Accepted Paper:

How material culture affects personal, social and spacial relations in older people's residential homes  


Melanie Lovatt (University of Stirling)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the intersections between material culture, space and social relationships in older people’s residential homes. I consider how material culture helps to create and maintain personal and social relationships, and how it affects the sense of being ‘at home’ in the residential space

Paper long abstract:

Residential homes for older people often encourage potential residents to bring small items of furniture and personal possessions with them, as a means of helping them adjust to life in an unfamiliar, institutional space. While some previous research on material culture in older people's institutions has considered items brought into the residence from previous, private homes, research has largely ignored objects acquired since the move, or how material culture is used by residents to influence their sense of place, space, and feeling 'at home'.

This paper draws on ethnographic research conducted at two residential homes for older people in the UK, and considers how the material culture of residents' rooms - including those possessions which were brought from previous homes, and those acquired since the move - helps to create, maintain and reflect personal and social relationships, and influences residents' spatial practices.

Far from being sterile spaces which display objects such as heirlooms and family photographs in a fixed, static, museum-like way, I suggest that residents' rooms can be sites of fluidity and interaction, where material culture is discussed, exchanged, gifted, circulated and bought. The movement of objects contributes to and reflects the agency of residents in adjusting to the space of the residential home, and also develops and affirms relationships with fellow residents, members of staff, and friends and family.

Panel P29
Aging as a placed experience: the fluidity of different modes of relationships