Who Cares? Für-Sorge in Krisen- und Transformationszeiten

Who Cares? 

Care in times of crisis and transformation 

Authors: Maren Hachmeister und Friederike Kind-Kovács 

In the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has made us dramatically aware of how much we depend on the help of others in times of crisis. Most of us willingly put aside our own needs. Who actually cares about our “everyday” concerns in such a global health crisis? We are healthy and not in need of external help. Many elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, on the other hand, who belong to the COVID-19 risk group, are in urgent need of care and thus depend on the everyday support by care workers. To protect the elderly and other individuals at risk, access to care facilities around the world have been limited in the past weeks and months, contact bans have been imposed in hospitals, and day-care centres and kindergartens have been closed. Suddenly, people in care professions are considered “relevant to the system” and enjoy a new form of public appreciation, a first step long overdue. “Our highly civilized welfare society is kept alive not only by the financial and economic sector, but also in hospitals, old people’s and nursing homes, warehouses, at supermarket counters and also in the area of child care and education”, an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung recently stated whilst arguing that “The care professions need more than respect”. 

As a response to the current situation the Friedrich Ebert Foundation recently launched a new blog on “Corona & Care”, aiming to create a platform “examining the current Corona situation with regard to its effects on paid and unpaid care work(ers).” With a constantly growing need for care and nursing, societies around the world are facing the challenge of meeting those needs. So far, however, there has been a lack of discussion about who should and could provide this extra care work. Already in April 2020 Yara Tarabulsi and Lina Abou-Habib identified this problem: “The pandemic […] has […] multiplied the need for and intensity of household and care work many times over, without necessarily resulting in a renegotiation of the burden of care.” Women in particular do not only provide 70% of the care in nursing homes, but also the majority of unpaid and voluntary care at home. “Social norms and economic realities put a heavy caregiving burden on women”, a recent article concluded. Social inequalities and the fallback into conservative gender roles are often the result. Here too, it will be necessary to question current norms and everyday practices of domestic care and nursing. 

Indeed, COVID-19 is contributing to a new awareness of the social importance of care (“corona-care“). Yet, care, welfare and (humanitarian) aid have been important to society since the ancient world. Especially in the 20th century we can observe the development, professionalisation, and centralisation of these social tasks. In these cases times of political crisis played an important role. This is where the newly established research focus “Age, Care and Aid in Times of Crisis and Transformation” at the HAIT sets in. Under the leadership of PD Dr. habil. Friederike Kind-Kovács, this new research focus aims at the comparative study of care systems, discourses and practices in times of political upheaval and transformation. While nursing and care have long been regarded primarily as research objects of the field of social anthropology, nursing sciences, or cultural studies, the HAIT proposes to contribute to the historical research of these social areas. The focus will be on the question of how age and care were interrelated in periods of political transformation. Key questions here are: In what ways have political crises caused special needs and neediness among certain age groups (e.g. infants, mothers, the elderly), which in turn have made special care practices necessary? What notions of proper prevention, care, and aftercare have been triggered through the two world wars and other periods of radical political transformation in the 20th century? How important were private care institutions and individual actors in this process? In what historical contexts were state institutions becoming responsible for securing the physical (and mental health) and offering adequate care to their citizens? When did local and transnational humanitarian organisations and their aid programs replace the state? And what role did individual actors play in the various care institutions and relief organisations? 

In the context of this research area, a new research project on “Volunteering and care in transformation” was recently initiated, which is part of the cooperative research network “Multiple transformations, social experiences and cultural change in East Germany and East Central Europe before and after 1989” funded by the Saxon State Ministry for Higher Education, Research, Culture and Tourism” (SMWK). Since February 2020, Dr. Maren Hachmeister has been working on this post-doctoral project, examining from a contemporary historical perspective how the long postsocialist transformation processes experienced by East Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic had an impact on voluntary care practices. The project focuses on volunteers of organisations such as the Red Cross or the East German association “Volkssolidarität” (People’s Solidarity) with their actions, experiences and subjective interpretations of reality. Those organisations are assumed to be places of social life in the postsocialist transformation, where motives for commitment, welfare and community can be found under the conditions of different political systems. What did voluntary care look like and how did it change over time? Who was “caring” in times of crisis? In the course of the project the volunteers themselves are going to be interviewed. 

Following on from this, the interdisciplinary digital workshop “Care and Volunteering in Transformation” will take place at the HAIT from 13-14 July 2020. This first workshop of the cooperative research project “Multiple Transformations 1989” proposes to engage with the question of how social care regimes and welfare systems in East Germany and Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe experienced and reacted to the postsocialist transformation. Here, too, the speakers will devote special attention to the role individual agency played in shaping the care institutions and initiatives throughout the period of abrupt political change in various postsocialist countries. We want to address the following questions: To what extent did the postsocialist transformation fundamentally and lastingly alter or even impair welfare systems, institutions and practices in the former state-socialist countries? What ruptures and (dis-)continuities can be identified? What role did age, gender and physical or mental health play in the making, shaping and implementation of state welfare and private “care”? How important was individual commitment – and particularly volunteering – in the design of welfare institutions during this period of political transformation? How did everyday care practices shape the individual lives of those in need of help? These specific questions and more general in the field will be discussed during the workshop. 

With this interdisciplinary workshop the HAIT takes a new approach not only by jointly involving historical and anthropological research but also with regard to the digital implementation of the event. Due to COVID-19, this workshop is taking place in an online format, combining synchronous and asynchronous presentations. The workshop starts with the online keynote lecture by Univ.-Prof. Dr. Tatjana Thelen from the University of Vienna on “Care: Reproducing Inequalities and shaping political transformation”. After that, a series of international speakers will hold two digital panels dealing with “Care in postsocialist transformation” and “Volunteering in postsocialist care and welfare systems,” in which their pre-circulated papers and videos will be commented on and discussed. 

Thanks to the digital form of this exploratory workshop – in response to COVID-19 – the workshop offers an extraordinary international gathering of the academic “care” community. Contributions by speakers from Germany, Denmark, Austria, Serbia, Great Britain and Romania deal with various forms of care during the long period of transformation, exploring the period from 1980 to the 2000s. Questions of gender and age as well as the voluntary nature of care will be examined. In the course of the workshop, very different case studies will be presented, which promise a lively exchange on the benefits of “care” as an analytical concept in comparative transformation research. The discussion could, in a way, become a first test for the hypothesis that voluntary care continued to exist alongside established forms of association and across multiple transformation processes. 

PD Dr. habil Friederike Kind-Kovács is a research associate at the Hannah Arendt Institute for Totalitarianism Studies, responsible for the research area “Transformation research in an international comparative perspective”. She is currently researching childhoods in times of transformation, and is preparing her monograph “Budapest’s Children: Humanitarian Relief in the Aftermath of the Great War” for publication. 

Dr. Maren Hachmeister is a research associate at the Hannah Arendt Institute for Totalitarianism Studies, where she has been working since February 2020 on the research project “Volunteering and care in transformation”, which is part of the SMWK’s research network “Multiple Transformations 1989”

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
haitblog (2020, 7. Juli). Who Cares? Für-Sorge in Krisen- und Transformationszeiten. Denken ohne Geländer. Abgerufen am 24. Februar 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/pez6

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