Title

An Exploration of the Use of Objects in the Creation, Maintenance and Social Performance of Self among People with Alzheimer’s disease and Related Dementias

Start Time

22-10-2011 8:30 AM

End Time

22-10-2011 9:00 AM

Session Type

Event

Abstract

People construct themselves or are constructed by others through the social relations that occur between other humans and with objects. Many of the objects we interact with daily are implicated in the construction of selfhood and personhood. The belief that people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) experience a loss of self associated with the neuropathology is prevalent. Their status as a full adult person is questioned. Although individuals with moderate to advanced dementia become reliant on others for personal care and daily activities they continue to be surrounded by a multitude of objects. Yet, little research has considered the potential contribution of objects to the social life of these individuals. The study of objects has been established as a highly effective means to understand and answer the question of what it is to be human (Mauss 1990; Appadurai 1988). However, the study of objects has also been mostly limited to their symbolic and representational aspects (Boivin 2004). The focus on objects as representations of ideas and as symbolic will not work well for understanding the role of objects in the lives of people with ADRD. As the disease progresses individuals with ADRD lose the ability to think in abstract ways. Therefore, using an ethnographic approach focusing on the materiality of objects may help us to better understand their role in the lives of individuals with ADRD. This study focuses on how the social life of people with moderate to advanced dementia living in a long-term care community is mediated through interactions with objects and humans. It draws on material engagement theory (Malafouris 2008). Material engagement theory attempts to overcome materialist and mentalist reductionism by not privileging mind or matter but by considering what occurs at the intersection between the body, the brain and the world. As such, it provides for the inclusion of objects into a consideration of the individual experience and the socio-cultural factors that impact the lives of individuals with ADRD. This study also draws on Bourdieu’s critical social theory (1990) to explore the social performance and social positioning of people with ADRD. Preliminary findings based on semistructured interviews, systematic observation and video elicitations involving the person with ADRD, family members and staff of the long-term care community will be presented.

Discussion Objectives:

  1. How the results of this research will be used to advance material engagement theory to further structure and understand the social life of persons with ADRD and contribute to a greater understanding of the material aspect of the broader human experience.
  2. How Bourdieu’s work may be employed to interrogate the relationship between the cognitively disabled, and broader socio-cultural values and practices, increasing our understanding of collective and individual human practices.
  3. How this ethnographic study seeks to develop modes of registration and measurement that will facilitate the learning and analysis of action, alongside records of speech, to become a normal part of fieldwork practice, and lead to the presence of enacted forms of knowledge in ethnographic accounts.

References

Appadurai, Arjun (1988). The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boivin, Nicole (2004). Mind over Matter? Collapsing the Mind-matter Dichotomy in Material Culture Studies. In Rethinking Materiality: The Engagement of Mind with the Material World. Elizabeth DeMarrais, Chris Gosden and Colin Renfrew, eds. Pp. 63-71. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1990). The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Malafouris, Lambros (2008). Between Brains, Bodies, and Things: Tectonoetic Awareness and the Extended Self. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 363: 1993-2002. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0014

Mauss, Marcel (1990). The Gift. W.W. Norton: New York.

Comments

Research paper

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Oct 22nd, 8:30 AM Oct 22nd, 9:00 AM

An Exploration of the Use of Objects in the Creation, Maintenance and Social Performance of Self among People with Alzheimer’s disease and Related Dementias

People construct themselves or are constructed by others through the social relations that occur between other humans and with objects. Many of the objects we interact with daily are implicated in the construction of selfhood and personhood. The belief that people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) experience a loss of self associated with the neuropathology is prevalent. Their status as a full adult person is questioned. Although individuals with moderate to advanced dementia become reliant on others for personal care and daily activities they continue to be surrounded by a multitude of objects. Yet, little research has considered the potential contribution of objects to the social life of these individuals. The study of objects has been established as a highly effective means to understand and answer the question of what it is to be human (Mauss 1990; Appadurai 1988). However, the study of objects has also been mostly limited to their symbolic and representational aspects (Boivin 2004). The focus on objects as representations of ideas and as symbolic will not work well for understanding the role of objects in the lives of people with ADRD. As the disease progresses individuals with ADRD lose the ability to think in abstract ways. Therefore, using an ethnographic approach focusing on the materiality of objects may help us to better understand their role in the lives of individuals with ADRD. This study focuses on how the social life of people with moderate to advanced dementia living in a long-term care community is mediated through interactions with objects and humans. It draws on material engagement theory (Malafouris 2008). Material engagement theory attempts to overcome materialist and mentalist reductionism by not privileging mind or matter but by considering what occurs at the intersection between the body, the brain and the world. As such, it provides for the inclusion of objects into a consideration of the individual experience and the socio-cultural factors that impact the lives of individuals with ADRD. This study also draws on Bourdieu’s critical social theory (1990) to explore the social performance and social positioning of people with ADRD. Preliminary findings based on semistructured interviews, systematic observation and video elicitations involving the person with ADRD, family members and staff of the long-term care community will be presented.

Discussion Objectives:

  1. How the results of this research will be used to advance material engagement theory to further structure and understand the social life of persons with ADRD and contribute to a greater understanding of the material aspect of the broader human experience.
  2. How Bourdieu’s work may be employed to interrogate the relationship between the cognitively disabled, and broader socio-cultural values and practices, increasing our understanding of collective and individual human practices.
  3. How this ethnographic study seeks to develop modes of registration and measurement that will facilitate the learning and analysis of action, alongside records of speech, to become a normal part of fieldwork practice, and lead to the presence of enacted forms of knowledge in ethnographic accounts.