2: The ‘care crisis’: its scientific framing and silences

The Nordic welfare regimes are often referred to as ‘caring states’ (Vabø and Szebehely, 2012), care-work-friendly (Wrede et al, 2008), social-democratic welfare regimes characterised by universalism (Esping-Andersen, 1990) and as potentially women-friendly welfare states (Hernes, 1987). However, major changes have taken place within these welfare regimes prompted by policies promoting neoliberalism and austerity. Neoliberalising1 has involved a wave of change with marketisation (contracting out) of elder care, self-responsibilising the elderly with concepts of ‘self-care’ and ‘re-ablement’ as well as the increasing amount of documentation, performance measurement and quality control in institutions providing care (Clarke and Newman, 1997; Meagher and Szebehely, 2013; Dahl et al, 2015; Dahl, 2017). Simultaneously, there are recurring recruitment problems with training and retaining sufficient numbers of professional carers for the elderly and for pre-school children (Wrede et al, 2008; Danmarks Radio, 2018). Given these profound changes, the question arises as to how to describe these changes and their effects upon care.

A convenient term that has emerged to describe these trends is ‘care crisis’. The ‘care crisis’ concept was first introduced two decades ago by US sociologists (Phillips and Benner, 1994; Hochschild, 1995). The use of the term ‘crisis’ signals a derangement of matters, which can be thought of as relating to arrangements, decisions and beliefs (Wolin, 1969: 1080). While ‘care crisis’ can be seen as a useful shorthand for a wide gamut of trends, there are also risks in simply using a general, aggregate term and transferring an Anglo-American framing of care crisis into a different context.

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A Care Crisis in the Nordic Welfare States?
Care Work, Gender Equality and Welfare State Sustainability