Relationships and material culture in a residential home for older people



Lovatt M (2021) Relationships and material culture in a residential home for older people. Ageing and Society, 41 (12), pp. 2953-5970.

Residents of older people's homes furnish their rooms with belongings that are associated with meaningful relationships. Previous research shows how material culture symbolises residents' past and existing relationships, helping residents to remain embedded within familial and social networks. Less attention has been paid to how relationships are actively (re)constituted through socio-material interactions, and to the potential for objects to facilitate new relationships. This article presents findings from an ethnographic study into the everyday experiences of residents of an older people's home in northern England. Using observations of daily life and in-depth interviews with residents, it demonstrates how residents used material culture in gift-giving, divestment practices and in mundane social interactions. In this way, residents used objects to not only maintain relationships with family members outside the home, but form new relationships inside the home with other residents and members of staff. Combining theories of materiality, relationality and social practice, I argue that residents' interactions with material culture helped to facilitate new social interaction and meaningful relationships. This is important in a social context where loneliness has been identified as a significant threat to residents' mental and physical health. Residential homes for older people can develop guidance on practical activities and strategies that can use material culture to increase social interaction and enhance quality of life for residents.

Residential homes; Material culture; Relationships

Ageing and Society: Volume 41, Issue 12

Publication date31/12/2021
Publication date online19/06/2020
Date accepted by journal19/05/2020

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Dr Melanie Lovatt

Dr Melanie Lovatt

Senior Lecturer, Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology

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