, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 293-325

Membership Categories and Time Appraisal in Interviews with Family Caregivers of Disabled Elderly

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Abstract

In this study caring is shown to be a membership‐bound activity to kin and gender categories with strong moral connotations. “Being a daughter” or “being a son” are good enough reasons for becoming a caregiver, more so for women than for men. Caregivers were interviewed within the research project “The role of women in family care of disabled elderly” conducted by the Social and Economic Research Department of INRCA, Ancona, Italy. Transcripts of the interviews were analyzed through a detailed discourse analysis within an ethnomethodological framework. Interview data are treated as interactional encounters that occasion members to display relevant aspects of their identities and morally adequate images of being a caregiver. In the interview interaction, interlocutors display an orientation towards the production of a moral order in which duty and responsibilities are allocated on the basis of gender distinction. Males are generally described as not being responsible for caring tasks, except for situations in which females are absent or sick, that is, for “serious reasons”. Caregivers' perception of time dedicated to caring is pervasive. Most caregivers said it occupied all their time, but gender differences were noticeable. Caring tasks are recognized as gender specific practices, thus failing to carry out these tasks is morally sanctionable when women are involved, but not so for men. Many caregivers described caring for older relatives as an intense source of stress, involving serious physical and psychological problems. The study on moral and identity issues related to caregiving highlights endangering constructions of caring.