Boundary Setting between ‘Private’ and ‘Professional’ in Care Work


  • Artūrs Hoļavins Maastricht University
  • Elena R. Iarskaia-Smirnova Higher School of Economics, European Humanities University


boundary tactics, boundary issue, work-life balance, elderly care, covid-19 pandemic


The problem of boundaries and emotions is central to the relationships that develop in the practice of social and care work. The article analyses interviews with social and care workers serving the elderly at home. In the narratives of our informants, physical and emotional boundaries are not static. These notoriously unstable boundaries were revised even further during the pandemic due to fluctuations in workload and increasing risks and instability. It often resulted in a power imbalance in care work and vulnerabilities of care workers. We describe the peculiarities of setting boundaries, which comprises various tactics derived from professional training and lay experiences that caregivers use to negotiate rules and compromises. Key data production methods are participatory observations and 37 semi-structured interviews with social and care workers from non-governmental and municipal agencies in the Russian cities of Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Tomsk, and Saratov. This paper provides empirical evidence of the lack of professional training, reliance on informal knowledge transfer, and the shortage of resources to secure the caregivers’ ‘autonomy from the service user’ while at the same time keeping the balance between the well-being of care providers and that of service users.