Thematic Panel 12- Ageing, disability, care and (inter-)dependency

Convenors- Valeria Cappellato and Eugenia Mercuri, Dipartimento di Culture, Politica e Società – Università degli Studi di Torino


Does care provided to persons with disabilities or to older people, both by formal welfare
services and informally by relatives and others, invariably reduce them to dependent subjects?

Feminists and care ethics scholars (Fineman 2004; Butler 2017) had put forward a fundamental critique of the ideal of independency in human life without thereby discounting autonomy as a moral value, even if the individual choice could be interpreted as a widely celebrated ideal (Mol 2008). In fact, it is possible to look at the worlds of ‘carers’ and those for whom they ‘care’ as interconnected, and speak of interdependency to express the fact that our reality occurs within relations between people, along heterogeneous (and unequal) life courses, in different contexts.

Yet, as Fineman argued two decades ago in The Autonomy Myth. A Theory of Dependency
(2004), political rhetoric and popular ideology have become so fixated on the myth that citizens should be autonomous that they fail to recognize the inevitability and normality of dependency. Despite said inevitability, the autonomy myth continues to guide not only care policies but also our lives and the way individuals perceive themselves. Therefore, life transitions that might cause or augment a need for care, such as insurgence or worsening of health issues or disabilities, moving to a home for the aged, death of a significant other, or even getting a pension instead of a wage or receiving some sort of social support, can carry along a (stigmatizing) perception and experience of ‘dependency’.

On this backdrop, if care practices and policies based on the dichotomy ‘dependent cared
for/independent caregiver’ contributed to reproduce and strengthen the autonomy myth, other strategies could be put in place to integrate the concept of interdependency in care relations.

During the session, we aim to discuss how the concepts of dependence, independence and
interdependence are reflected in care practices/ experiences/ discourses/ policies with a focus on older people and disabled people.

This thematic panel calls for contributions dealing with disabilities, aging processes, life course transitions and care. We especially welcome papers that address:
– ableism, ageism, and constructions of dependency
– public discourses that build the idea of older adults and/or disabled people as active or passive citizens
– the perception of older adults and/or disabled people regarding their autonomy/ dependence/ independence/ interdependence
– events along the life course that help shape – or construct – the transition from independent to dependent
– care practices that challenge ableism, ageism, and constructions of dependency
– policies and care services that (de)construct the myth of autonomy
– the role and influence of other structural dimensions, such as gender, class, or ethnicity, on the definition of care relations as based on dependency or interdependency

The session is open to the contribution of different disciplines (sociology, anthropology,
political science, economics, law) and different methodological and analytical perspectives.