Caring That Crosses Household Boundaries
In the commercialized United States of the early twenty-first century, then, household members still remain the principal providers of care to other household members. No doubt that household concentration of caring services reinforces the supposition of a sharp division between the diffuse, sentimental, and noncommercial world of the family and the specialized, impersonal, and commercialized world of goods and services outside the family. We have already seen a major flaw in that division: the incessant buzz of economic production, consumption, distribution, and transfers of assets within households, not to mention in links between households and their kin elsewhere. But caring relations also regularly cross household
When the will came to probate in 1967, the Chancellor turned it down, ruling that it was the product of undue influence. In this view, Fannie and Holland’s double relationship, lawyer-client and intimate lovers, made Fannie vulnerable to illegitimate pressures. Holland appealed, but the Supreme Court of Mississippi rejected his claims. The court supported arguments that this “aging woman infatuated with a young lover.. . who was also her lawyer,” was unable to make sound decisions. Worse still, the court noted, “There was testimony too indicating that she entertained the pathetic hope that he might marry her” (833, 835). It was not, the court agreed, that Fannie Moses was of unsound mind. Nor was the “sexual morality” of the relationship at issue: that was relevant, the court stated, only “to the extent that its existence. .. warranted an inference of undue influence, extending and augmenting that which flowed from the attorney-client relationship” (836). That concern superseded even Holland’s claim that in drafting her will Fannie had the benefit of an independent counsel.
J. Robertson, the dissenting judge, disputed the finding of undue influence, insisting that the will had been properly executed. “The fact that she chose to leave most of her property to the man she loved in preference to her sisters and brother,” the judge contended, “is not such an unnatural disposition of her property as to render it invalid” (840). Ultimately, however, the majority of the Mississippi court concluded that Clarence Holland had abused a professional relationship, thus producing undue influence over his client.
The Johnson and Moses undue influence cases might seem to justify the idea of hostile worlds. Mixing personal care and economic transactions, one might conclude from these court battles, inevitably produces double corruption: encouraging the exploitation of care giving by scheming opportunists, converting what should be strictly professional relationships into misbehavior. In fact, however, both ordinary practice and legal doctrine accept and even encourage the mingling of intimate care with economic transactions, just so long as the proper matching of relationship, transaction, and medium occurs. This chapter analyzes the matching process, examines distinctions among caring relations, and watches the subtle work of
separating approved from forbidden forms of care. Going well beyond the couples of the previous chapter, it looks closely at the relational work of caring.
What defines care? Caring relationships feature sustained and/or intense personal attention that enhances the welfare ofits recipients. We might set the minimum for “sustained and/or intensive personal attention” at a commercial backrub in a shopping center or a brief telephone counseling session with a spiritual adviser. The maximum might then take the form of lifetime mother-daughter bonds or the devotion of a long-term personal servant. Clearly, care varies greatly in its degree of intimacy, from quite impersonal to tightly interlocked. Caring relationships also qualify as intimate to the degree that they involve trust: they entrust at least one of the parties with information about, or attention to, another party that is not widely available and that would be damaging if offered to third parties.
Caring relationships vary in duration, range, and type of attention. They overlap with some varieties of coupling (as we saw in chapter 3) and often form one component of relationships within households (as we will see in chapter 5). The task of the current chapter, however, is to bring out how caring and economic transactions of production, consumption, distribution, and transfers of assets intertwine. The topic deserves special attention because mingling of personal care with economic transactions frequently generates intense moral and legal controversies over proper and improper matchings. The two undue influence cases of Barbara Piasecka Johnson and Clarence Holland illustrate the high stakes and intense hostilities sometimes produced by contestable mixes of caring and economic transactions. But controversy also arises over a wide variety of other matchings between caring and economic transactions than the sexual intimacy of the Johnson and Holland cases: proper compensation for commercial child care, fees for medical treatment, salaries for housewives, protection of elderly people in nursing homes, responsibility of children for the health and welfare of their aging parents, and much more.
What sorts of economic obligations does care generate or fulfill? Answers to that crucial moral, legal, and political question actually turn out to vary enormously by time, place, and social setting. Social and political changes such as aging of the general population, entry of women into paid employment, tightening of welfare eligibility, increases in schooling, and restrictions over children’s work all affect the relative salience of different sorts of caring as well as their place in the economy as a whole.
Following the model set by chapter 3, this chapter sketches change and variation in the intersection of economic activity with caring relationships before examining the sorts of legal disputes that draw American courts into adjudicating appropriate matches between caring and economic transactions. In everyday practice and in the legal arena, it shows how much relational work goes into the provision of personal care. In both regards, it concentrates on the more intimate forms of caring—those in which trust and potentially damaging information figure significantly. To discipline the analysis of popular caring practices, it will help to lay out a continuum of sites for caring relationships: caring that takes place entirely within households at one end, caring that takes place mainly outside households at the other end, caring that crosses household boundaries in between. Let us proceed from within-household to cross-household to non-household relations.