Beyond Being on Call: Time, Contingency, and Unpredictability Among Family Caregivers for the Elderly

Guillermina Altomonte

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This article explores contingency as a central yet underappreciated feature of care work. It does so by focusing on family elder care and the complex temporal interactions between caregiver, care receiver, and healthcare institutions in the U.S. context. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 19 family caregivers for an elderly relative, I show that their experience of time is, paradoxically, systematically unpredictable. It is shaped by three dimensions: uncertain futures (not knowing how long, or how much, they will have to care), conflicting rhythms (mediating between the temporalities of institutions and that of the elderly relative), and flooded time (ongoing expectations of interruption). Focusing on caregivers’ experiences of unpredictability highlights their exclusion from broader social temporalities and the obstruction of their possibilities to craft their own futures. I therefore suggest that the experience and management of contingency may constitute its own form of inequality and is a fruitful site for exploring the temporal relations between paid and unpaid labor. Also, sociological theories of time and labor may benefit from foregrounding care work to advance understandings of the complex and hierarchical interactions between multiple temporal orders in post-Fordist economies.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)642-662
    Number of pages21
    JournalSociological Forum
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


    • care work
    • feminist theory
    • sociology of time
    • temporality
    • uncertainty
    • unpaid labor

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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