Rituals of care for the elderly in northern Thailand

Merit, morality, and the everyday of long-term care

by Felicity Aulino

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Caregivers’ quotidian actions challenge prevailing views of care that rely on the emotional or attentive orientation of the caregiver. The routinized care tasks provided by two middle-aged women for their bedridden mother in northern Thailand reveal the realities of long-term caregiving. For these sisters, care transforms “merit” and “karma” without reliance on internal conviction. This context in turn reflects how people enact values and maintain social worlds through habituated physical practices of providing for others. Ordinary care in practice—termed “rituals of care”—dislodges fixation on particular personal sentiments and affirms the study of care as a powerful tool for assessing enduring modes of moral experience as well as subtle forms of social change.