Mundane Mattering

Helena Cleeve defended her thesis “Mundane mattering: how materialities come to matter in everyday life in dementia care units and in end of life care” in November 2020. The thesis sheds light on the importance of seemingly trivial material things in care.

Drawing made by Helena Cleeve as part of her ethnographic fieldwork in a dementia care unit in a nursing home. The image shows how one of the residents used to place her things on the dining table, as a way to mark her spot in the shared living room.

To care for someone who is at the end of their life or someone who lives with a dementia disease is not about curing. Instead, care becomes concerned with what can make a situation as good as possible. Contributing to such efforts, Helena Cleeve’s thesis explores how everyday objects (e.g. coffee cups, napkins, newspapers) come to matter in dementia care settings, and in settings where people are cared for towards the end of life.

The thesis draws on interviews, workshops and ethnographic fieldwork. In addition, Helena created drawings and illustrations as a way to inquire about things and prompt others to reflect on the meaning of different materialities. The tension in how material things are enacted as both significant and insignificant in these settings is underlined. That is, while the studies illustrate that it cannot be assumed what something ‘is’ and what it ‘does’ or ‘mean’, materialities in these settings are often routinized in such a way that they tend to be treated as definitive and trivial.

The studies exemplify the importance of that staff members understand are open towards what (and how something) matters in a specific situation. Still, this is a more or less overlooked aspect of working in these settings. To create time and space for staff members to discuss these issues would not only serve to recognize this work, but it could also improve daily life for residents and their family members.