Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Representing Life and Death in Care Institutions: Between Invisible Victims and Suffering Old Women

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Abstract:  The article examines the representation and (in)visibility of ageing people in German care institutions during the Covid-19 pandemic. Within the framework of a qualitative content-analytical and discourse-analytical study of 185 articles, including 108 images from German newspapers, the authors trace the patterns behind the representation of ageing people. In so doing, they argue that in the media discourse ageing people are often represented without agency and in a strongly homogenised way as “others.” By emphasising pre-existing conditions and vulnerability, older and disabled people appear naturally at risk. The article also problematises the mere counting of life and death in care institutions, which contributes to a naturalisation and symbolic annihilation of the death of ageing people. Furthermore, the authors identify the notion of the suffering old woman as a key figure in pandemic media discourse, performing a critical function. She embodies an appeal to society to show sympathy and solidarity and to act reasonably with respect to the pandemic measures yet contains no elements of discursive agency or personal characteristics beyond that. Additionally, the suffering old woman reinforces traditional patterns of patriarchal representation. The authors conclude that the pandemic has placed the German care crisis in settings of institutionalised geriatric care into the media spotlight. However, the comprehensive inclusion of ageing people has been absent. Emphasising one’s own ability and thus adapting to the midlife years seems to be the only way to precarious inclusion for ageing people in the discourse.

Keywords:  ageing; agency; Covid-19; German newspapers; institutionalised care; media representation; vulnerability



© Shari Adlung, Annabella Backes. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.