Choice, responsibility, justice: work and family in Australia

Leahy, Mary (2012) Choice, responsibility, justice: work and family in Australia. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


We all start life needy, dependent on adults for our survival. Many of us will rely on the care of others during the final stages of our lives. Between these two periods we may draw on intensive support to help us cope with illness, disability or tragedy. Our dependence is a core characteristic of our humanity, yet it is ignored or denied by dominant political and economic theories. In Australia, as in every other country, it is mostly women who provide the care of children as well as people who are sick, disabled or aged. Although there are often intrinsic rewards, unpaid care work is time consuming and limits the carer's ability to engage in other types of activities, including paid employment. The majority of employed carers are women, with their work attracting low levels of pay. Characterised by an uneven distribution of both care work and resources, the dynamics of work and family life in Australia raise important questions of justice. While the Australian work and family literature is rich in detail, it tends to be under theorised. My research helps fill this gap, providing theoretical depth and greater conceptual clarity to an ongoing and often heated public debate. Using philosophical inquiry I examine the nature of the problem of care, the way it is framed and the implications for social policy. Rejecting dominant choice and preference theories and aspects of care ethics, I find that Martha Nussbaum's capabilities approach provides a more promising theory for thinking about care and gender equality. However, I raise a number of questions concerning care, responsibilities, the appropriate political goal and the ontology of capabilities. To address these issues I propose an extended and restructured capabilities list, which I test by evaluating three contentious policy issues: extended parental leave, carer's payment and shared care. I find that my revised capabilities approach provides a stronger support for justice in the way care is provided.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1402 Applied Economics
Historical > FOR Classification > 2002 Cultural Studies
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > Centre for Strategic Economic Studies (CSES)
Keywords care, work, family, gender, justice, equality, Australia
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