The Story of the Relative: A Systems-Theoretical Analysis of the Role of the Relative in Danish Eldercare Policy from 1930 to 2020

Stine Hald Larsen

Research output: Book/ReportPhD thesis

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This thesis is about the family members of elderly citizens in Denmark. More specifically, it concerns the role these relatives are expected to play in the caregiving of the elderly – a subject of great interest and dispute in current public and scholarly debates.
While eldercare in Denmark is a public concern entailing a universal, tax-financed eldercare system in which the family holds no formal obligation to care for its elderly family members, many relatives do participate in their care. Moreover, both eldercare practitioners and scholars have concluded that the relative currently faces mounting and unclear expectations regarding participation in such care, and that this uncertainty causes great frustration and conflict amongst relatives and professional public care workers.
This uncertainty about what to expect of the relative in eldercare is the matter the thesis pursues. Practitioners and scholars alike conclude that the relative role in eldercare is uncertain and growing, and that the solution is to commonly agree on and clearly define a role for the relative – preferably that of being a partner in public eldercare. This thesis, however, takes another approach. It asks how the role of the relative has been constructed in Danish eldercare policy since the 1930s, and how such roles over time have both reduced and produced uncertainty about what to expect of the relative.
To investigate this question, a study of more than 400 policy documents dating back to the 1930s and extending to early 2020 was conducted on the basis of an analytical strategy built on the systems theory of German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. Notably, the concepts of decision communication, role, function and uncertainty form the theoretical foundation on which the study examines relative roles in Danish eldercare policy.
Through this theoretical lens, the study sheds light on how in the course of the last 90 years of Danish eldercare policy, the relative has been expected to enact various roles, including those of a waning caregiver, a care worker employer, a burdened caregiver, an unqualified caregiver, a co-receiver of eldercare, a proxy to elderly family members, a social caregiver, a source of information, a source of continuity, a co-responsible other and a partner. Changes in the roles of the relative are shown to appear over time with changing functions of public eldercare, thus demonstrating the story of the relative to also be a story of Danish eldercare policy. The argument is made that alongside such role construction, uncertainty about what to expect of the relative has been reduced, but not only reduced. Indeed, the main conclusion is that the partner role, idealized in both research and practice, already exists in the Danish eldercare policy established in the 2010s and still in place today, but this role has not reduced uncertainty. On the contrary, it has proven to be a role producing unlimited uncertainty about what to expect of the relative.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherCopenhagen Business School [Phd]
Number of pages299
ISBN (Print)9788793956704
ISBN (Electronic)9788793956711
Publication statusPublished - 2020
SeriesPhD Series

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