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From competence to vulnerability: Care, ethics, and elders from racialized minorities

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  • Ethnic Studies
  • Health Policy
  • Health & Welfare
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


This article discusses the care of older people from groups most commonly referred to in the UK as being ‘‘minority ethnic’’. It considers the significance and growing popularity of social policy initiatives aimed at cultural competence in care provided at the end of life. Drawing upon qualitative focus group interviews with 56 health and social care professionals involved in the delivery of palliative care in the UK, this paper examines how the end-of-life care of ‘‘minority ethnic’’ elders is talked about by professionals, highlighting the gaps that can exist between conceptual models and real-world practice. The role and relevance of cultural competence as an ‘‘abstract system’’ (Giddens, 1991) is examined critically and attention is drawn to the ethical potential of professional experiences of vulnerability and of not knowing what to do. It is contended that these components of care are marginalized in current approaches to cultural competence that can discourage engagement with socio-political realities and stifle emotional and moral thinking.

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