On Tuesday I attended the fifth and final Homespace seminar entitled ‘The New Politics of Home: public, private and the future of welfare’. The series was funded by the ESRC and organised and led by Dr Ellie Jupp, Dr Alison Clarke, Professor Sheila Peace, Professor Janet Newman and Dr Jane Franklin. It has brought a number of multi-disciplinary researchers together to explore feelings of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ in public service and care settings across the life course. Various presentations given at each of the events has explored spaces including childcare environments, hospitals and sites of care for older people in order to open up wider questions about governance and policy changes, public and private lives, power and space. For more information on these series see their website. Following consideration of the histories of home (in Seminar One), the home in social policy and governance (in Seminar Two), ideologies of home (in Seminar Three) and methods for researching home (in Seminar Four), this symposium explored the fast-changing context of welfare state reform, the new ‘austerity politics’ and its impact on experiences of homespaces, belonging and homeliness in public services.
Keynotes talks were given by Professor Marian Barnes (University of Brighton) on the politics of care and Professor Kim England (University of Washington) on the spatial politics of care. Both talks reflected on various forms of activism in relation to care work. Taking concepts from social movement theory, Marian discussed examples of ‘oppositional consciousness’, an empowering mental state that prepares members of an oppressed group to undermine, reform, or overthrow a dominant system (Mansbridge and Morris, 2001). She argues that this oppositional consciousness is evident in forms of collective resistance against care injustices such as the movement of mental health patients who resisted poor treatment and injustice in institutions in the 1980’s and contemporary examples of resistance to poor pay for care workers (e.g. the care workers strike in Doncaster). These resistance’s represent an important and necessary shift of focus from justice to rights, however she cautions that there is a need not to abandon care because it is both a personal, as well as political concept and is important in everyones lives. Kim England talked about the political activism of migrant domestic workers in the USA and their collective fight for rights and recognition as care workers. As a geographer she argues that these women, who are conducting contemporary forms of radicalised gendered servitude, use oppositional consciousness and agency to challenge boundaries and mobilise their concerns about low pay and invisibility beyond the home/work place. The National Domestic Workers Alliance is an example of a national movement for dignity, respect and labour protection for domestic workers in the USA.
Other talks and presentations were given by;
- Alex Fox (CEO of Shared Lives) who described the HomeStart and Shared Lives care initiatives;
- Mia Vabo (Norwegian Social Research) who outlined the history of elder care provision in Norway;
- Teresa O’Neill (Manchester Metropolitan University) who discussed her involvement in the evaluation of Home-Start in Manchester South, a service in which volunteers support new parents to manage the transition to becoming a parent;
- Kate Belgrave (freelance journalist) who gave an excellent and moving account of her experiences of researching the Focus E15 mums campaign (read more here) in which mums are fighting for their right for a home;
- Dr Rebecca Bramall (University of Brighton) on the contemporary cultural politics of austerity and
- Dr Sarah-Marie Hall (University of Manchester) who outlined initial findings from her research about how families manage financial crisis in the context of austerity.
In various ways, each of these talks provided intriguing insights into the ways in which various forms of activism are emerging in the context of the increasing denigration of care in contemporary society, moving beyond the space of the home to make care more visible and to forge employment rights and citizenship.
This session provided a lot of food for thought and I am now more determined than ever to find out about care and how it is perceived and practiced in the lives of men, particularly in low-income localities. Care is associated more strongly with women and has more potentially regressive implications for women. However, I remain unconvinced that there is enough evidence about men and the care they give and receive to draw conclusions. There is evidence that a significant proportion of men are carers (Carers UK report that 42% of men are carers), even if they do not define themselves this way and I think that more qualitative information is needed to understand how men experience this as part of an agenda for re-valuing care as an important aspect of citizenship. I hope to attend to this gap in knowledge with my research but in a way that is mindful of care as both political and personal.