The starting point for my Master’s research was the increasing privatisation and marketisation of residential care for the elderly in the UK. Anxiety over the ability of the residential care sector to promote elders’ quality of life has been expressed by the public, the media and within academia. The research reflected upon this anxiety in terms of wider literature concerning morality, emotion and work, considering whether declining conditions of service in the sector could be seen to rest upon a wider conflict between economic rationality and morality.
The research was conducted using a case study design which focused on one residential home, employing document analyses, participant observation and in-depth interviewing. An examination of the company’s discursive attempts to construct, manage and demarcate its employees’ emotional labour was carried out alongside an exploration of the carers’ own interpretations of, and enrolment in, the care-giving role. A consideration of the potential economic and emotional consequences of these occurrences was a key focus of the inquiry.
The study found that carers, encouraged by the company, naturalised their emotional labour. This had widespread consequences – from justifying the economic devaluation of the carer’s work to leaving her vulnerable to emotional over-involvement and client aggression. One positive consequence, however, was that the carer’s sincere identification with the care-giving role allowed her to uphold the rights of those within her care, even when these were in conflict with the economic motivations of her employers.
My PhD research intends to examine the care sector in greater depth, principally focussing on what it is that makes a residential home work to provide care which is socially valuable to both carers and the cared-for. By means of ethnographic research in several private residential homes, in-depth interviewing with carers and document analyses, I aim to consider the impact which factors such as training, institutional ethos, staff turnover, supervision, shift organisation, cost of care, engagement and reward, and physical layout have upon care-giving.