Professionalised Intimacy: How Dementia Care Workers Navigate Between Domestic Intimacy and Institutional Detachment

31 Aug 2018

This paper reports an ethnographic study of the handover routines in Germany’s first Dementia Village, with a central focus on how care is balanced between domestic intimacy and institutional detachment. The term ‘professionalised intimacy’ is used for the vivid interplay between comfort and intimacy that renders the interaction between care workers and residents far more complex than previous theories have articulated. Because of the intimacy involved in community building, however, the promise of personalised care must clash with the bureaucratic structures of an official institution, potentially depriving the care workers of their public, respected identity in the process. The study further suggests that most care workers, in fact, support this division between domestic intimacy and institutional detachment. Even if they subscribe to a dementia village’s philosophy of personalised care, their medical training and enculturation has endowed them with a habitus compatible with the modern health profession, with incentives on achieving quantifiable health goals. The dementia village is thus illustrated as a pioneering health care experiment that negotiates rivalling discourses of intimacy, professionalisation, and medicalisation.