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Gray Areas

Ethnographic Encounters With Nursing Home Culture

Edited by Philip B. Stafford

This volume features ten scholars from anthropology, nursing, sociology, gerontology, human geography, and other disciplines who provide ethnographic case studies exploring critical care decision-making, models of care for people with Alzheimer’s disease, the way residents cope with the limitations, indignities, and opportunities of nursing home life, the roles of family members and nursing home employees, and the formulation of assisted living. The authors offer sustained examinations of the settings, flow, and structure of life relationships in geriatric long-term care institutions, as well as significant innovations in ethnographic methods. Researchers, caregivers, and those attentive to their own quality of life as they age will find this book essential reading.

2003. 336 pp., 3 black-and-white illustrations, 3 tables, notes, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Paula C. Carder, J. Neil Henderson, Dallas M. High, Jeanie Kayser-Jones, Margaret A. Perkinson, Graham D. Rowles, Joel S. Savishinsky, Renee Rose Shield, Philip B. Stafford, Maria D. Vesperi

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“The essays are theoretically sophisticated and analytically thorough….”
—Dr. Todd Meyers, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

“This edited volume represents a cutting-edge overview of ethnographic research on nursing homes… This volume will be especially useful in courses on aging or seminars on the anthropology of aging, gerontological sociology, psychology and aging, geriatric social work, and nursing. Moreover, this collection of articles should be ‘must reading’ not only for gerontological researchers and scholars, but for those who work with the elderly in nursing homes and those who are frequent visitors of relatives residing in such homes.”
—Tony Miranda, Journal of Anthropological Research 61 (2005)

“By providing ethnographic insight into the minutiae of resident, family, and staff interactions as well as historical and macrolevel perspectives on the political-economic development of the long-term care system, the contributors to Gray Areas provide both a sorely needed overview of the current state of chronic illness care in the United States and a working model for qualitative researchers seeking to understand nursing home culture.”
—Dr. Samantha L. Solimeo, American Ethnologist Vol. 31, no. 3 (August 2004)

“Curiosity about emerging forms of social organization is a hallmark of anthropology and the social sciences…. Nursing homes are a prime example of a newly emergent form of social life ripe for such study. [This volume] brings a sense of intrigue about an issue to the attention of general anthropology and contributes substantively to the broad interdisciplinary arena of gerontology research and practice.”
—Dr. Mark R. Luborsky, Institute of Gerontology, Wayne State University

“Studies of nursing homes continue to be an active area of research and publication, given the demography of declining mortality but high morbidity. [This book] will be of interest to anthropologists, qualitative researchers in sociology and gerontology, and professional fields serving nursing homes. Many of the authors have made significant contributions to new ideas in the study of nursing homes, particularly in their use of ethnographic methods.”
—Dr. Colleen L. Johnson, University of California, San Francisco


  1. Introduction: The Nursing Home as Cultural Code
    Philip B. Stafford
  2. The Treatment of Acute Illness in Nursing Homes: The Environmental Context of Decision Making
    Jeanie Kayser-Jones
  3. A Use of Irony in Contemporary Ethnographic Narrative
    Maria D. Vesperi
  4. ‘Bread and Butter’ Issues: Food, Conflict, and Control in a Nursing Home
    Joel S. Savishinksy
  5. Homebodies: Voices of Place in a North American Community
    Philip B. Stafford
  6. Alzheimer’s Units and Special Care: A Soteriological Fantasy
    J. Neil Henderson
  7. Family Involvement in Nursing Homes: A Decision-Making Perspective
    Graham D. Rowles and Dallas M. High
  8. Wary Partners: Family-CNA Relationships in Nursing Homes
    Renee Rose Shield
  9. Defining Family Relationships in a Nursing Home Setting
    Margaret A. Perkinson
  10. The Social World of Assisted Living
    Paula C. Carder
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.