4: Crisis of care: a problem of economisation, of technologisation or of politics of care?


The question of care, and how to organise it, is globally pertinent and touches not only gendered care and dependencies, but also ethics of care, reflected in the ways in which care is governed and what becomes emphasised in the analyses. Societal discourses on the governance of care revolve around the issues of quality (ethics), costs (economy) and remedies (technology). The three discourses hold separate realms in research but enmesh in everyday life, visible for example in the reactions, actions and repercussions in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, the COVID-19 crisis societal discourses seem to constitute three differing logics: the costs to economies due to lockdowns and restrictions; the costs to citizens’ health and lives due to loosening restrictions; and the restoration of ‘normality’ by vaccination as remedy. Ethics cut through these discourses by questioning, for example, the values in the political decisions and the politically set national priorities and reactions.

Seeing care as an ‘informal’ or ‘formal’, or ‘market’ or ‘non-market’ activity aligns with other societal contracts and arrangements that are part of societally accepted patterns, cultures, policies and gendered social contracts (Kovalainen, 2004), but also vehicles for transferring embedded discriminatory and/or unequal practices and processes. With the emergence of market governance mechanisms, the categories of ‘public’ and ‘private’, and formal and informal, are blurred and fluid. The bending of boundaries in the organisational and institutional arrangements is reality (for example Kovalainen and Sundin, 2012; Sandberg and Elliott, 2019). The creation of quasi-markets (for example Le Grand and Bartlett, 1993) intensified ‘marketisation’, that is, the adoption of market as a governance form in the public sphere.

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