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Doing Nothing?: An Ethnography of Patients’ (In)Activity on an Acute Stroke Unit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Alessia Costa, Fiona Jones, Stefan T. Kulnik, David Clarke, Stephanie Honey, Glenn Robert

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalHealth: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine
Accepted/In press17 Sep 2020
Published11 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research Programme (HS&DR 13/114/95). The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the HS&DR Programme, NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health. Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2021. Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Costa2021inactivity

    Costa2021inactivity.pdf, 340 KB, application/pdf

    Uploaded date:17 Sep 2020

    Version:Accepted author manuscript

  • Costa2021boredom

    Costa2021boredom.pdf, 418 KB, application/pdf

    Uploaded date:11 Jan 2021

    Version:Final published version

    Licence:CC BY

King's Authors


Health research has begun to pay increasing attention to inactivity in its broadest sense as lack of meaningful activity and boredom. Few studies however have taken a critical look at this phenomenon. We explore (in)activity drawing on ethnographic data from observations in an acute stroke unit and post-discharge interviews with stroke survivors and their families. Four themes emerged that explain patients’ (in)activity: (i) planned activities; (ii) ‘doing nothing’, (iii) the material environment of the unit; (iv) interactions with staff. Considering these themes, we seek to problematise received conceptual and methodological approaches to understanding (in)activity. We argue that (in)activity is best conceived not as lack of action or meaning, but as a situated practice encompassing both bodily and mental activities that reflect and reproduce the way in which life is collectively organised within a specific healthcare setting.

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