Silence Agreements in Danish Elderly Care

by Mikkel Rytter | Oct 2022 | Article

Mikkel Rytter and Sara Lei Sparre (2022) Silence Agreements in Danish Elderly Care: Phantasmatic Asymmetry between Care Managers and Self-Appointed Helpers with a Muslim Immigrant Background. Genealogy 6: 46.

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the composite of elderly immigrants, self-appointed helpers (selvudpegede hjælpere) and care managers (visitatorer) in Danish municipalities. Free elderly care is a common good in the Danish welfare state. Instead of using the homecare service provided by the municipality, many elderly citizens with a Muslim immigrant background prefer to have a family member contracted as their self-appointed helper. The self-appointed helper is often a spouse, daughter or daughter-in-law, who ends up having the dual role as both a caring, loving family member and a professional care worker. Due to the special setup with self-appointed helpers working in their private homes, it is difficult for the care managers to follow standard rules and procedures. Instead, it seems to be a public secret that there is a gap between what we are supposed to do (according to the law) and what we actually do. We suggest seeing this gap as a silence agreement, where care managers, self-appointed helpers and elderly citizens refrain from asking all the critical questions (regarding the provision of care, the quality of care, working conditions, etc.) that no one wants to know the answers to. However, when the silence agreement from time to time breaks down, the relationship between the self-appointed helper and the care manager is haunted by a widespread phantasm where Muslim immigrants are cast as welfare scroungers. Basically, we argue that care managers and self-appointed helpers share a silent agreement but when it is neglected or violated, the latter end up in a vulnerable and marginalized position. The dynamic highlights the ambiguous intimate belonging of Muslim immigrant families and questions to what extent they were seen as legitimate subjects under the state in the first place

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