Dependency work: a critical exploration of Kittay's perspective on care as a relationship of power

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The emergence of a specialised field of care research is a relatively recent development, owing much to feminist scholarship and the increasing prevalence of women in the public domain. This paper brieflY outlines two of the most influential approaches to the more general field of care research, comparing them with research on professional relationships in formal health care settings. While gender operates as an explanatory factor in each of these approaches, issues of power and domination, which feature strongly in the health sociology literature, are largely avoided in the research on care. Kittay's approach to the theory and analysis of care is a notable exception. Using her recent work as a central focus, this paper explores the social position of care givers and receivers. Examining the nature of power within and surrounding care relationships, Kittay makes an important distinction between the inequality of power and the exertion of domination. Her argument has much to offer sociological research in the field of care, but her avoidance, and at times, confusing use of the concept of 'care', and of the terms 'power' and 'dependency', present some difficulties. To clarify the potential of her contribution, a critique is offered which compares her approach to the analyses of power by Lukes and Foucault.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-160
Number of pages15
JournalHealth Sociology Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • sociology
  • care
  • dependency
  • power
  • body, the
  • ethics of care


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