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J Aging Stud. 2012 Dec;26(4):438-47. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2012.06.003. Epub 2012 Jun 27.

Negotiating a moral identity in the context of later life care.

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School of Health and Social Services, Massey University, New Zealand.


Strategies to maintain independence for older people have received considerable attention as a social policy solution to the financial and social impact of the ageing population. Critical scholars in gerontology have also highlighted the negative consequences of promoting independence in this way. Understandings of independence have profound implications for caring relationships as people age. To investigate the ways that older people talk about caring we interviewed 48 people aged 55-70 years. A discourse analysis of these data showed that a dominant discourse of 'independence' was drawn upon to value self-sufficiency and construct dependence on others as burdensome. This construction of care provides a comfortable position for those who can afford to purchase professional care; however, those without resources are unable to accept unpaid help without also accepting a position of dependency. An alternative discourse of 'being there' constructs having others to provide personal care as a virtue and obligations to provide such care as based on family duty and affection. This discourse emphasises connections between people and a moral obligation to care which also creates difficulties for those with fewer material resources. The position for a dependent older subject in these two discourses may seem incompatible but can be reconciled by reframing independence as autonomy. Autonomy for those requiring care alongside a wider recognition of caring as the responsibility of all members of the community rather than with individual family members would support a flexible approach to later life care arrangements.

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