Senioritis

An ethnographic study of senior housing in Springfield, Missouri

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth piece in a series called “Putting Anthropology to Work” contributed by students of Margaret Buckner at Missouri State University.

What started as a semester-long project inspired by a regional non-profit ended with three college seniors exploring what it meant to be a different type of senior. The Partner Services Director from Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, Missouri, an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, presented a research opportunity to our ethnographic methods class this January. The director’s question was “what are the unmet housing needs of seniors in our community?” Connecting with a community organization as students enabled us to use what we were learning in class to tangibly help our community. Just a few weeks after the spring semester began, the three of us started our study of senior citizens in the city of Springfield Missouri.

Housing needs for seniors revolve heavily around repair. Seniors have a unique focus on staying independent and maintaining the upkeep on their current housing situation.

Springfield is Missouri’s third largest city, with a population of over 165,000. Conducting an ethnographic study of its senior citizens was a task that we quickly learned would be a challenge. To immerse ourselves in the lives of those we wished to study, we chose a wide variety of methods, including participant observation, personal documentation, interviews, social network analysis, life histories, a survey, mapping, and photo analysis. Our approach was varied because we had a broad population to connect with and each week in class we covered different ethnographic methods that we wanted to try.

After three months of research and different projects we have an impressive amount of data. Our data, however, can be consolidated to four main takeaways:

  1. There is a network of organizations in Springfield that work with seniors and those organizations have a strong referral relationship amongst themselves, meaning seniors can go to one organization and be connected with other outside organizations.
  2. Seniors face many of the same problems other demographics in the community face like affordable housing, financial limitations, transportation hurdles, and barriers to information on available resources.
  3. Housing needs for seniors revolve heavily around repair. Seniors have a unique focus on staying independent and maintaining the upkeep on their current housing situation.
  4. The services and resources available to seniors have strong bonding social capital, but have weak bridging social capital, meaning the network of Springfield organizations that work with seniors is very overlapping and not intersecting.

These four takeaways are just a highlight of some of the findings that our methods help illuminate. The above findings come from in-person data collection through the course of the semester, and this study is only preliminary. We cannot make any definite conclusions; however, we can say that Springfield has a consistent contingent of organizations attempting to address senior needs. The senior citizens in this community face the problem of getting connected to the organizations that are providing assistance, maintaining their independence within their current living circumstances, and finding ways to cope with struggles that the entire community faces while balancing their unique struggles. Our study concludes with a single recommendation. The Springfield community could find solutions to issues facing seniors and others if there was a conscious effort to bridge the barriers between the resource/service providers and those seeking and using the resources.

Drew Geer, Caleb Bunselmeyer, and Shafi Williams are students at Missouri State University.

Please send news items, contributions, and comments to CSAS contributing editors Cristina Ortiz ([email protected]) or Carrie Hough ([email protected]).

Cite as: Geer, Drew, Caleb Bunselmeyer, and Shafi Williams. 2017. “Senioritis.” Anthropology News website, October 18, 2017. doi: AN.590

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