Care in the Contexts of Crisis and social change
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The concept of Care is being used in Anthropology to address situations where deprivation and health problems are dealt with in ways that include, but are not limited to, state provision to citizens (Benda-Beckmann 1988). In the relational existence of daily life, people use care in a broad sense to describe the processes and the sentiments between people who take care of each other in various dimensions of social life and who are not necessarily in need. For the human being as a person, to be, means being with others; taking care and being taken care of, thus implying both a practical and emotional involvement. Care is a motivational disposition to enact moral ideologies of good and right. Thus, it is frequently through the metaphor of 'care' that people express their moral concerns and practices of an ideal existence in a world with deep inequalities and deprived people. Care also has a moral significance: based on concern and dedication it implies the acknowledgment of the other in relation to one’s existence thus becoming a constitutive element of social bonding. Bearing this framework in mind, and focusing on the Portuguese example, the project offers an innovative approach which combines the significance of economic factors with an emphasis on phenomenology. How do people respond to crisis situations in order to create sustainable existence for themselves, their significant ones and the world they live in? How do caring practices express or create sentiments of shame, care, dependence, compassion, solidarity, morality, dignity and self-esteem? What are the criteria for choosing to reach out to others: nationality, peer group, kinship, or ideology? How do 'market' or 'material' economic interests intersect with other interests such as creating a sense of belonging, fulfilling a moral duty, taking a political stance, responding to a religious calling, making one’s life more meaningful? Portugal is currently undergoing a major social and economic situation of 'crisis' which, despite the similarities with international contexts, presents specificities of its own, regarding the weight of the Welfare State. Only since the late 1970s did the weight of the Welfare State start to expand both in the Portuguese economy and in society at large, from social security to education, from retirement pensions to health care provisions, and to affect the way family and relationship roles have developed for the last three decades. The situation is now changing dramatically, with increasing rates of unemployment, low family income, a significant immigrant population, and a growing aged population that increases pressures on a range of social services along with a declining national population. Faced with the failing capability of state care systems to continue to provide this support, as well as funding cuts imposed by the international economic crisis, people (re)turn to informal ways to address the problem. This 'state of emergency' also stimulates creativity and innovation, not only at the economic but also in social and moral realms which are easily overlooked by economic studies of crisis situations. The innovative approach of this project will bring to light the original and creative dimensions in three distinct domains: 1) interpersonal and familial networks; 2) non-governmental institutions of care taking; 3) state institutions. Care thus becomes a factor of economic sustainability (helping to overcome precarious situations); a factor of social sustainability (providing to people in need); and also of emotional sustainability (wellbeing).Societies are entering a conjuncture where the individual initiative of people, embodied with this morality of “care” and common good, becomes central. Interpersonal relations and relations motivated by sentiments and ideals of global good and caring, are therefore central to the reproduction of the future global world market economic social system we live in. With this ambitious comparative ethnographic study, we seek to make theoretical contribution towards considering how informal practices support the economy (without conceptually separating them), how actual people are integrated in formal and informal systems of care and how these strategies become effective and efficient. Equally important, is to bear in mind the danger of presenting an overly harmonious view of social care systems. Our approach, allows the project to pay close attention to situations where informal or institutional care is expected yet withdrawn or refused and where the expectations of care givers and receivers are not met or do not coincide. By enquiring into these micro-dynamics of care practices, elucidating tensions, divergences and convergences, our central aim is to provide social science professionals, as well as decision makers, with the main developments in moral philosophy, ethics, social innovation and practices on the increasingly topical issue of care.
Care; Portugal; Crises; sustainability;