Aging and environment has been the subject of much scholarly inquiry, and guided by two major approaches: functionalistic view and affect-oriented view. The functionalistic view uses a heuristic model to understand elderly-environment relations, with an emphasis on objective environmental characteristics and their role in supporting deteriorating physical competencies. The affect-oriented view is attentive to emotional connections to home, multi-faceted meanings of home for the elderly, the relationship of a sense of home to self and identity, and place attachment. Both perspectives have neglected cultural dimensions of meaning of home, despite growing awareness of a rapid increase in elderly immigration.
This ethnographic study of Korean immigrant elderly helps fill a dearth of research on immigrant elderly. The site for this research is a public senior housing in Orange County, CA, a home to Korean-born elderly for decades. Naturalistic field research was used to understand cultural concepts that affect the link between Korean immigrant elderly and their environment, such as cultural values, traditions, customs, norms, rules, and preferences. Data collection techniques included unstructured, open-ended, in-depth interviews with 65 residents, as well as observation and participant-observation over a twelve-month period.
This study presents how Korean immigrant elderly view their past home environment, experience residential relocation, and adapt and adjust to their new environment. The focus was placed on shifting domestic roles within an extended family and accompanied rearrangement and relocation of physical space and elements within their previous home. Also, the analysis of the arrangement, display of objects, and uses of space show how they view and conceptualize their new home, thereby providing culturally appropriate housing design for them. It reveals thick description of the dynamics of physical changes in home environment and associated environmental phenomena, place detachment, and reconstruction of meaning of home. A vivid portrayal of ways Korean immigrant elderly conceptualize, experience, use, modify, interact with neighbors, and ascribe meaning to home will open new windows into our understanding of ethnic elderly and environments, and contribute to the development of design guidelines and practical applications.