Care Regime and an Ethic of Care: Reconsidering Welfare States and Social Care

In the face of an ageing era, many East Asian countries are confronted by the increasing demand of social care for the elderly and young children. Social care thus has become an integral component of the welfare states conceptualization. However, the discussion about care is complicated by the multi‐dimensional nature of the concept: 1) care is gendered labor; 2) the arrangement of care suggests a mixed economy that involves the family, state, market, and community; 3) care needs to be understood under an ethical/normative framework, characterized by responsibilities and obligations; 4) care concerns with simultaneously the physical and psychological well‐being of both the care‐givers and care‐receivers. The complexity of care renders the conventional welfare states analyses inadequate, and calls for a renewed analytic framework. This paper responds to the key issues of social care in the context of welfare states.
The paper sets out in the first section to bridge the welfare states conceptualizations and the literature on social care, indicating a shift toward the inclusion of social care in the analyses. It proceeds to engage in the "justice‐care" conversation that points to the ethical foundations of welfare states. Drawing on feminist traditions, the ethic of care challenges the paradigm of care provision in welfare states, and in collaboration with the ethic of justice, proposes "care regimes" that promote gender equality and insinuate care into social rights. The second half of the paper examines the elder care issues in the context of mainland China in light of the care regime conceptualization. The analysis exemplifies that the ethic of care and care regime can offer a renewed framework for understanding welfare states. This framework is particularly helpful in the developing contexts, where the conventional welfare states analyses that root in the history of western developed countries sometimes find their applications difficult.