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Bodies that work, discourses that care: powerful narratives of elder care on the move


Pelzelmayer, Katharina. Bodies that work, discourses that care: powerful narratives of elder care on the move. 2017, University of Zurich, Faculty of Science.

Abstract

This thesis explores questions of work and power in 24-hour care in German-speaking Switzerland. 24-hour care refers to individual paid care of an elderly person at their private household. While on duty, care-givers live at the household in which they work. 24-hour care is therefore a form of live-in care. Employment or staffing agencies offer and organise 24-hour care arrangements in German-speaking Switzerland. These agencies market around-the-clock care services that promise a care-giver’s presence at all hours of the day. They employ or place women from European Union member states as 24-hour care workers, in particular from Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. The workers spend set periods of time working and living in elderly persons’ households. After two to twelve weeks of duty, there is a change of shift. The first care worker is off duty and another care worker looks after the elderly person. This system of rotation allows care workers to leave Switzerland to see family and friends when they are off duty. Thus many care workers commute in and out of Switzerland at regular intervals. Labour rights activists, care workers, regulators, journalists, and academics have identified considerable limitations of 24-hour care, in particular problematic conditions of work.
The thesis investigates central questions of work and power in Swiss live-in care through an analysis of the discourse on 24-hour care in German-speaking Switzerland between September 2013 and 2015. The primary data consists of around forty care agencies’ descriptions of 24-hour care on their websites. Agency websites are the platforms on which all parties involved in 24-hour care meet–where they receive information and where live-in care arrangements are ultimately initiated. Therefore these websites have been the pivot of the emerging market in 24-hour care. Agency websites are also of analytical significance since they are the spaces where 24-hour care has been most directly outlined and described during the period of enquiry. The secondary set of data treated in this dissertation consists of the discursive contributions by the media, public bodies, scholarship, individual care workers and live-in care workers’ associations.
Drawing on sustained feminist engagements with work and care, I approached Swiss 24-hour care from a feminist perspective with a particular focus on notions of work, gender, and bodies. This approach has facilitated critical analysis of the complex relations of power which are at the heart of 24-hour care. The thesis investigates the complexity of these power relations in five research papers. The papers analyse discussions of difference and questions of pay, care-givers’ becoming of an embodied subjects, workers’ political and social participation, as well as the power and limitations of discursive construction in the media. The research papers explore these questions through analyses of central discursive narratives. The narratives include discussions of care workers’ so-called heart-felt warmth, reference to care workers as ‘female care migrants’ and analysis of 24-hour care in relation to the notion of ethnicisation. The five research papers investigate and illustrate the power of the central narratives about 24-hour care.
My analysis of the central narratives indicates an intricate relationship between fundamental inequalities in live-in care and the particular ways in which they are discussed. In particular, I suggest that the specific ways in which 24-hour care has been discussed underlie the inequalities in the field and serve to sustain problematic working conditions. The discussion of 24-hour care-givers in terms of ‘female care migrants’ illustrates the power of narratives. ‘Female care migrant’ designates the live-in care-worker as first and foremost a circular migrant and dislocates them from Switzerland. By critically investigating central narratives, the thesis illustrates the fundamental significance of discursive narratives for how we understand and value both the work of 24-hour care and those who perform live-in care. In showing how the discursive dislocation of care workers from Switzerland underlies workers’ poor pay and problematic working conditions, the thesis’ findings point to the political consequences of discursive narratives’ power to value and devalue. In drawing attention to the significance of words in the perpetuation of inequalities, the thesis makes a feminist contribution to interdisciplinary scholarship on 24-hour care whose political and theoretical consequence is relevant in and beyond Switzerland.

Abstract

This thesis explores questions of work and power in 24-hour care in German-speaking Switzerland. 24-hour care refers to individual paid care of an elderly person at their private household. While on duty, care-givers live at the household in which they work. 24-hour care is therefore a form of live-in care. Employment or staffing agencies offer and organise 24-hour care arrangements in German-speaking Switzerland. These agencies market around-the-clock care services that promise a care-giver’s presence at all hours of the day. They employ or place women from European Union member states as 24-hour care workers, in particular from Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. The workers spend set periods of time working and living in elderly persons’ households. After two to twelve weeks of duty, there is a change of shift. The first care worker is off duty and another care worker looks after the elderly person. This system of rotation allows care workers to leave Switzerland to see family and friends when they are off duty. Thus many care workers commute in and out of Switzerland at regular intervals. Labour rights activists, care workers, regulators, journalists, and academics have identified considerable limitations of 24-hour care, in particular problematic conditions of work.
The thesis investigates central questions of work and power in Swiss live-in care through an analysis of the discourse on 24-hour care in German-speaking Switzerland between September 2013 and 2015. The primary data consists of around forty care agencies’ descriptions of 24-hour care on their websites. Agency websites are the platforms on which all parties involved in 24-hour care meet–where they receive information and where live-in care arrangements are ultimately initiated. Therefore these websites have been the pivot of the emerging market in 24-hour care. Agency websites are also of analytical significance since they are the spaces where 24-hour care has been most directly outlined and described during the period of enquiry. The secondary set of data treated in this dissertation consists of the discursive contributions by the media, public bodies, scholarship, individual care workers and live-in care workers’ associations.
Drawing on sustained feminist engagements with work and care, I approached Swiss 24-hour care from a feminist perspective with a particular focus on notions of work, gender, and bodies. This approach has facilitated critical analysis of the complex relations of power which are at the heart of 24-hour care. The thesis investigates the complexity of these power relations in five research papers. The papers analyse discussions of difference and questions of pay, care-givers’ becoming of an embodied subjects, workers’ political and social participation, as well as the power and limitations of discursive construction in the media. The research papers explore these questions through analyses of central discursive narratives. The narratives include discussions of care workers’ so-called heart-felt warmth, reference to care workers as ‘female care migrants’ and analysis of 24-hour care in relation to the notion of ethnicisation. The five research papers investigate and illustrate the power of the central narratives about 24-hour care.
My analysis of the central narratives indicates an intricate relationship between fundamental inequalities in live-in care and the particular ways in which they are discussed. In particular, I suggest that the specific ways in which 24-hour care has been discussed underlie the inequalities in the field and serve to sustain problematic working conditions. The discussion of 24-hour care-givers in terms of ‘female care migrants’ illustrates the power of narratives. ‘Female care migrant’ designates the live-in care-worker as first and foremost a circular migrant and dislocates them from Switzerland. By critically investigating central narratives, the thesis illustrates the fundamental significance of discursive narratives for how we understand and value both the work of 24-hour care and those who perform live-in care. In showing how the discursive dislocation of care workers from Switzerland underlies workers’ poor pay and problematic working conditions, the thesis’ findings point to the political consequences of discursive narratives’ power to value and devalue. In drawing attention to the significance of words in the perpetuation of inequalities, the thesis makes a feminist contribution to interdisciplinary scholarship on 24-hour care whose political and theoretical consequence is relevant in and beyond Switzerland.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Dissertation
Referees:Berndt Christian, Schwiter Karin, Thieme Susan
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2017
Deposited On:05 Apr 2017 12:05
Last Modified:28 Apr 2017 08:03
Number of Pages:242

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