Charting networks of care for the elderly in South(ern) Africa

07 Jun 2023
Prof. Elena Moore at HUMA's Ataya seminar, May 2023
07 Jun 2023

A HUMA blog post | Author: Alison Kuah

Professor Elena Moore's presentation on family care in South(ern) Africa on May 18, 2023 asked key theoretical questions about what a care need is and how do we define good care for elderly persons in Southern Africa. Her presentation was located within a larger context of the Family Caregiving programme, the first major programme dedicated to understanding family care of older persons in the Southern African region.

While the programme consists of three parts – Research Study, Researcher Development and Public Engagement –  Moore highlighted the Public Engagement focus of the programme aimed not only at sharing information between national, provincial, non-governmental and governmental stakeholders but also at developing a grounded approach to knowledge about care needs and constraints. The presentation highlighted the issue of a rising older population in the region and its associated costs in terms of financial and care responsibilities as well as the need to prioritise knowledge that has not been traditionally prioritised – from the ground, from practitioners, from care recipients as well as caregivers.

Moore draws from African feminist theory that both examines everyday practices of care, while highlighting how care of older persons is located within global policy frameworks and specific national histories and contexts that impact care infrastructures. Moore underscores the need to question and challenge Western or Eurocentric understandings of 'age', 'frailty' and 'independent living' that assume a homogenous context on which expectations and experiences of care are built. Moore argues for not characterising older people by their "functional limitations" or ability for "independent living" but to understand their contributions to labour, care and economies, even in constrained circumstances. This is particularly important in Southern Africa, where complex family care landscapes reveal networks of interdependency between various social actors on family and community levels. Her presentation asked the question: What conditions of post-colonialism, continued labour exploitation and poor social, community and economic infrastructures lead to poor conditions for people ageing? The presentation demonstrates how family care of older persons is not happening in isolation and how contemporary practices of care reveal and influence multilayered tensions between families and within communities.

HUMA's Ataya Interdisciplinary Seminar Series is a space for ideas and connection to encourage a different kind of intellectual engagement with the intention of fomenting a different vision of the university. Moore's presentation sparked an enticing and vibrant conversation around the concept of ubuntu in family caregiving and the moral obligation to care. Participants asked critical questions about the possibility of talking about ubuntu in a world that measures individuals, which led to a deeper discussion about the political manipulation of the concept of care within families, whether ubuntu was associated with ideals or aspiration, and the viability of the ubuntu concept within intellectual and academic spaces. Questions were also asked about alternative analytical concepts of care, such as ethics of care, prompting  Moore to delve deeper into her rationale for drawing on African feminist theories and theories of social production. 

Read more: See event page Elena Moore: Family care of older persons in South(ern) Africa for speaker bio and more details.

More about Ataya: The HUMA Interdisciplinary Seminar Series