Stop ‘helping’ me! Identity, recognition and agency in the nexus of work and care

Tomkins, Leah and Eatough, Virginia (2014). Stop ‘helping’ me! Identity, recognition and agency in the nexus of work and care. Organization, 21(1) pp. 3–21.



This article explores what it is like to be a ‘working carer’—that increasingly common category of employee who combines paid work with unpaid care.1 We draw on phenomenology for our initial motivation, epistemological assumptions and method of data analysis, and on critical sensemaking as a template for interpretation and theorization. In line with critical sensemaking, we see identity as a central feature of personhood, and we examine our participants’ identity work through the specific refractions of plausibility, context and agency. These highlight the inconsistencies and oscillations of identity work, and the ways in which it is influenced by competing discourses of the right kind of employee and the right kind of woman. We foreground the existential aspects of sensemaking, as participants struggle to come to terms with the impact of care on their own life-projects and search for meaning. This reflects our belief that experiential approaches to work-related issues have a vital part to play in a ‘turn to meaning’ in critical organizational research. Key implications for practitioners and campaigners are discussed, and policy makers urged to address the issue of working carer identification, recognition and support with greater sensitivity to the label’s psychological and existential implications.

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