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Sociol Health Illn. 2018 Feb;40(2):366-378. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12568.

Becoming at home in residential care for older people: a material culture perspective.

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Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK.


Residential homes encourage new residents to bring belongings with them, so that they can personalise their room and 'feel at home'. Existing literature on material culture in residential homes views objects as symbols and repositories of home and identity, which can facilitate a sense of belonging in residents through their display in residents' rooms. I suggest that this both misunderstands the processual and fluid nature of home and identity, and conceptualises objects as essentially passive. This article uses ethnographic data and theories of practice and relationality to argue that rather than the meaning of home being inherent in objects, or felt subjectively by residents, meaning is generated through ongoing, everyday interactions between the two. I show that residents became at home by acquiring new things -as well as displaying existing possessions - and also through interacting with mundane objects in everyday social and relational practices such as cleaning and hosting. I conclude that being at home in older people's residential homes need not be so different from being at home at other stages of the life course and in other settings. This challenges conceptualisations of older people's homes - and older age itself - as somehow unknowable and unfamiliar.


ageing; qualitative methods generally; residential/nursing home care; social theory

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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