Gendered Agency and Emotions in the Field of Care Work


Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä, PO Box 35, 40014, Finland; e-mail:


This article examines the gendered effects of the intensification of public sector care work due to neoliberal reforms. It draws on an interview study of Finnish social and healthcare workers to argue that the expectations towards men and women in the reorganized field of care work are different, especially in the case of their emotional involvement in care practices. The article develops a conceptual framework based on Bourdieu's theory of practice and its feminist developments. We discuss caring as gendered, habitual and emotional work and as a lived social relationship that produces different states of autonomy and dependency for women and men. Our study finds that women in particular face contradictory expectations of being intensely involved in emotion work on the one hand and in the efficient performance of tasks on the other, which creates a clash between their habitus and the field of care work. We further suggest that the clash produces social suffering that is difficult to recognize because the practices in the field reproduce and reaffirm the differences in the emotional habitus of men and women.