Remembering My Hat

5th May 2017

Exploring Sensory and Material Methodologies

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 15:18

More incomplete and partial liveblog notes from a seminar. This one being held at Brunel University, London, hosted by the Welfare, Health and Wellbeing research theme

Stephen Katz, Trent University, Canada

Hold On! Gravity, ageing and the materiality of falling

How does it feel to grow older? Ageing seen as a stripping away of the senses (‘sans teeth, sans sight, sans hearing’ etc.) not as an accumulation of a lifetime of senses. Older people often do become sensorally isolated.

Sheldon 1970s paper ‘natural history of falling’. Taxonomy.

Falls are very common among older people, lead to hospitalisations (2nd most common cause in Canada) and to further risks and negative outcomes.

Children fall all the time, but it’s seen as a sign of failing in older people. Transforms a person into ‘a faller’ someone who has ‘had a fall’ rather than ‘fallen over’.

OP tend to describe falls as trips, slips, loss of balance, accidents but care professionals tend to describe them as risks.

Enormous, well-funded industry has arisen for falls prevention. Active ageing as the panacea – life style choice. Also bone density scans, grab bars, age-friendly housing.

Institutional settings contribute to falls through staff shortages and trivialisation of falling.

OP don’t want to join fall-prevention programmes because it’s stigmatising. Special shoes and padded pants add to the stigma, especially for women, who fall more than men and suffer more injuries from those falls. Connects to views of women as weaker, needing to be careful and not take risks, especially post-menopause. Gender relations of power contribute.

Gravity as a fundamental part of our experience as humans. Standing up is a risk. If we expect OP to be responsible self-carers (active ageing) then we have to allow them to take reasonable risks.



(cc) Jean-Maki Simon


Christina Buse (York) and Julia Twigg (Kent)

Dress as a material method for researching the experiences of people with dementia

Hoskins (1998) biographical objects – starting with an object prompts discussion of intimate topics

Mason and Davies (2009) ‘creative interviews’ using visual prompts, physical environment

Sophie Woodward (2015) ‘object interviews’ e.g jeans in ‘Denim’ project.

Weber and Mitchell (2004) dress as a ‘method of enquiry’  – work as a springboard for discussion. Materialises qs of identity (Woodward, 2007). Ageing and embodiment ‘Hocket et al. 2013 on shoes. Twigg (2013) on age ordering of clothes.

Reminiscence with people with demetia has used objects and creative methods for a long time, now being extended to research methods. Walking interviews too.

‘Wardrobe interviews’ Banim and Guy (2001); Sophie Woodward (2007). Show and tell. Interview alongside wardrobe – very revealing and intimate.

Mostly talking about the care home bit of their study.

In their study, handling and touching garments prompted PWD to remember. Changes in ordering of wardrobe and changes in clothing type revealed things about care (different clothes that were more practical for current physical needs). ‘Kept clothes’ capture thing s about the self and self-image, hanging on to past identities. Ex-builder who liked to wear his old work clothes for pottering in the garage and garden – reinhabiting his working identity.

Lots of women had lots of handbags they hung on to.

Discarded and forgotten clothes (Bury, 1982 biographical disruption). Sometimes old clothes not recognised, forgotten and abandoned. Transitions into care homes often a point when wardrobes change radically – traumatic for family to have to go through clothes making these choices. ‘Dressing up’ clothes and jewellery usually didn’t go into the care home. Scruffy old clothes also often thrown out at this stage.

Sensory elicitation (Pink, 2012). Used vintage clothes as sensory prompts. Hats and silk stockings. Non-verbal older people would often respond with smiles and pleasure to velvets and silks.

Also looked through photograph albums at the clothes they wore.

Observational methods (ethnography in the public areas of the care home) enabled the inclusion of people with advanced dementia who couldn’t take part in interviews. Smoothing a skirt, ripping off a bib at mealtimes.

Women with dementia still did complementing one another on clothes.

Handbags – meanings actively negotiated. Lots of women always had handbag with them and spend a lot of time rummaging in their handbags. Suggests the care home is an unhomely or, at best, a liminal space. Would sometimes say they were looking for the bus fare home. Difficult to get privacy in care homes – encouraged to be in public areas in the daytime, and bedrooms not truly private. Handbags used as territorial marker to keep seat if temporarily left it.

Previous research has looked at ‘handbag audits’ – what the contents say about the owner. IN care home context, noticeable absence of money and keys, symbolising loss of autonomy.

Often contained apparently random objects that were actually hugely meaningful. Former hairdresser had hairdressing scissors and an old ballet shoe (had been a keen dancer) + momentos of parents and uncle. Acted as an aide memoire

Some men used pockets in similar ways.

Observed laundry work in care homes and did walking interviews with laundry workers. Lots of practical constraints which limited choice for residents. Delicate fabrics discouraged, like cashmere, real wool, silk. Lined to infection control measures – soiled garments have to be washed hot.

Stressful and hot work, never-ending. But some laundry workers did make connections between the clothes and the person – would take special care of beloved garments or be able to recognise whose it was even though the name label had fallen off. But this depended on long-term relationships – casualization of care home staff prevents this.

People with dementia continue to enact their identities through dress, albeit limited by the practical constraints of being in a care home.

Christina runs network for researchers.


(cc) Victor Camilo

Questions and discussion

Falling as a liminal experience – from one space to another, and also from competent adult to ‘faller’. And handbags signifying care home as a liminal space. Do women hang on to their handbags as they fall?!

Identity threat of having a fall when you are already having health/disability issues is compounded. Has less impact on the carer because they already have an identity as a carer, maybe?

Importance of the environment and class/wealth (better/worse housing, money for adaptions) in causing falls – but it’s all pushed back to the individual.

Tai chi, dance and visualising the body activities as potential ways of understanding the body rather than medicalised one.

If care home residents want to look scruffy, or wear pyjamas in the public areas, they should be able to, but care homes then become vulnerable to inspection agencies and to the judgements of visitors that they are not caring properly. Also happened in private homes – being a good carer and keeping the personhood of the person alive through keeping them well-dressed, but they might not want that themselves.

Big debate in the US at the moment about whether people with dementia should still be able to have their guns, and not just unloaded ones. Direction of travel seems to be ‘yes’.

You could use food as a sensory method – taste to prompt memories.

Glasses and wallets [maybe mobile phones in the future]


1 Comment »

  1. […] Part 2 of a liveblog of a seminar at Brunel University. Part 1 here […]

    Pingback by Exploring sensory and material methodologies: Part 2 | Remembering My Hat — 5th May 2017 @ 15:38 | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: