Document Type



Centre for the Development of Human Resources, Edith Cowan University

Place of Publication

Joondalup, Western Australia


Centre for the Development of Human Resources


Stehlik, D. (1993). Untying the knot: a scoialist-feminist analysis of the social construction of care: social research and development monograph no. 7. Joondalup, Australia: Centre for the Development of Human Resources, Edith Cowan University.


As the Australian population ages, policy and human service practice in the field of aged care assumes an increasingly important and relevant position. In this monograph I argue that women who are providing care for aged spouses, parents or relatives in their (or their carer's) own homes, are doing essential, hard and stressful work, work which is unpaid and often unacknowledged, and that the Australian welfare system is now structured around the invisible unpaid labour of such women. The rhetoric of Australian political parties is focussing more and more on the notion of an ideal' family' and 'community' and a consequent return to 'old values'. Coupled with this is a continual demand for economic rationalism, pragmatism and for effective and efficient government: a move which coincides with a more neoconservative approach to welfare.

These trends can be summarised as an attempt by the state to withdraw from formal services as much as possible and to minimise the role of government while attempting, at the same time, to maximise so-called family support systems within the informal sector. Increasingly this is becoming a more politically popular and financially expedient alternative for Australia's policy makers as a way of reducing expenditure on welfare. The socialist-feminist framework I have adopted identifies the relationship between women, the unpaid work they undertake as carers, and the state, which relies on their unpaid care in order to maintain the current welfare system. The analysis also identifies future issues for Australian women within this complex relationship.