The key to unravelling these complex relationships will be a greater understanding of the day-to-day implications of the balance between dependence, independence, and interdependence for older people in residential settings. Focusing on the lives of residents and staff within publicly provided old people’s homes, we have set out to discover how it is that the very act of becoming a local authority resident appears to disempower older people. We enquire whether the effects of institutional living exacerbate this dependent status; we consider recent innovations in care practices, and we try to assess the progress towards developing a liberal philosophy, and the effects that this may have on residents
and staff. In so doing we confront this crucial question: can residential care offer a setting where the push and pull of independence and dependence give way to a form of interdependence, where resident, relatives, and staff can share the responsibilities for exchanging care in a way that offers mutual satisfaction? We suggest that residential settings require a substantial restructuring which will recognize, ameliorate, and perhaps resolve these contradictions and ambiguities upon which residential life is currently founded.