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Faltering Care: Homeless Mothers’ Experiences of Caregiving in Dublin



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Lucey, Hannah 


This dissertation takes as its focus the caregiving efforts of a group of mothers in Dublin who were homeless, struggling with addiction, and separated from their children. It offers an ethnographic account of their attempts to reknit their relationships with their distant children by extending care, even as these caregiving efforts were thwarted by their wider social context. As such, this thesis demonstrates homeless women’s ongoing orientation towards their separated children in terms of their practical actions and affective lives, their efforts towards a better future, and moments of faltering.

In so doing, this thesis sets forth a valuable contribution to the growing anthropological literature around care by examining moments in which our ardent attempts at caregiving fall short. It explores how moments of ‘care lapse’ were produced and exacerbated by the conditions in which interlocutors were forced to care (including at a distance from their children, without stable or safe accommodation and confronted with long periods of waiting). It also considers how care lapses came to be socially mediated through the lack of support interlocutors received from their intimate partners and service providers. Building on these ethnographic insights, this thesis suggests that the experience of continually providing care which was unreciprocated and unacknowledged yielded moments – however fleeting – in which my interlocutors’ capacity to respond to the challenges of caregiving as they unfolded crumbled. However, rather than concluding that my interlocutors were unsuitable caregivers for their children as a result, I explore how my interlocutors came to evaluate care which was perceived by themselves and others as being pockmarked by lapses, and the significance of providing and receiving this kind of care in orientating their wider being-in-the-world.

This thesis thus puts forward the concept of ‘faltering care’: care which encompasses moments in which the provider’s practical action and attentiveness towards the recipient lapse. This concept brings a fresh perspective on the relationship between anthropological domains of gender and care, kinship and the state, in highlighting the caregiving travails of a group of women who found themselves the focus of accusations of neglect and positioned outside normative ideals of motherhood, leading their maternal efforts to be heavily mediated by external actors. It furthers anthropological conversations on the recursive relationship between caregiving and hope, in examining those instances in which hope seems lost, and thus the capacity for practical caregiving action extinguished. Most fundamentally, this thesis opens out onto anthropological conversations about the significance of caregiving relationships for people experiencing poverty, addiction and mental illness, in suggesting that my interlocutors’ experiences as mothers became a defining factor of their trajectories through homelessness, in both those moments when they succumbed to despair, and those others where they drove themselves to reach for something better.





Mody, Perveez


Addiction, Care, Homelessness, Motherhood


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Economic and Social Research Council (2274157)
University of Cambridge Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholars Programme