A place to call home? : an ethnography of the retirement village as a heterotopic place : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for Master Business Studies, Massey Business School, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand

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People over 65 in New Zealand often enter long-term care conditional to their levels of health, family and community support. New Zealand has a growing ageing population, and people are living longer because of lifestyle choices and advances in medical technology. In response the residential care landscape has transformed, resulting in the emergence of the corporate, resort-style retirement village sector that provides several aged care living options dependent upon the older person’s health, physical and economic circumstances. These villages deliver communities that aim to offer safety, reassurance, care and security. Many older people remain living at home either as they prefer to stay in their own environment or because they cannot afford other options. Most older people at the later stage of life must consider the option of either staying at home or finding a new ‘home’ in a facility. Often this decision is beyond their control if they are no longer safe and accessing adequate care at home, for instance, if they have a health crisis. This study consists of an ethnographic, naturalistic observation of a retirement village as a home away from home. The methodology I employ involved close observation and reflections upon daily life in an elderly care institution. I spent 155 hours in a retirement village and was afforded access to life behind the scenes to help me understand the practices and customs of the staff, residents and relatives. This allowed me the opportunity to develop an awareness of how various spaces are deciphered, lived in or endured from the perspectives of the important retirement village stakeholders – residents, family and staff. Inevitably my own experiences of looking after my parents, and their experiences of ageing, added an autoethnographic component to this study. I employ Foucault’s assertion that rest homes are heterotopias to frame, interpret and discuss my observations. I elaborate upon the feelings of dread and vulnerability that older people experience when they contemplate moving into and settling into a retirement facility. I explore how standardised healthcare practices and customary surveillance can challenge an older person’s identity and subsequently hinder an older person from finding a sense of belonging in the retirement village care. The themes of vulnerability, dread and a sense of belonging drawn from the ethnography reinforce how essential it is for retirement village corporations, their staff and the wider community to adopt a model of caring that empowers older people. This empowerment comes from them feeling a sense of control and individuality over their existing routines and habits which have been developed in their own homes, and which give meaning to their lives. Furthermore, care needs to incorporate an understanding of lifeworld existentialism such as dread causing anxiety and vulnerability, to gain a full awareness of someone’s life. I argue that institutional representatives and families need to understand the feelings associated with home as the first step in enabling an older person to feel valued and comforted in their uniqueness in a new environment such as dependent care in a retirement village. Additionally, for older people to feel central to their individual care they should be included in the decision-making process about where they live and what possessions they have around them. Thus, they are supported in a place to call their own – home.