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Accepted Paper:

Reimagining autistic care during Covid times in a neoliberal Japan  
Makoto Nishi (Hiroshima University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how Covid interventions resulted in the surge of care burdens on families with autistic children in Yokosuka in the backdrop of the neoliberal shift in Japan’s welfare regime. It discusses why the mainstream theoretical construction of care falls short of reversing the situation.

Paper long abstract:

This paper inquires how the Covid pandemic affected families with autistic children and daycare service operators in Yokosuka in the backdrop of the “neoliberal shift” in Japan’s welfare regime during the last decade. Based on interviews conducted since October 2021, it examines how the pandemic responses resulted in an excessive burden on mothers and daycare workers. It also demonstrates how the process was accelerated by the neoliberal shift in the welfare regime that has promoted for-profit welfare businesses since 2005. I argue that the pandemic measures, characterized by elaborate risk-control procedures and stay-home policies, operated on problematic assumptions that designate care work as unlimited responsibility and human agency endowed with unbound flexibility. I further argue that the mainstream theoretical construction of care, which often focuses on responsibility, improvisation, and sympathy, may not help us maintain a caring environment in deeply uncertain times. I have two points to support my argument. First, the value of being responsive––producing a desired reaction to someone appropriately or sympathetically––provides a wide opening through which neoliberal moralities capture parents and care workers. Second, repetition and habituation (instead of improvisation and responsiveness) are often the essential premises for improving the living conditions of those cared for while simultaneously controlling the burden of caregivers. Reimagining the modes of autistic care to address the empirical and theoretical problems requires an anthropological theory of care committed to focusing on embodied practices involved in the process and embracing the fragile environment in which those practices are located.

Panel OP286
Care models in transition: public policy challenges in response to the pandemic crisis
  Session 1