Between care and contract: aging Muslim immigrants, self-appointed helpers and ambiguous belonging in the Danish welfare state

af | sep 2021 | Article

Sparre, Sara Lei & Mikkel Rytter (2021). Between care and contract: aging Muslim immigrants, self-appointed helpers and ambiguous belonging in the Danish welfare state. Anthropology & Aging 42(1): 111-128 https://anthro-age.pitt.edu/ojs/index.php/anthro-age/article/view/279

In Europe, a growing population of older adults are immigrants from outside Europe and the Anglo-Saxon countries. Often, elderly care arrangements in these families are different from those of the majority populations. In Denmark, a growing number of immigrant families utilize an option in the Social Service Act, under which municipalities can employ a relative to take care of an older family member at home. Due to the special construction of this ‘self-appointed helper arrangement,’ the caregiver is both a professional care worker, formally employed by the municipality, and a close relative. As such, the arrangement provides a unique opportunity to examine ideas and practices of care at the intersection between the immigrant family and the state. Based on data from interviews and observations among immigrant families (primarily the older adult and the self-appointed helper) and municipal care managers, we explore the consequences of this care scheme for the families, especially the self-appointed helpers. Drawing on the concept of ‘lenticular subject positions,’ we show how self-appointed helpers in immigrant families and municipal care managers each adopt two different, often contradictory, perspectives or subject positions simultaneously. We argue that the self-appointed helper arrangement constitutes a gray zone in the Danish public health care system, since both care managers and helpers seem to neglect the national legislation and standard procedures concerning public elderly care and care work environment. The consequences are most severe for the self-appointed helpers who end up being in the precarious margins of the Danish labor market.  

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