Crafting equitable, sustainable care relations the focus of SSHRC postdoctoral fellow

Caring for others doesn’t have to be burdensome or constraining, so what needs to change to make things more liveable?

That is the driving question for Janna Klostermann, who was recently awarded a two-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship and joined Brock’s Department of Sociology to begin work on her project, “Imagining Equitable, Sustainable Care Relations in a Post-COVID-19 Canada.”

While at Brock, she will work closely with Professor Andrea Doucet, Canada Research Chair in Gender, Care and Work, both on Doucet’s SSHRC Partnership project, “Reimagining Care/Work Policies,” and as a member of the Research Studio for Narrative, Visual and Digital Methods. Klostermann will also co-supervise a master’s student in the Social Justice and Equity Studies program.

“In the Partnership Grant, Janna is working with our team to develop a qualitative research component using visual and participatory methods that will complement a national and international survey that we are launching in July,” says Doucet. “In the Research Studio, Janna brings her creative and scholarly background in arts-based methods and knowledge mobilization and the weaving of literature, both fictional and non-fiction, and social science writing.”

She adds that Klostermann has already played a significant role in the Partnership project, assisting with methodological work and with the design of a website that will launch later this summer.

Klostermann recently completed her PhD in Sociology at Carleton, where was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal and the University Medal for Outstanding Graduate Work at the Doctoral Level. Working under the supervision of Associate Professor Susan Braedley, and with the support of a Canada Graduate Scholarship, she examined and contextualized women’s stories of exiting care work in her dissertation, “Care has limits.” She also discussed her work in a recent piece in The Conversation.

“My project was really focused on questions of what it means to withdraw from care — asking people about reaching their limits, about decisions they made to walk off the job or renegotiate care and family responsibilities, and that question of ‘When can you say no?’” Klostermann says.

Over the next two years, she will turn these interests to questions about how care is understood in society because, as she notes, the current conditions of care have been organized and designed in a certain way, which means they can be changed.

“Now I’m switching gears a bit, working with Andrea Doucet with more of a focus on reimagining care work policies and how we build equitable, sustainable and consensual care relationships,” she says.

The issue of consent is key, especially considering what Klostermann calls “the dominant moral, gendered, racialized and class assumptions or societal expectations around care” and ongoing efforts to renegotiate those assumptions.

“People who need care should have a right to choose what kind of care they receive, and people who provide care should have options and choices without feeling trapped or having someone else’s life depend on them,” she says.

Klostermann’s current project about the COVID-19 context grew out of the insights that interviewees shared during her dissertation research, especially when they were questioned about what they might change if they had the power to do so.

“I like the idea of tapping people’s shoulders as advocates and knowledge-makers, people who have insights or know what is going on,” she says.

She also believes that many of the stories that were shared with her by people who had reached their limits and left care work may be more relatable to a broader population now, in a post-COVID-19 world where the challenging conditions of care work have been exposed.

“Some care providers were put in situations where they were the only one doing the work, or they were the primary care provider with very limited public supports and limited options to share responsibility,” says Klostermann. “I think more people can relate to this now because of the pandemic — that sense of being stuck, or a sense of responsibility that some people have been experiencing for years while on long waitlists to get loved ones into nursing homes or with limited access to affordable child care.”

Klostermann is interested in finding commonalities and looking at how, as she describes it, “paid and unpaid forms and contexts of care are interconnected and interwoven” as she starts off on this new branch of her research.

“What do those mostly women care providers have in common? What are the commonalities between a paid care worker who is clocking in early, working through their breaks, doing additional unpaid work, and family members who are also picking up the slack?” she says. “Are there ways that we could foster solidarity or notice common ground between women in different situations?”

Klostermann, who is also a playwright and creative artist, is curious about how people might be engaged as storytellers or activists, sharing their takes and insights and funny stories to help rethink care.

“I use performance art as a way of conducting research, and it has been a site of learning and processing, or even more unpacking of what I came to unpack through those performances,” she says. “I found that in the interviews and conversations with care workers I conducted, they were often very lively when we were just kind of riffing or coming up with new ways of thinking about things together. That’s definitely a huge part now, to really engage people as storytellers or meaning-makers and co-create or work together to value and improve care.”

She says she is excited to work with Doucet, a leading feminist sociologist of care, and her team, in part because of the creative approaches Doucet takes to engaging with research participants.

“It will be cool using interactive visual methods and narrative methods. Andrea has spent the last few decades really developing participatory approaches to work with people,” Klosterman says. “We’re going to use these kinds of visual methods or digital methods to connect with families and ask what work they do, where they’re being stretched and how they’re dividing up their time between work and care to look at how those conditions or social policies shape their lives.”

Klostermann also sees hope for change as we move toward a post-COVID-19 world, noting that although we can’t predict the future, there have been some positive conversations around care as the issue has come to the forefront in recent months.

“Overall, I’m mostly heartened by a lot of the examples in public discourse that look more at care as work, or care as infrastructure, or people saying how essential care is to society or how essential care is to the running of the economy,” she says. “There have been examples lately like the Make Rivera Public campaign, which is looking at private, for-profit nursing homes that have proved to be the most deadly in the pandemic and really raising questions about how we protect public services or invest in care, and realizing the necessity of public sector supports.”

Doucet says that she is grateful to have Klostermann join her research team.

“Janna is a generous team player, a unique and brilliant thinker, and a dream to work with,” she says. “As a transdisciplinary scholar myself, I love working with transdisciplinary researchers who can carefully navigate between disciplines. We are lucky to have her at Brock.”

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