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Care and Things - Objects and their Significance in Past and Present Nursing Practice

Things are indispensable for care work and nursing. They play a major role in daily care for people of various ages with disabilities or illnesses – from feeding cups to new, networked technologies designed to support living at home (Ambient Assisted Living/“Smart Home”). Knowledge and experience from the fields of nursing, medicine and everyday life take material form in these things. They co-construct care work and nursing in interaction with people. This basic research project aims at analysing the role of things in the construction of care, and how knowledge manifests itself in these things.

In February 2014, German scientists from the Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité, the Institute for Gerontology at Heidelberg University, the Nursing Science research group at the University of Osnabrueck and the Institute of Social Work and Organizational Studies at the University of Hildesheim started an investigation into this field lasting a total of three years. The interdisciplinary team asks:

  1. How do theoretical and conceptual developments manifest themselves in objects and how do innovative objects lead to changes in nursing that are ambivalent?
  2. How do people and things interact in care settings and thereby constitute agency?
  3. How are social concepts and orders inscribed in things and how do things contribute to these concepts and orders?

The project focuses on things in four epochs, from the mid-19th century to the present. Objects occurring in care will be identified in collections and archives throughout Germany, as well as through participant observation, videography, and interviews with care workers in different care and nursing settings. The items will be analysed in their contexts. Thus, changes and frictions in the use of such objects can be accessed, as well as their impact on nursing.

The empirical project is inspired by Science and Technology Studies as well as Workplace Studies. Its results contribute to fill the research gap concerning the significance of things for care work and nursing and thus also shed new light on objects used in nursing and care including that in relevant museums and collections throughout Germany. The research results will be made available to the academic community and to the general public through publications, congresses, the project website and ethnographic video material.



Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Andreas Kruse
Project Partners: Institute of Gerontology at Heidelberg University

Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité

Nursing Science research group at the University of Osnabrueck

Institute of Social Work and Organization Studies at the University of Hildesheim
Period: 01.02.2014-31.01.2017
Financed by: German Federal Ministry of Education and Research