Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Art engagement and agency on the websites of dementia care facilities in Michigan

Art engagement and agency on the websites of dementia care facilities in Michigan

Laura Sutherland

The number of persons with dementia in the U.S. population is increasing.  Although the majority of persons with dementia live in homes in the community, many live in dementia care facilities.  These facilities regularly create websites to describe available services and activities, often directed toward caregivers.  Art-related activities are among those commonly offered, and art engagement may provide sites in which persons with dementia can experience and enact agency in interaction with others, confirming ongoing personhood (Poland & Birt 2016).  The language used to describe art activities on facility websites indicates underlying conceptions of care that the facility aims to communicate to caregivers.  Following Alessandro Duranti in analyzing how agency is expressed linguistically, this study examines the language used to attribute agency in these art-related activities.  Discourse analysis of the linguistic constructions of art activities on the websites for thirteen (N=13) dementia care facilities in Michigan suggests that agency is usually not attributed to the person with dementia, but distributed among facility staff, processes, and objects.  Analyzing these linguistic constructions of agency in descriptions of art activities on dementia care facility websites can lead to a greater understanding of the perceptions of facility staff of the expectations of caregivers as well as underlying assumptions around conceptions of care, personhood, and art that have practical impacts on the sustaining or constraining of personhood for residents.

April 16, 2020 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I am intrigued that even in the discussions around art in dementia care facilities there is a lack of agency attributed to residents; the implications of this could be varied. I’m wondering if and how the underlying ideologies that this lack of agency attribution reveals could be changed.

    Comment by Shannon Yee | April 22, 2020 | Reply

  2. Yes – I hope that the underlying ideologies can be changed. I’m also hoping to get a chance to analyze a larger data set, perhaps all of the dementia care facilities in Michigan, to get a better sense of the prevalence of art-based activities and the scope of differing attributions of agency.

    Comment by Laura Sutherland | April 24, 2020 | Reply

  3. Laura, it is really lovely to see the work you did in Hopp’s class continue to be complexified and developed. Are the types of art-classes you are including for analysis similar? Does the type of art change the discourse and locus of agency in the text? I am curious to hear what you find.

    Comment by Bethany Hedden | April 28, 2020 | Reply

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