Articulating an ethic of care
: the moral narratives and practices of working lone mothers in South Wales

  • Claudia Corsetti

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis explores the experiences of Working Lone Mothers (WLMs) as they attempt to negotiate the complex articulation of public/private spaces whilst caring for their children and themselves. The focus of the research is set on WLMs “understanding and practice of care within their „relational network” of family and friends and against the contextual backdrop of the community in which they live. More specifically, it seeks to ascertain the type and quality of care currently articulated in the private domain against the assumption that changing gender roles may produce a 'care deficit' or caring 'gaps' within the family context of 21st century Britain. With this objective in mind, I have carried out 35 in-depth interviews of WLMs living in the South Wales area between the Rhondda Valley and Cardiff. The research is conceptually placed within the framework of an „ethic of care‟, which, as a moral theory, is only a few decades old and, as such, is still in the process of being formulated. With a relative small number of care ethicists currently publishing in the international and national arena, this thesis seeks to enhance the value and importance of care both as a private and as a public virtue and practice against the cultural and political dominance of an ethic of work. From this particular standpoint, if an ethic of work seems to be increasingly hijacked by consumer capitalism and shaped to respond primarily to “privatised” and “marketised” self-interest, an ethic of care appears to have been relegated to the private concerns and considerations of women in the domestic sphere of life. Against this backdrop, whilst the understanding of the public/private articulation has remained primarily a matter of theoretical discussion, the important dimension of care has not yet been thoroughly investigated within the empirical framework of these conflicting environments. This thesis intends to offer an empirical investigation of these issues by evaluating the inter-dynamic nature of WLMs “paid work in relationship to their caring commitments. In the process, the embedded tensions of both environments will be exposed and analysed. I will argue that whilst “enabling flexible arrangements” at work are conducive to a better management of caring work and promote a better balance between the two domains, “disabling flexible arrangements”are not. Given that the latter have emerged as the most common form of work management, many WLMs do struggle to find the time to care. Yet, under these constraints, WLMs have devised strategies that allow them to carry out their caring responsibilities by ways of maximising their limited resources of time, space and energy whilst minimising their overall investment. This process appears to be so clearly widespread amongst the respondents as to have generated definable patterns. Namely, under apparently normalised and routinised conditions, the cumulative effect of transferring and converting commodified values and practices from the public sphere and the workplace into the world of informal care has been increased and intensified to such an extent as to affect and change the type and quality of care that WLMs are able to experience and practice in relation to their children, to themselves and to some extent, to their "relational networks".
    Date of Award2011
    Original languageEnglish


    • Child rearing
    • Single mothers
    • Mother and child
    • Parenting

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