Acta Sociologica 1995; 38; 17
Competence versus Care? Gender and Caring Work Revisited
Feminist scholarship and campaigning have been notably successful in recent years in putting the concept of the unpaid carer onto the public agenda. The caring that women do as a feature of paid work, however, has proved a more intractable topic. This paper argues that masculinist visions gender the concepts of bureaucracy and profession, dichotomizing competence and care, and masking both the reality and the potential of public carework. The paper proposes a distinction between caregiving, carework and professional care. It then develops an analysis of professional care by reference to a recent campaign by the leading nurses’ organization in the UK, seeking to highlight the worth of nursing work. It notes that the carework discussion has barely any echo in the debate about the ‘new managerialism’ in the public sector and argues that a critical understanding of the centrality of binary gendered thought is crucial to a constructive critique of today’s emphasis on bringing health care into the market-place.