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Strengthening care mobilization in Canada’s social welfare state

Laura Funk (PI, UManitoba), Pat Armstrong (York), Katie Aubrecht (StFX), Chris Ceci (UAlberta), Maria Cherba (UOttawa), Mara Fridell (UManitoba), Janna Klostermann (UCalgary), Holly Symonds-Brown (UAlberta), & Dana Sawchuk (Wilfrid Laurier). Strengthening care mobilization in Canada’s social welfare state (2021-2025). SSHRC (Insight Grant).

Political advocacy around unpaid care tends to focus on amplifying carers’ voices and needs, and expanding access to individual-level supports to maintain carers in their role. Recently, care advocates and academics have called for structural and policy changes to value and improve conditions for care across labour, community and client sectors. Yet within this movement, there has been limited political articulation of unpaid carers as citizens with rights and agency, or as activists who can produce radical, situated, change-based knowledge. Political inaction more broadly is connected to gendered familial and neoliberal ideologies that can limit our abilities to envision mutual, collective or solidaristic forms of care.

Supporting care advocacy is crucial given that the status quo is harmful for carers and unsustainable for society more broadly, which relies on this unpaid labour. As policies are unlikely to change without public demand, in this project we investigate public rhetoric around care and family responsibility, examine conditions under which family carers engage in collective action or politicization, and explore how carers’ insights might inform a broad-based care movement and expand conceptions of family care. Building on our extensive, diverse expertise in care, aging, feminist theory and activism, we will bridge rhetorical and ethnographic inquiry with a ‘future-making’ orientation, developing and analyzing a caregiving advocacy rhetoric dataset, interviews with home-based carers of older adults, observations of carers’ formalized group conversations, and transformative discussion workshops. Throughout, we will expand feminist theories of care and social movement activism with a focus on everyday citizenship and politicization. We ask: (1) How is family care understood in care advocacy rhetoric? (2) Under which conditions do family carers engage in everyday politicization practices – developing collective identities or reframing the division of unpaid care as a socio-political issue? (3) How might focused carer dialogue shift understandings of care and family responsibility, or envision alternative care arrangements? We will engage carers and collaborators in five cities in five provinces, capitalizing on our team’s ties to Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Gatineau, and Halifax.

With our track record of feminist sociological work in aging, care work and social movement activism, we will advance theories of care and citizenship engagement, and catalyze carer and public engagement through arts-engaged knowledge mobilization (an interactive, multi-media virtual hub). We will generate knowledge about how carers articulate relational and politicized understandings that can inform their participation in social movement activism. We aim for our findings to shift public discourse towards feminist, relational and politicized understandings of care, informing a cross-sector care movement that includes family carers as citizens-in-relation.

As well as coInvestigators from across Canada, our team includes students Lauriane Giguère (Ottawa), Rachel Dunsmore and Lydina Mulvena (Manitoba), Harkeert Judge (Edmonton) and Allison Hancock (Antigonish).

2022 update: In the first year of the project we’ve focused on the first research question above, and presented three papers at the joint virtual conference of the European Network in Aging Studies and North American Network in Aging Studies.

Narratives of Informal Late Life Care in Canada: Who Gives, Receives, and Challenges the Conditions of Care? Panel Co-Chairs: Dana Sawchuk and Janna Klostermann

Distressed and Deemed Essential: Evolving Narratives of Family Caregivers in Canadian News Media, 2010-2021 (Sawchuk, Cherba, Giguère)

Canadian Media Portrayals of Older Adults as Care Recipients: Representing and Promoting Intergenerational Conflict  (Dunsmore)

Beyond ‘Caring for the Carers’: How the Problems and Solutions of Unpaid Care are Framed and Reinforced through Canada’s Caregiver Organizations (Funk)

Those papers are being developed into publications. We have also published our first paper:

Klostermann, J., Funk, L., Symonds-Brown, H. Cherba, M., Ceci, C., Armstrong, P., & Pols, J. (2022). The problems with care: a feminist care scholar retrospective. Societies,12, 52. [Open Access]