Supported Community Creation Processes in Retirement Communities. Habitual Fit and External Control of Socio-Spatial Structures.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Julia HAHMANN, University of Vechta, Germany
Retirement communities – especially those for upper class individuals – support their residents to establish feelings of belonging to their new homes and environment that can be understood as a city within the city with its own formal and informal set of rules, norms, and obligations. To support community creation staff organizes classes, trips, and evening events but also relies on the residents’ willingness to participate and engage. By comparing a German and an US-American retirement community, I illustrate different strategies to support, control and perform community creation processes within retirement communities. Interview material from residents, staff as well as ethnographic field notes allow for reconstruction of a supported “doing community”, including the use of spatial material and informal social rules related to semi-public spaces within the setting. Semi-public spaces, such as the communities’ restaurants or the entry hall (“la Plaza”) simulate public, well-known spatial structures and offer residents to continue internalised interactions of everyday life by simultaneously modified conditions of age-friendly design and supervision. Blurring the boundaries of public and private space – comparable to the design of malls, for example – influences the residents’ everyday lives, mainly without their knowledge as interviews with staff members in both sites show. When analyzing biographical narrations of residents in the United States and Germany, it becomes obvious that the retirement communities use milieu-specific patterns of time use (especially leisure time), mode of activities, and use of space that differ among gender, biographical experiences, and nation (e.g., welfare regime).