Constructing cultures of caring consumption : an exploratory study of the lived experience of embodiment within the elderly care home

Stone, T. and Brownlie, D. and Hewer, P.A.; (2011) Constructing cultures of caring consumption : an exploratory study of the lived experience of embodiment within the elderly care home. In: European advances in consumer research conference proceedings. Association for Consumer Research, London, UK, pp. 269-274.

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In recent years the lived quality of everyday life within elderly community care homes has attracted much media interest within Europe and the USA. This interest often takes the form of policy reports highly critical of the typical quality of care services and lifestyles available to communities of elderly consumers. In the context of an ageing population, the financial implications of different systems of engaging with elderly residents to deliver life experiences consistent with a caring culture have attracted much political interest. The empirical study reported in this paper investigated the lived experience of the context of caring and community among elderly consumers in resident care homes. Using an existential-phenomenological design (Thompson et al. 1989), the study set out to construct a picture of the lived experience of caring, dignity and quality of life, framing those issues through material culture and embodiment. Findings reveal that quality of life is inscribed on the body and that elderly bricoleurs have to work hard to find ways out of instutionalization. Everyday life within care homes has been the focus of much media interest within Europe and the United States of America over recent years. This interest has taken the form of reports that focus on the ageing population and the financial implications of care for the elderly in care homes (see Morris 2004; Duffy 2003; Carvel and Meikle 2002), profit over care (see Duhigg 2007), maladministration (see BBC 2007), inaccurate reporting of problems (see Copple 2008), the stress associated with relocating groups of elderly people from one care home to another (see Grant 2004; Portlock 2003; Sapsted 2002), nutritional standards (BBC 2009) government legislation (see Butler 2003; Cunningham 2002), physical, mental and/or racial abuse of elderly people in care homes (see Fackelmann 2007; Smith 2007; Gonzales 2004; Marsh 2003) and the spread of infection (BBC 2009). In the light of these mass media representations the notion emerges whereby these accounts have focussed on a range of problematic issues associated with elderly consumers who live in such institutions. However, as Thompson (1998) suggests, this problem centred approach can be critiqued for not explicitly considering the individual lived experiences of elderly consumers as meaningful human situations in their own right. Moreover, elderly consumers' voices are often muted within gerontological studies of consumption within care homes (Stone 2009; Wilson 1997; 1991). Thus, there is a distinct lack of studies that attempt to understand what it means to be a consumer within such an institution. To this end, which body of literature can be used to illuminate this study? Whilst an argument can be put forward for any number or combination of theoretical building blocks from various worthy academic disciplines, this research project now turns to review literature that draws upon issues of culture and consumption.