Accepted Paper:

Between formal and informal care: the permeable boundaries of home and care for older people  


Peter Lutz (Maastricht University)

Paper short abstract:

Here the distinction between 'formal' and 'informal' care of older people in the home is questioned. It explores the validity of this distinction for an analysis of how human and non-human actors negotiate domestic care practices. The discussion is based on recent fieldwork in the US and Sweden.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based on ethnographic stories and observations of care for older people in the US and Sweden. It stems from the need to find socially appropriate ways to care for an aging global population. This often includes respect for personal autonomy and the avoidance of institutionalized care when possible. There is consensus - stemming partly from economic and political pressures - that in-home care makes the most sense. For some of the people concerned, home spaces may nevertheless become places of isolation, loneliness or even danger. In such cases viable alternatives must be found. One vivid example from Sweden is the installation of a state-funded bathroom module built directly onto the side of a private house. The rationale is that this eases the task of personal hygiene performed by state healthcare workers. Rather than a fixed entity, here the home emerges as a permeable boundary where private and public dimensions are increasingly blurred. Such fluidness brings into question the validity of a formal/informal care distinction for the analysis of how human and non-human actors negotiate their care. Consequently, this paper argues that contemporary care practices situated by home render such distinctions obsolete. With reference to recent work in the study of material culture and medical anthropology, it offers a nuanced approach to care. Multiple settings are contrasted to highlight the most relevant findings and suggest avenues for further research.

Panel W077
Care, welfare and mutuality: anthropological perspectives on shifting concepts, boundaries and practices