No place to go? Older people reconsidering the meaning of social spaces in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

Katariina Tuominen, Jari Pirhonen, Kirsi Lumme-Sandt, Päivi Ahosola, Ilkka Pietilä

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Under COVID-19 restrictions, older people were advised to avoid social contact and to self-isolate at home. The situation forced them to reconsider their everyday social spaces such as home and leisure time places. This study approached the meaning of social spaces for older people by examining how older people positioned themselves in relation to social spaces during the pandemic. The data were drawn from the Ageing and social well-being (SoWell) research project at Tampere University, Finland, and they consisted of phone interviews collected during the summer of 2020 with 31 older persons aged 64–96 years. The data were analysed using the frameworks of positioning analysis and environmental positioning. Results showed the positions of older people being manifold, flexible and even contradictory. Within home, the participants portrayed themselves as restricted due to limited social contact, but also as able to adapt to and content being alone. Virtual spaces were depicted as spaces for younger and healthy persons, and the participants themselves as sceptical technology users not satisfied with technology-mediated interaction. Within an assisted living facility, the participants described themselves as sensible and responsible persons who wanted to follow the facility's pandemic-related rules but also as independent persons having nothing to do with these rules. In the spaces outside the home, the participants portrayed themselves as persons who followed pandemic instructions but also as persons who were not required to follow the instructions because they could use their own judgement. These self-positions shed light on the social needs of older people in the spaces of their everyday lives. Our results provide useful insights for policy makers and professionals working with older people and will help to promote spaces of living, care and everyday life that can enhance and maintain social interaction and well-being both in times of change and in more stable times.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101167
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • COVID-19
  • Older adults
  • Place
  • Position
  • Positioning theory
  • Social space

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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