Pushing for miracles, pulling away from risk: An ethnographic analysis of the force dynamics at Senior Summer Camps in Sweden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


With an ageing population and a discourse of active ageing guiding welfare policies, initiatives to engage older people in health promoting activities have been established. One growing phenomenon is Senior Summer Camps, arranged all over Sweden in beautiful natural environments close to water. Their main purpose is to enable older people to participate in outdoor activities in an institutionalized setting. Although many professionals consider acts of infantilization as highly inappropriate, research has shown that still this is frequently done in institutional settings targeting older people. This paper wish to contribute to this field of research. The objective is to study how the camp leaders handle the dilemma of on the one hand, wanting to push senior campers into participating in challenging activities, and on the other, needing to pull them away, to reduce risk and ensure their safety, as well as how senior campers experience alternately being pushed into and pulled away from activities. What strategies are used by the camp leaders to push the campers to challenge themselves without taking unnecessary risks, and what consequences do these strategies have for the campers? The study was conducted in the form of ethnographic observations at two different camps. During one week at each camp we stayed with the participants, alternately being a silent observer and listener in the background, and an active participant in conversations and activities. Narratives, direct quotes, descriptions and reflections were written down in a field diary that forms the empirical basis for the analysis. Various modes of pushing and pulling were identified and defined as cheering, tricking, compelling, monitoring and restricting. These different modes of pushing and pulling were analyzed as manifestations of force, exerted by the camp leaders within a certain age-based force dynamic that resulted in different responses among the campers, especially in terms of how they “did age” in relation to notions on autonomy and vulnerability. It is shown that manifestations of force involve the risk of putting the campers in a position of vulnerability, regardless of whether or not they are actually vulnerable. The main argument in this paper is that initiatives that in an institutionalized context aim to promote a prolonged health and well-being, targeting “older people” in a general sense, run the risk of getting the exact opposite result, namely instead learned vulnerability is implicitly promoted by removing or downplaying the agency and autonomy of the campers.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Gerontology, specializing in Medical and Health Sciences


  • Activity, Autonomy, Force dynamics, Infantilization, Successful ageing, Vulnerability
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-103
JournalJournal of Aging Studies
Early online date2018 Mar 24
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Dec
Publication categoryResearch