Vital Service Captivity: Coping Strategies and Identity Negotiation

Elderly person and caregiver

Author Samuel Guillemot of the Université Bretagne Occidentale discusses research he conducted with Margot Dyen and Annick Tamaro on the coping strategies within nursing homes for the elderly and their purpose in society, published as “Vital Service Captivity: Coping Strategies and Identity Negotiation in the Journal of Service Research.

Nursing homes for the elderly are the quintessential example of vital service captivity. A vital service is one that individuals use to fulfill their basic needs and have no choice but to delegate them to the market (e.g. care services for long-term and chronic illnesses, eating assistance at mealtimes). The service is referred to as “captive” because elderlies are generally unwilling to use it, and when they have to, their options are limited. Indeed, elderly consumers are typically in a situation of dependence on the service provider, with no voice, no choice, and no power, thereby adding to their vulnerability. Moreover, exiting the service is not a viable option, because of physical limitations or cognitive diseases. This research examines how the elderly are enduring those vital service captivity situations by giving voice to them, their families, and also to nursing home staff. It is important because of the special efforts that must be made to enable people to cope with daily and long-term recurrences – the service is part of the consumer’s life and, in this sense, must be assimilated into their sense of self and life projects.

We conducted this research at a time when our country, France, is questioning the care of its elderly, as evidenced by the launch of a major consultation launched in 2019 and which resulted in the Libault report. At the same time, this field of study has been a scientific and human challenge: on the one hand, it required a very enriching work of immersion in the hospital world, which is suffering today in France, all the more so with the health crisis it has to face.

On the other hand, it has been a very rich journey, both scientifically and humanly, during the meeting with the elderly. We were impressed by the methodological challenges of understanding and feeling the experience of these very specific audiences. Publishing in the special issue of Journal of Service Research: “Transformative Service Research and Unintended Consequences: Helping without Harming” has been a really enriching journey and we can only encourage our fellow researchers to appropriate the foundations of transformative service research because it offers great opportunities to rethink how to improve our society. We hope that this work will initiate new ones in its continuity and that the deep interest we had in doing this study will be reflected in our article.

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