“Let’s Duck Out Of The Wind”: Operationalising Intersectionality To Understand Elderly Men’s Caregiving Experiences

Main Article Content

Lynne Kilvington-Dowd
Steve Robertson


This paper aims is to demonstrate how Bourdieu’s conceptual tools of habitus, capital and field can facilitate the operationalisation of intersectionality. Following an appreciation of the methodological issues arising from the practical application of intersectionality, we introduce data from an Australian study of husbands caring for wives with dementia. With care often being constructed as a feminine practice, men’s caregiving experiences are frequently said to be in tension with many hegemonic masculine practices. However, men are not homogenous, rather their experiences are shaped by intersections of gender, age, class and other identity-defining categories. To help explore some of these intersections, 16 interviews, six of which were enhanced by photo-elicitation methods, were undertaken with a purposive sample of retired husbands caring for a spouse with dementia. Thematic analysis was then employed. In this paper, we present data and themes relating to the husband’s experiences around independence and self-sufficiency and coping strategies and emotional autonomy. However, the main purpose of the paper is not to focus on these empirical findings per se. Rather, we draw on these data to illustrate how Bourdieu’s work was utilised to help address some of the concerns that have been encountered when applying intersectional theory to empirical research; that is to say, this is primarily a methodological paper. The empirical findings highlight the complex and class influenced ways that husband carers look to sustain independence and autonomy. They further illustrate how the cultural capital accrued through past experiences facilitates or restrains coping mechanisms and associated emotional autonomy during their caregiving journeys. Methodologically, we use these empirical data to demonstrate how Bourdieu’s notions of habitus, capital and field can overcome three specific criti-cisms when applying intersectionality in research studies: (1) its supposed inability to adequately address agency and privilege; (2) its apparent lack of a heuristic device illustrating how time, location and context constrain and empower social actors; and (3) an alleged lack of methodological tools to illustrate the interrelated and generative nature of structure and agency.

Article Details

Author Biography

Steve Robertson, University of Sheffield, UK, Leeds Beckett University, UK, Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland

Programme Director, University of Sheffield, UK

Emeritus Professor, Leeds Beckett University, UK

Adjunct Professor, Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland


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