Research and theory on ‘dependency’ and ‘care-giving’ have to date proceeded along largely separate lines, with little sense that they are exploring and explaining different aspects of the same phenomenon. Research on ‘care’, initially linked to feminism during the early 1980s, has revealed and exposed to public gaze what was hitherto assumed to be a ‘natural’ female activity. Conversely, disability activists and writers who have promoted a social model of disability have seen the language of and the policy focus upon ‘care’ as oppressive and objectifying. ‘Dependency’ is an equally contested concept: sociologists have scrutinised the social construction of dependency; politicians have ascribed negative connotations of passivity; while medical and social policy discourse employs the term in a positivist sense as a measure of physical need for professional intervention. Autonomy and independence, in contrast, are promoted as universal and largely unproblematic goals. These contrasting perspectives have led social theory, research and policies to separate and segregate the worlds of ‘carers’ from those for whom they ‘care’. Drawing on the work of Kittay and others, this paper explores the ways in which sociological perspectives can develop new understanding of the social contexts of ‘care’ and ‘dependence’.
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