Changing Europe and The Relevance of Care and The Caring Professions

Margrit Brückner

Abstract

The aim of the paper is to introduce the challenges of the international care debate of the last ten years in order to grasp basic social needs, to analyse their treatment in the public and private sphere and to look at the orientation of professional answers by the care-professions. The concept of care enhances the societal dealing with - or ignoring of - different forms of dependency on informal and formal personal and social services throughout the life-cycle (child-care, nursing sick or handicapped persons, supporting the elderly) and in special life situations (from help to lone mothers and their children, via help to drug-addicts to help for homeless people). All societies have different approaches to deal with these life-situations, they do so by employ-ing various mixtures of: familial support, mostly provided by women, social politics, organized by the state, public and/or private social services. This welfare-mix shows different combinations of private and public obligations, paid and und unpaid work, professional and laymen's tasks based on a specific understanding of mo-rality and justice embedded in the gender structure and intergenerational relationships. The importance of social work as a profession in this context differs according to the historical developments and cultural traditions. Characteristic for the profile of social work is the rele-vance of a care ethics and the existence of social rights, the tension of mothering and profes-sional methods, the relationship between help, denial and punishment and the ways of institu-tionalisation. The actuality of this debate is closely intertwined with the restructuring of societal bonds in the face of globalisation, the political reorganisation of states, the changes in the living to-gether of different generations and both sexes and the consequences for the organisation and contents of welfare. Looking at Germany and Eastern Europe two new phenomena of social relevance for the dis-cussion of care work and care needs can be taken as an example: the extent of cheap illegal women laborers travelling between east and west, especially Polish women working intermit-tendly in private care for old people and the highly organized traffiking of women from Russia to Germany to work in the sex business. The care debate entails a reframing of welfare issues in the light of social justice between classes, ethnicities and gender groups.

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