Thematic Panel 16- Boundaries of belonging in older people’s care networks


Dr Elisabeth Schröder-Butterfill, Associate Professor in Gerontology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Southampton, UK

Older people’s care networks are a narrow sub-set of their wider kinship and social networks (Keating et al. 2003). Especially personal care and care involving dementia are typically under tight normative control. Who is acceptable to provide which kind of care, which tasks may be delegated, who may substitute for a preferred carer, and the appropriateness of non-kin care are all questions which highlight the importance of boundaries in care provision. These boundaries are shaped by culture, welfare regimes, economic and social status. Gradual change (e.g., in gender roles, family systems, migration) and sudden crises (e.g., illness or death, conflict or displacement, livelihood threats) force boundaries of care networks to be redrawn, often in ways that are contested or threaten sustainability of care. For an older person receiving care, the identity of carers matters for their wellbeing and social status, while for caregivers the size and composition of care networks shape the potential division of labour and resilience to crises. 

This panel seeks papers on the nature and role of boundaries in older people’s informal care. Papers using qualitative or mixed method approaches are particularly welcome, as are papers focused on the Global South, on cross-cultural comparisons or on ethnic minorities. The following topics are merely suggestive:

  • Notions of belonging and exclusion in informal care networks 
  • The role of culture in shaping preferences around who should give care
  • The inclusion (or not) of friends, neighbours, paid carers or volunteers in the ‘acceptable’ provision of care for older people 
  • The impact of care networks’ boundaries of belonging on their responsiveness to crises 
  • The role of conflict and/or inequality in drawing boundaries in care provision 
  • Historical changes in how ‘appropriate’ care for older people is conceptualised 
  • Division of labour within care networks and its implications for care