Structure and agency attributes of residents’ use of dining space during mealtimes in care homes for older people

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Research stresses that mealtimes in care homes for older people are vital social events in residents’ lives. Mealtimes have great importance for residents as they provide a sense of normality, reinforce individuals’ identities and orientate their routines. This ethnographic study aimed to understand residents’ use of dining spaces during mealtimes, specifically examining residents’ table assignment processes. Data were collected in summer 2015 in three care homes located in England. The research settings looked after residents aged 65+, each having a distinct profile: a nursing home, a residential home for older people and a residential home for those with advanced dementia. Analyses revealed a two-stage table assignment process: 1. Allocation – where staff exert control by determining residents’ seating. Allocation is inherently part of the care provided by the homes and reflects the structural element of living in an institution. This study identified three strategies for allocation adopted by the staff: (a) personal compatibilities; (b) according to gender and (c) ‘continual allocation’. 2. Appropriation – it consists of residents routinely and willingly occupying the same space in the dining room. Appropriation helps residents to create and maintain their daily routines and it is an expression of their agency. The findings demonstrate the mechanisms of residents’ table assignment and its importance for their routines, contributing towards a potentially more self-fulfilling life. These findings have implications for policy and care practices in residential and nursing homes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2125-2133
Number of pages9
JournalHealth & Social Care in the Community
Issue number6
Early online date8 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • agency
  • care homes
  • dining spaces
  • mealtimes
  • older people
  • table assignment

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