Looking “out of place”: analysing the spatial and symbolic meanings of dementia care settings through dress

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Christina Buse
Julia Twigg

Abstract

The article explores how clothing exposes – and troubles – the ambiguous location of care homes on the boundaries of public/private, home/institutional space. It deploys a material analysis of the symbolic uses and meanings of dress, extending the remit of the new cultural gerontology to encompass the “fourth age,” and the lives of older people with dementia. The article draws on an ESRC-funded study “Dementia and Dress,” conducted in the United Kingdom (UK), which explored everyday experiences of clothing for people with dementia, carers and careworkers, using ethnographic and qualitative methods. Careworkers and managers were keen to emphasise the “homely” nature of care homes, yet this was sometimes at odds with the desire to maintain presentable and orderly bodies, and with institutional routines of bodywork. Residents’ use of clothing could disrupt boundaries of public/private space, materialising a sense of not being “at home,” and a desire to return there.

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