Pleasure and Dementia

On Becoming an Appreciating Subject

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology

What can pleasure in the nursing home teach us about dementia and subjectivity? In this article I seek to challenge the assumption that the ‘fourth age’ involves the loss of subjectivity. In presenting dementia as a single pathway towards loss and decline, alternative pathways that provide more hopeful imaginaries become obscured. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in residential dementia care, I show how care professionals craft conditions that invite residents to take pleasure in, for example, dancing and bathing, and thus to become what I call ‘appreciating subjects’. Although residents do not craft these conditions themselves, they are active in accepting the invitations offered and enacting their appreciations. I argue that pleasure is a relational achievement, one that is contagious for those who let themselves be affected.

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