Enjoying the third age! Discourse, identity and liminality in extra-care communities

Karen West*, Rachel Shaw, Barbara Hagger, Carol Holland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Extra-care housing has been an important and growing element of housing and care for older people in the United Kingdom since the 1990s. Previous studies have examined specific features and programmes within extra-care locations, but few have studied how residents negotiate social life and identity. Those that have, have noted that while extra care brings many health-related and social benefits, extra-care communities can also be difficult affective terrain. Given that many residents are now ‘ageing in place’ in extra care, it is timely to revisit these questions of identity and affect. Here we draw on the qualitative element of a three-year, mixed-method study of 14 extra-care villages and schemes run by the ExtraCare Charitable Trust. We follow Alemàn in regarding residents' ambivalent accounts of life in ExtraCare as important windows on the way in which liminal residents negotiate the dialectics of dependence and independence. However, we suggest that the dialectic of interest here is that of the third and fourth age, as described by Gilleard and Higgs. We set that dialectic within a post-structuralist/Lacanian framework in order to examine the different modes of enjoyment that liminal residents procure in ExtraCare's third age public spaces and ideals, and suggest that their complaints can be read in three ways: as statements about altered material conditions; as inter-subjective bolstering of group identity; and as fantasmatic support for liminal identities. Finally, we examine the implications that this latter psycho-social reading of residents' complaints has for enhancing and supporting residents' wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1874-1897
JournalAgeing and Society
Issue number9
Early online date13 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • fantasy
  • Lacan
  • post-structuralist discourse theory
  • psycho-social studies
  • the Real
  • third age/fourth age dialectic
  • transitions


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