Wandering Free?

Featherstone, K. and A. Northcote. Wandering the Wards: An Ethnography of Hospital Care and its Consequences for People Living With Dementia. London: Routledge. 2020. Xxii + 165pp. £77.38 (cloth) free (ebk) ISBN 978-1-350-07845-1 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-003-08733-5 (ebk)

Out for a walk

We recently read this wonderful book. Our review of it will appear soon in Sociology of Health and Illness. It touched on many things, among them (for us) three important, interrelated topics. First, self-preservation: How, within institutions such as care homes and hospitals, do individuals engage in make-do, impromptu and improvised strategies as part of the routine care of self? Second, communication and cognition manifest themselves in multiple formats, extending beyond linguistic matters and yet these skills may not be ‘seen’. Third, there may be vicious circles set in motion when people’s ‘logics’ of practice are rendered invisible.

So maybe walking (‘wandering’) is as an adaptive behaviour, a response to the perceived sense of restriction and loss of control experienced in unfamiliar or unsettling circumstances? Maybe exercising – literally – freedom (of movement) is a means for restoring a sense of embodied agency and empowerment? If so, then maybe it’s not surprising that people living with dementia often feel a powerful need to move?

Perhaps the philosophy of embodied cognition can help us to explore these questions and their connection to our main concerns in Care for Music. The philosopher, and our colleague, Giovanna Colombetti describes how:

“Cognition as sense making does not require a central executive system that represents facts about the world, reasons about them, and generates rules for action. Cognition from an enacted perspective is, rather, the capacity to enact, to bring forth a world of sense, namely an Umwelt that has a special significance for  the organism enacting it” (2014: 18).

As with walking, so too music? Which leads us the theme we’re currently exploring. How do, and why is it that, some people living with dementia seem to love to conduct the music therapist’s music making? Using whatever might be available as a ‘baton’ – a hand, a drum stick, a walking stick, a spoon. This conducting seems to be, and all at once, a virtual form of movement, a kind of dancing or rhythmic gesture, physical exercise, a kind of musical composing (choosing what, sound-wise is going to happen next and how – the creative shaping of a musical future in dialogue and collaboration with someone else), a chance to connect in split second time, an opportunity to exercise creative control, a form of pleasure. All adding up to, of course, the care for music.


Colombetti, G. 2014 The Feeling Body. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


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