owes its origins in key respects to feminist interest in uncovering the hidden and undervalued aspects of women’s life and labour. As it has developed, the concept of care has shown itself to be capable of a penetrating analysis of the roots and complexities of private welfare and public welfare. A concept that can take account of both micro and macro phenomena as well as formal and informal arrangements and sets of relationships, the books reviewed here show that the analysis of care is as profoundly revealing of fundamental “unsettlements” in US society as it has proved to be elsewhere.

The first two of the three books reviewed – those of Glenn and Boris and Klein – depart from a similar problematic: to interpret the social and political construction of paid home care work in the US and explain why it has proven so hard to get recognition for this as a valuable sphere of activity, and acceptable working conditions for those who do the work. The shared interest is in care as paid labour in the domestic setting and why it is marginalized, in the latter regard especially the exclusion of home care workers from coverage under labour law and employment protection in the US. While both books have a strong focus on gender, each recognizes that for explanation they must reach deep into the functioning of US society and aspects of its economic and political status quo.

Glenn’s book traces the history of the social organization of the home care system in the US and links it to the care crisis there today. Her basic argument is that this work is undertaken under conditions of coercion. The book is structured into six chapters, following a short introduction. The first traces the history of the treatment of care-related work, dating back as far as colonial and early Republican times. Glenn shows that there are at least two intersecting threads or trajectories in the history of caregiving in the US: one is the gender divided system of free labour and a second is the unfree labour regimes based on colour, whereby men were tracked into low wage, non-mechanized labour while women were directed into a pattern of domestic service and caring labour in privileged households. The following chapter traces how elite movements around social reform in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries involved efforts to educate subaltern women to fit bourgeois norms of female caring. A review of different campaigns and activities suggests that the domestication of minority women operated as an essential element in larger projects for incorporating potentially disruptive groups into a stratified social order. The next chapter investigates caring as a status duty and the role of the public authorities in defining and enforcing this obligation. A review of marriage and family law and social welfare provision provides the analytic fundament here, demonstrating how they function to maintain status obligations by preserving the family as a private protected space and keep caring as a property of familial relations and obligations. Chapter Five considers how and why paid care work has long been treated as though it were an extension of women’s domestic labour. The novelty of the analysis here is in suggesting that at least part of the explanation lies in the quasi-property rights that employers enjoy in relation to servants. The failure to include home care under labour law protection means a failure to modernize and regularize this work, which in turn means that caring work is governed by altruism and status obligation rather than contract. The current crisis of care – the subject of Chapter Six of the book – Glenn attributes mainly to three trends which intensify the coercive elements: the transfer of care (especially acute health care and nursing) back into private household, the dismantling of welfare programs for poor mothers so as to compel them to take low-wage jobs, and the neoliberal economic restructuring that has displaced people from traditional means of livelihood in poor countries in the global...

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