How Much Care is Enough? Carer’s Guilt and Bergsonian Time


Despite devoting their time to another person’s needs, many carers paradoxically experience guilt during their caregiving tenure concerning whether they are providing enough care. When discussing the “enough” of anything, what is at stake is that thing’s quantification. Given that there are seemingly no quantifiable units of care by which to measure the role, concerns regarding whether enough care is being provided often focus on what constitutes enough time as a carer. In exploring this aspect of the carer’s experience, two key parameters emerge; (1) guilt, and, (2) quantified time. The guilt that carers report regarding whether they devote “enough time” to their caring responsibilities can be examined through Henri Bergson’s philosophical conception of quantification. By integrating contemporary analyses of carers’ guilt from the social sciences, most significantly via the sociology of Rebecca Olson, the relationship between quantified time and guilt becomes apparent. A quantified conception of time frames the assumption that spending more time on caregiving will reduce the amount of guilt felt by a carer. However, whilst care is structured according to quantified, clocked and calendared time, there are not comparable, quantifiable parameters for guilt. This means that suppositions of an inverse relationship between how much time one spends giving care, and how much guilt they will feel in terms of their caregiving, are problematic. These insights become relevant to health care policies via a coherence with calls to make the role of unpaid, caregiving, labour time more visible, and by explaining how understanding quantified time can help policies guide how caregivers negotiate guilt.

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  1. 1.

    Bergson explains this via the counting of sheep in a paddock, where we “neglect their individual differences” in order to “take into account only what they have in common” [2:76].

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    This evokes Saint Augustine’s exasperation regarding the double-movement of time’s passage, which when dealing with grief provides solace in terms of new experiences, but also fragments and upsets the self with its consequent passing [1:77–79].

  3. 3.

    When considering carers’ control of time, Olson integrates the concept of “discretionary time” founded by Robert Goodin, James Rice, Antti Parpo and Lina Eriksson’s [10]. Discretionary time avoids the mistakes of conceptions that categorise the time spent in care work as a leisure activity.

  4. 4.

    In The rules of sociological method [5], Durkheim describes the social fact as if it is an objective thing. As with other sciences, the relation of the social scientist to the phenomena being explored is “objective. It is dominated entirely by the idea that social facts are things” [5:143].

  5. 5.

    Lewis subsequently states that Freud mistakenly conflates guilt and shame [15], a claim also made by Tangney and Dearing in Shame and guilt [24].


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Johncock, W. How Much Care is Enough? Carer’s Guilt and Bergsonian Time. Health Care Anal 26, 94–107 (2018).

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  • Carers
  • Caregiving
  • Time
  • Bergson
  • Guilt
  • Quantification