Home is a verb

From time to time I get sent books written by other researchers to read and review for a research journal.  This can be a good chance to read something I might not otherwise have noticed and to read a whole book, instead of skimming online research articles. And I get to keep the book!


The book that I have reviewed is called ‘Ways of Home Making in Care for Later Life’.  It is edited by Bernike Pasveer, Oddgeir Synnes and Ingunn Moser.  The editors are based in The Netherlands and Norway, but the individual chapters are written by authors based in different countries worldwide.  The authors use different materials and research methods to think about the idea of ‘home’ in later life, including examining policy documents, looking at architectural plans, interviewing people and observing their lives, and using ‘autoethnography’ – using their own experiences with a situation or condition as the focus of their research.


The book focuses on older people’s lives, but there was a lot that resonated with the Feeling at Home study.  Here are the key ideas I took away from reading the book:


Home is a verb.

Home is not only a place, filled with things.  ‘Home’ comes about as a result of active home making.  Home making involves different people, relationships, actions and routines and is also shaped by laws, policies and systems.  In the Feeling at Home project, we have seen how residents with learning disabilities do home making by:

  • Putting on their preferred music and dancing to this together
  • Having a front door key
  • Having a space for hobbies (train set, art materials)
  • Receiving visits from family members


Home is something we hold in mind

The authors use the term ‘imaginary’ to describe commonly held ideas of home.  This does not mean something pretend or made up.  An ‘imaginary’ is something that a group of people have in mind as an ideal, ways of thinking about and talking about what home should be.  Even though we might not be able to exactly put into words what home means to each of us, we can tell stories from our own lives that evoke ‘home’ to our listeners.  Early on in the project we got together as the Feeling at Home research team to share images and stories about our own home lives.  We asked each other questions – ‘what homes have you lived in?’, ‘where do you feel most at home?’, ‘what gets in the way of feeling at home?’.


We have reflected a lot as a research team on what vision of home and expectations for home life we might share and the risk of imposing these on our participants. When I read the book I felt that the authors did not always consider how the cultural imaginary of home might be shaped by class, religion or ethnicity.  Some chapters in the book examine care homes and distinguish ‘home’ and ‘institution’ as opposing ‘imaginaries’.  As researchers we have been disturbed when our participants’ homes look or feel to us too much like a clinic or workplace, but can we assume that these distinctions have the same meaning for people living in group homes with staff support?  We hope to understand this better using Photovoice to let people with learning disabilities tell their stories of home through images as well as words.


Care, independence, and control

A number of articles in the book talk about ‘ageing in place’; the policy that older people remain in their own homes as their support needs increase, rather than moving to a care home.  The assumptions of ageing in place are that it upholds opportunities for older people to maintain choice and control in their homes – terms that often voiced by providers of residential support for people with learning disabilities as key principles for maintaining independence and autonomy of residents.  However, as the book authors point out, receiving care disrupts individual control over home making.


We have noticed in particular how receiving care in a group home can mean losing control over the way that times and routines are organized, as well as control over objects that came into their home and how they were used.  Residents taking part in our photovoice groups from one home have their last meal of the day together at 5pm as this fitted in with staff shifts and medication routines.  Our photovoice participants took photos of care artefacts that were closed off to residents – files of notes about them that they could not read, laptops and printers used by staff only.  Choosing these things to photograph seemed to us to hint at the residents’ curiosity about work practices of staff that were mysterious and unexplained.


If you can get hold of the book from your library I do recommend it.  It will be useful to researchers and practitioners, but there are interesting insights for all of us.  We might want to put off thinking, about how ageing with care in later life will work out in our own lives – this book however gave me a lot to reflect on.