Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Reflective both of a gradual erosion of Chinese families’ capacities for direct care of their elderly, and in the context of seismic shifts in terms of the Chinese government’s array of social contracts with her growing elderly population, this paper addresses an important but under-investigated component from the supply side of the current care sector: the care workers who deliver care to the elderly in institutional settings. Drawing on ethnographic work in diverse types of care facilities in China, and through the approach of grounded theory, it becomes clear that care workers negotiate their positions according to the resources they possess. Situated at the intersection of marketization and state (dis)engagement in the care sector, care workers’ perceptions and work experiences of caregiving reflect an inherent instability in initializing the development and implementation of new care polices on a macro-level. Care workers tend to reconcile and boost their occupational identity and social standing through identification with intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. The dirty work care workers shoulder is not only indicative of who they are within social constructions of care, but that their self-understandings also serve their ability to effectively transcend and address some shortcomings in the state’s development of contemporary welfare regimes. Though care workers utilize a discourse on the ethics of care to moralize their interpretation of their work, this moralizing address of an endemic instability in their workplace exposes challenges for Chinese society in constructing a sustainable long-term care system to ameliorate China’s care needs.