Power, empowerment, and person-centred care: Using ethnography to examine the everyday practice of unregistered dementia care staff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The social positioning and treatment of persons with dementia reflects dominant biomedical discourses of progressive and inevitable loss of insight, capacity, and personality. Proponents of person-centred care, by contrast, suggest that such loss can be mitigated within environments that preserve rather than undermine personhood. In formal organisational settings, person-centred approaches place particular responsibility on ‘empowered’ direct-care staff to translate these principles into practice. These staff provide the majority of hands-on care, but with limited training, recognition, or remuneration. Working within a Foucauldian understanding of power, this paper examines the complex ways that dementia care staff engage with their own ‘dis/empowerment’ in everyday practice. The findings, which are drawn from ethnographic studies of three National Health Service (NHS) wards and one private care home in England, are presented as a narrative exploration of carers’ general experience of powerlessness, their inversion of this marginalised subject positioning, and the related possibilities for action. The paper concludes with a discussion of how Foucault’s understanding of power may help define and enhance efforts to empower direct-care staff to provide person-centred care in formal dementia care settings.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-243
Number of pages17
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Volume39
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 8 Feb 2017