“Is That Thing Still On?: Storytelling, the Stuff of Creativity and the Curation of Self in Everyday Life Among Elderly Extra Care Home Residents in Bristol.

Helen Manchester, Seana B Kozar

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paperpeer-review


While the last decade(s) of life when an individual requires some level of sheltered/extra care is often referred to as “the fourth age,” as researchers with the Tangible Memories Project, we soon discovered a number of elderly residents who challenged the notion of this stage of life as either the time to seek integrity through a mental reckoning of one’s life events, achievements and shortcomings (Butler, 1963; Erickson, 1963) or “a metaphorical black hole” characterised by surrendered autonomy and circumscribed ability (Gilleard & Higgs 2010). Rather, many see it as a future-focused time where the emphasis remains on living and informal, lifelong learning. According to Kath, a nonagenarian who writes children’s stories that serve as metaphors for the exploration of her personal philosophy: “You can’t always just talk about the past. You have a future, you need to learn something new.” The concepts of curation and repertoire are also useful in an ethnography of this fourth age alongside a consideration of performance/ presentation within the larger social contexts of the extra care home setting, as these give a sense of a meaningful, interrelated collection of instances of expressive culture. Residents use objects, stories, and music in states of presence and absence, ownership and loss, to curate and transform the presentation of their lives to themselves, their families and each other. Their approaches demonstrate the reciprocal, complementary necessity of both remembering and forgetting, the courage and pleasure of recollection that also sometimes requires an individual to “de-clutter,” to detach, let out and let go of signifiers and what they signify. In letting go of some parts of the past however, residents often find new appreciation for abilities their former self-presentations did not allow them to acknowledge, as storytellers, tech-savvy “computer folk,” even poets. “I didn’t know I knew that! Is that thing still on?” has become the seniors’ call to (continued) action that, among other things, presents (younger) ethnographers with a singularly intriguing research challenge: less ethically knowing “when to switch off” than practically knowing how to keep up. References: Butler, R. N. (1963). The life review: an interpretation of reminiscence in old age. Psychiatry, 26, 65–76. Erikson, E.H. 1963. Childhood and Society. 2nd edition. New York: Norton Gilleard, C., & Higgs, P. (2010). Aging without agency: theorizing the fourth age. Aging & Mental Health, 14(2), 121–8.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusIn preparation - 2014


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