The social construction of gender in informal care
: a discourse analytic approach to investigating community care practitioners' talk

  • Jane Robson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The world of informal care has become a fruitful ground for investigation particularly in relation to establishing the contextual variables of the population of carers and the recipients of care. Research has highlighted that significantly more women than men are engaged in the informal delivery of physical and personal care. A common assertion is that caring is seen predominantly as women’s work and that much of the decision making in community care is based upon such assumptions. Many empirical studies in the field of informal care rely on traditional approaches, which confine the focus of study to uncovering such assumptions and in so doing adopt a realistic perspective on responses. However, such studies prove problematic in that they treat language as a transparent and neutral medium for transmitting information and fail to acknowledge that responses are situationally specific, variable and deployed for particular purposes. Instead this thesis investigates the range of discourses that formal service providers use when talking about informal caregivers. It demonstrates how these discourses attribute a range of characteristics to informal care, which serves to pathologise it as a gendered activity.

Six social care managers and six district nurses were interviewed to discuss the nature of informal care and the method of discursive psychology was used, which draws on the tradition of conversation analysis as well as Bakhtinian and Foucauldian ideas. Instead of viewing language as a transparent medium, this study sees the interplay between language and social processes and demonstrates how it both reflects and shapes informal care.

This study reveals the range of cultural, historical and professional resources drawn upon to characterise and therefore constitute informal caregiving. It demonstrates how the informants produce versions of informal care, which draws heavily on a prior carer identity. The research reveals among other things how informal care by women is constructed as normative and informal care delivered by men as potentially deviant. The research offers a fresh insight into the social construction of gender within social institutions and makes an important contribution to the existing corpus in gender studies. In addition the findings have important implications for policy and practice in informal care and significant issues have relevance to social work, nurse education and continuing professional development.
Date of AwardJun 2006
Original languageEnglish

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