Political Participation in Nursing Homes

Ethnography of an Elusive Object

Keywords: political participation, older people, institution, ethnography, nursing home


This article aims to illustrate the usefulness of an ethnographic approach for the understanding of how institutionalised older people relate to voting and political participation. Based on fieldwork in six nursing homes in French speaking Switzerland, we show how behind an apparent lack of interest in politics and a disengagement from voting, there is sometimes a strong interest that just needs to be heard. This leads us to a twofold conclusion: that the “civic death” that often comes with institutionalisation is not an age-related fatality, but (partly at least) the effect of an (evitable) institutional “avoidance” of politics by the institutional context itself; and that an ethnographic approach is key to uncover the relationship of older people to politics, often buried under social norms or feelings of incompetence, or made invisible in everyday life

Author Biographies

Maëlle Meigniez, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland, Lausanne (HETSL | HES-SO)

Maëlle Meigniez is a lecturer in social policy at the University of Lausanne and a scientific collaborator at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (Faculty of Social Work (HETSL | HES-SO) in Lausanne. Her main interests are in the use of ethnographic methods for the understanding of the implementation of social policies and social assistance; questions of participation and citizenship; and in associative, volunteering and citizen action.

Barbara Lucas, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HETS | HES-SO), Geneva

Barbara Lucas is a professor of social policy at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HETS | HES•SO) in Geneva. Her main area of expertise is social policy and health policy, with a focus on care issues. Her most recent research is in the field of dementia policy (diagnosis and care for people with dementia), institutionalised older people’s citizenship, and on the issue of families’ non-take up of social benefits.

Lea Sgier, University of Geneva

Lea Sgier is a senior lecturer in qualitative methods at the Department of Political Science, and an associate researcher at the Institute of Citizenship Studies of the University of Geneva. Her fields of interest are citizenship, gender and politics (women’s political representation in particular), qualitative methods and social policy. She has recently conducted research on institutionalised older people’s citizenship and on health and social sector professionals’ trainings needs in the field of dementia.

How to Cite
Meigniez, Maëlle, Barbara Lucas, and Lea Sgier. 2021. “Political Participation in Nursing Homes: Ethnography of an Elusive Object”. TSANTSA – Journal of the Swiss Anthropological Association 26 (June):212-20. https://doi.org/10.36950/tsantsa.2021.26.7057.