The Pollution of Incontinence and the Dirty Work of Caregiving in a U.S. Nursing Home

Abstract

In U.S. nursing homes, it is the job of nursing assistants to tend to residents’ basic bodily needs, including elimination and incontinence care. Given their frequent contact with pollutants, aides are very much at risk of becoming “polluted people.” In this article, I investigate how nursing assistants’ continual contact with contaminating substances impacts their status within the workplace, their relationships with others, and their attitudes toward their work and themselves as workers. I also explore how aides manage their encounters with pollutants and their stigmatized role as “dirty workers.” In doing so, I hope to explicate the meaning of elimination and of incontinence caregiving in the United States.