For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The Concept of Caring in Feminist Research: The Case of Domestic Service"

by Graham, Hilary (1991)


Over the last decade, a significant body of feminist research has developed which has home-based reproduction as its focus. Strategically placed at the interface of sociology and social policy, this literature has had a significant impact on wider debates about everyday social reproduction. Yet, it has remained largely uncritiqued. Recognising the lack of critical debate, the paper reviews the way in which the concept of caring has been theorised within British feminist research. It suggests that caring has been typically defined by feminist researchers as the unpaid work of kin within the private domain of their family. Gender is seen as the dominant system of social relations which shapes the organisation of such care. Thus, rather than a broad structural analysis of everyday reproduction within families, most feminist research on caring has been restricted to one form of care (unpaid care by relatives) and one structural division (gender). The way in which racial and class divisions are embedded in everyday reproductive work has been largely eclipsed. Drawing on the critiques of Black women writers, the paper highlights forms of, and divisions within, home-based reproduction obscured in past and present feminist research on caring. It takes domestic service as a case-study which highlights how the social divisions of `race' and class, as well as gender, have been constituted through women's experiences of looking after families.

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