Caring for the Ordinary: Care Work, Technology, and Dementia in Long-term Eldercare in Japan
What constitutes good care in aging Japan? In this thesis, I explore eldercare practices from the vantage point of eldercare facilities in the Kansai region of Japan. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in five long-term facilities from 2018 to 2020, I describe how good care is achieved through “caring for the ordinary”, which is inextricably tied to everyday practices of caring. Taking up the mundane and everyday practices of good care helps reveal the dilemmas posed by the convergence between Japan’s macro-level socio-economic and demographic shifts and the micro-level challenges posed by dementia. This convergence problematises assumptions about ‘good care’ by demonstrating how the production and maintenance of “the ordinary” is a key achievement of care work. I make this argument in two parts: first, I demonstrate how care workers produce ordinary life for residents at these care facilities through attention to relationality, temporality, and narrativity. I argue that by attending to these conceptual spaces, care workers and residents bridge imagined divisions in care work that separate karada (physical, bodily) care and kokoro (mental, emotional, spiritual) care – care for the body and care for the person – in order to maintain a sense of ordinary sociality in these extraordinary spaces. In the second part of the thesis, I describe how emerging technologies and sociotechnical imaginaries intersect with these care practices. By tracing out governmental and economic initiatives, I consider the sociotechnical imaginaries that determine how and why certain technologies are developed and incorporated into care. I also show why technological fixes to contemporary issues in eldercare often present additional obstacles as they disrupt the ordinary by bifurcating karada care and kokoro care. By bringing these two modes of analysis together, I argue that the creation and maintenance of a local sense of ordinariness is both a crucial method and vital achievement of caring practice. Indeed, attention to the production of the ordinary sheds light not only on the socio-demographic problems facing Japan as it ages, but also the kinds of lived dilemmas aging populations produce in sites of care work. In other words, I show how good care for elderly residents is caring for the ordinary. Such a reconceptualization of care has implications for care practice, anthropological understandings of care and its ethics, and the role of technology in care.