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Dirty linen, liminal spaces and later life: Meanings of laundry in care home design and practice

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Publication details

JournalSociological Research Online
DateAccepted/In press - 7 May 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 8 Jun 2018
DatePublished (current) - Dec 2020
Issue number4
Number of pages17
Pages (from-to)711-727
Early online date8/06/18
Original languageEnglish


This article explores the design and practice of laundries and laundry work in care home settings. This is an often-overlooked aspect of the care environment, yet one that shapes lived experiences and meanings of care. It draws on ethnographic and qualitative data from two UK-based Economic and Social Research Council–funded studies: Buildings in the Making, a study of architects designing care homes for later life, and Dementia and Dress, a project exploring the role of clothing in dementia care. Drawing together these studies, the article explores the temporality and spatiality of laundry work, contrasting designers’ conceptions of laundry in terms of flows, movement, and efficiency with the lived bodily reality of laundry work, governed by the messiness of care and ‘body time’. The article examines how laundry is embedded within the meanings and imaginaries of the care home as a ‘home’ or ‘hotel’, and exposes the limitations of these imaginaries. We explore the significance of laundry work for supporting identity, as part of wider assemblages of care. The article concludes by drawing out implications for architectural design and sociological conceptions of care.

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2018.

    Research areas

  • ageing, architecture, care homes, care work, clothing, dementia, design, laundry


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