Student post by Kaitlin Chiarelli
My interview with Grace started out light-hearted, as she responded matter-of-factly when I asked her age, that she was exactly fifty-nine and three-quarters. When I asked her to explain why she played bingo, her tone became slightly melancholy. She told me she had moved to Fairfield around nine years before because her husband took a job with the local fire company, and he encouraged her to come to bingo one night when he was working as a volunteer. She was worried that she would not know anyone and would have difficulty making friends, but she quickly met Sue and Darcy, who were sitting next to her then and have continued to do so for the past nine years. The fire department and bingo played integral roles in her and her husband’s life, making it a common sphere of public interaction for them. Unfortunately, Grace’s husband had passed away less than two months before our conversation and she was still quite emotional, her voice quivering when she told me this. Grace still attends bingo because she believes that it “gives balance” to her life during this difficult time; she can rely on bingo as an opportunity to be with her friends, which allows for a break from the stresses of home life (Grace, interviewed 8 April 2013, Fairfield).
While not everyone who plays bingo has a story like Grace’s, her narrative does show some of the unique aspects of bingo which I believe make the game important in two Pennsylvania towns, Fairfield and Bonneauville, and in the lives of the players, many of whom are senior citizens. In small, rural towns with few opportunities for social interaction, the bingo games coordinated by the local fire and EMS organizations provide an ongoing and dependable opportunity for creating and maintaining a social community. Bingo brings the players, mainly the elderly, out of their isolated private spheres and into a stable and reliable public sphere together. Participation in bingo encourages social interaction, allows for the creation and maintenance of friendships, has positive physical and mental health benefits, and brings people together to improve their local community.
There is a distinct lack of attention paid to events like bingo in the anthropology of aging, since this field generally focuses on disconnection seen in events like retirement and death, instead of connection, seen on both a personal and community-wide level in events like bingo. The intrinsic disengagement theory, which posits that old age is a universal time for withdrawal, with three potential circumstances for such disengagement, has been an influential albeit controversial theory. Those scholars who support the first scenario of the intrinsic disengagement theory suggest that society pushes elderly people away and inhibits their ability and opportunities for social interaction as a way to remain engaged (Keith 1980:343). In this thesis, I use bingo to argue against the idea that the elderly choose to accept this disengagement; the other possible circumstances associated with this theory are explained and elaborated in detail on page four. My fieldwork demonstrates that elderly players make a significant effort to attend bingo and value the social connections and interactions this activity provides. Furthermore, I argue that we must nuance our understanding of the processes of disengagement and engagement by considering key contextual factors, including town structure, dependence on automobile use, and cultural values such as independence. I suggest a new approach to the study of social isolation and connection in elderly populations, which is particularly applicable to the elderly living in rural areas.
To begin, I provide a concise history of the anthropology of aging and the prominent theory of intrinsic disengagement in particular. Next, I use ethnographic fieldwork to detail bingo as an event and then to critique intrinsic disengagement, particularly on the issues of social isolation, mobility and American values. I conclude my paper with an analysis of other organizations in Fairfield and Bonneauville that provide opportunities for social interaction in order to establish what is unique about bingo and how it best meets the needs of the community and players, particularly in terms of combating social isolation.
A Brief History and Overview of the Anthropology of Aging
The study of aging in anthropology is a fairly recent area of inquiry within anthropology. This general area looks at the process and experience of aging and of being “elderly” or “senior”, a culturally-defined life stage that, in an American context, is typically considered to begin at age sixty-five. Fieldwork and publications on the anthropology of aging, also called comparative sociocultural gerontology, only became an area of interest in the late 1950s and early 1960s, growing more widespread during the 1980s and early 1990s. The areas of fieldwork are varied, ranging from the United States to Papua New Guinea, and provide an extensive array of case studies, facilitating easy cross-cultural comparisons and perspectives on aging. Prominent concepts which emerged from publications during these time periods are the intrinsic disengagement theory, the activity theory, the life course perspective and social reproduction. All of the above aim to analyze the social, emotional and cultural perspectives and actions of the aging.
The conceptual framework of the life course perspective is an approach for understanding people’s lives, as well as the role played in their lives by unique structural contexts and social change; simply put, this theory aims to understand an individual’s life through a long-term and emic perspective, accounting for and understanding the unique circumstances in which an individual lives and has been shaped (Climo 1992:41). This theory provides an interesting framework through which to understand the process of aging, how elderly people who play bingo conceptualize this process and continually adjust their lives and activities with changes, such as disruptive life events, like retirement or death. The emphasis here is on how being elderly is understood within the entire life course, rather than as an experience in and of itself.
The second main theoretical theme, social reproduction, is the concept that over time, groups of people reproduce their social structure and patterns of behavior (IBO 2008:14). This theory specifically looks at the transmission and implementation of traditions, ideas and practices from older generations to younger generations, including grandparents to grandchildren, and also parents to children. The continuation of these cultural practices allows for a “contractual gifting of culture” (Cohen 1994:148) from one generation to the next, thus making it key to understand the effects of socially reproduced actions and ideas over time. It is less helpful for understanding the elderly population itself and the social structure, patterns of behavior, and cultural meanings that arise directly from their experiences as elderly people.
Two additional theoretical frameworks do focus on the elderly life stage and the experience of being elderly and are thus more directly related to my project. These are the intrinsic disengagement theory and activity theory. The intrinsic disengagement theory was first postulated in the work Growing Old by Elaine Cumming and William Henry (1961) and as previously mentioned, states that old age universally causes individuals to withdraw into their private spheres and from society. Within this broad framework, there are three separate possible categories of explanation: (1) that society pushes the individual away; (2) that the individual in a self-motivated social and psychological manner disengages with society; and (3) that individuals can continue to live with a high degree of life satisfaction, regardless of social and psychological disengagement (Tornstam 2005:32).
This theory is controversial in anthropology because of its promotion of a universal construct and several case studies highlighting contexts where disengagement did not occur “naturally” (Sokolovsky 1992:5); it is also unpopular because of the negative connotation surrounding the word “disengagement” (Tornstam 2005:31). This theory has also been given by some anthropologists the “ethnographic veto”, a term coined by Margaret Clark (Keith 980:343). That is, the intrinsic disengagement theory is not accepted by anthropologists who do not see this theory occurring in the societies in which they do their field work (Keith 1994:343). Intrinsic disengagement has recently been revived and challenges the negative association of the term “disengagement” and proposes instead that disengagement is a natural process. That is, “disengagement” manifests as a result of personal satisfaction and inner harmony, allowing and supporting a more solitary lifestyle in old age and, in turn, leading social scientists and researchers to investigate what causes life satisfaction and contentment in old age (Tornstam 2005:31-33). The intrinsic disengagement theory is the primary theory discussed and critiqued in my paper. As aforementioned, the first caveat of this theory, that society pushes individuals away, is supported in my fieldwork, but must be re-examined through a localized perspective that takes into account town structure and other factors.
The activity theory proposes, in contrast, that successful or satisfying aging requires adults to stay active and maintain social interactions. Proponents of activity theory believe that social activities improve seniors’ quality of life, with bingo being a qualifying type of social interaction, among other activities like gardening, volunteering, and playing sports (Katz 2000:137, Luborsky 1994). Similarly, I argue that bingo as a social activity improves and has a direct positive impact on the quality of life for seniors who play because it encourages them to develop and maintain social relations, increases mobility, and allows them to contribute to the good of the larger community.
Across these four theoretical frameworks that are prevalent in the anthropological literature on aging are two trends that I wish to explore further: cross-cultural comparative studies and works focused on particular events in the lives of the elderly. Cross-cultural comparison studies, such as those found in Jay Sokolovsky’s work Growing Old in Different Societies: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (1992), are useful for comparing the processes, mentalities and actions of aging members of different societies in order to gain a global perspective on the needs of the aging. In Sokolovsky’s volume, Andrei Simić (1992:82-92) analyzes and compares “typical” intergenerational interactions of Americans and Yugoslavians to elucidate the underlying systems of values that reflect and influence family structure and cultural interpretations of aging. While studies such as these have academic merit and utility, they are often broad, do not focus on particular individuals and present a synchronic “static” snapshot of a culture in an effort to include as much information as possible.
The second theme focuses on particular events, such as retirement, illness and death, and the physical spaces in which these occur, such as hospitals and nursing homes. These case studies are valuable for understanding the changes in agency, construction of self, and sense of community for seniors. However, they tend to be too narrow and specific, often with an element of negativity if not outright morbidity. For example, Hsu et al. (2002) examine funerary rites, traditions and beliefs about death, especially the death of husbands, in Taiwanese culture; they consider how mortuary practices reflect traditional cultural values. This work is exemplary in detailing the Taiwanese belief system and practices in the face of death and explaining the funerary processes and mentalities and their significance. However, analysis does not extend beyond the funerary practices themselves; there is no explanation of life after the death of a husband or consideration of how life changes for their widows after this event occurs. There is a need for anthropological literature focusing on the activities and cultures of the elderly beyond and outside of these life-changing events.
The impact of regular cultural participation in events like bingo supplies a basis for seniors to construct their own sense of agency, meaning and role within a community. This also provides stability for senior citizens in-between the occurrence of major life-changing events and can be concisely phrased as “continuity”. As aforementioned, the element of continuity remains crucial in Grace’s life, as her ongoing participation in bingo provides stability in response to the highly emotional and disruptive event of her husband’s passing. When continuity is not maintained in response to disruptive life events, social isolation can occur, which can have negative physical, emotional, and mental consequences. I now turn to my fieldwork, which demonstrates bingo as an intricate and structured event which acts as a dependable activity to combat the issue of social isolation and disengagement.
Contextualizing Bonneauville, Fairfield, and their Bingo Halls
The two bingo organizations that I studied were those run by the volunteers of the Bonneauville and Fairfield Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Companies. Fairfield is a small town about ten miles west of Gettysburg, with roughly 500 residents living within the borough and a few thousand in the surrounding area. According to 2010 census data, over twenty-eight percent of the population in Fairfield was over sixty-five years of age (Census 2010). The bingos in Fairfield are held weekly on Thursday nights, and on the first Friday of every month. Bonneauville is also a small town located six miles east of Gettysburg, with roughly 1,600 total residents, with eleven percent of the population recorded as over sixty-five years of age (Census 2010). The bingos in Bonneauville are held weekly on Monday nights and on the first and third Friday of every month.
All four games lasted typically for about three to three and a half hours, although in both locations, the bingo halls would open an hour and a half to two hours earlier, allowing participants to come early in order to save seats, buy their cards, eat, and socialize. The weekly games typically had a smaller, more local crowd, lower “payouts” (amount of money won/ reserved as a prize for each game), and a shorter duration than the monthly or bi-monthly games, which draw in larger crowds because of advertised high-payouts and jackpot games. Both of the bingos in Fairfield and Bonneauville take place at their town’s fire halls for a variety of reasons. The most obvious benefit to holding bingo at these Fire & EMS companies is that this allows them to have priority over the space, ensuring that it is always be available, free of cost. Another key, more subtle reason for holding the bingo games at the fire halls is to serve as a physical and constant reminder of the driving force and purpose behind bingo: the local fire and EMS Companies. The games are staffed by volunteers and salaried fire and EMS staff, with the overwhelmingly majority being volunteers.
The bingo halls themselves are relatively plain: the walls are a generic beige color, and the tables and chairs are all collapsible and made out of durable metal and plastic, clearly intended for reliability and function rather than style. The Fairfield Fire Hall has twelve rows of tables which can hold up to thirty players each, allowing for a maximum of 360 players at one time. The Bonneauville Fire Hall has twelve rows tables which can hold up to eighteen players each, allowing for a maximum of 216 players at one time. There are large televisions in the corners of the rooms, which mutely show the next bingo number for all of the eager players. The bingo boards, the large boards which display all of the bingo numbers and light up individual numbers once they have been called, are behind the caller’s station, where the bingo caller or announcer sits, along with the machine which selects the bingo balls, with Fairfield having an additional bingo board over the kitchen (see Figures 1 and 2).
In conducting my research, I used four principle anthropological methods to collect data: participant observation, interviews, proxemics and mapping. In the six bingo games that I observed, I utilized a variation of active and passive participant observation; with active participation, I was fully involved in playing bingo and partaking in the bingo experience, while with passive participation I was present in the bingo hall during the game but did not play bingo, using those opportunities to instead to focus solely on recording my observations.
I completed two sessions of interviews: the first session took place in Fall of 2012, where I completed a total of eight interviews, two of which were with the organizers of each bingo whom I call Susan, the head organizer at Fairfield, and Laurie, the head organizer at Bonneauville; the rest were with various bingo players at each of the venues. For each of these interviews, I had an established set of interview questions which were open-ended, allowing for elaboration or correction with each interview. In my first set of interviews, I asked questions pertaining to individual players perceptions about bingo, including (1) How do you think bingo shapes the local community? and (2) Do you gamble regularly?
In the second session, which took place in the Spring of 2013, I completed a total of nineteen interviews with bingo players at each bingo. I used a different set of questions in this session of interviews, which gathered more specific information about individual players, by asking questions like: (1) How do you get to bingo? Do you drive yourself, or get a ride from someone else? and (2) Do you feel that you make a contribution to the community or society in general by playing bingo? Would you say that this is a motivation or reason that you play bingo? In compliance with ethical standards, the names of all of the interviewees have been changed to protect their identities and prevent harm to their safety, dignity or privacy (AAA 2009). For each interview that was conducted, oral consent was obtained; without oral consent, the interview was not completed. To facilitate comprehension of terms used in this paper and interviews, I have also included in Appendix 2 a dictionary which I have named “Bingo Lingo,” which defines the specialized jargon which is particular to bingo.
I mapped both bingo locations and developed an understanding of proxemics at each bingo, including general protocol about establishing personal space, use and frequency of personal items, and the flow of movement at each venue. I also completed maps that detailed the general location of the main spaces within a bingo hall, like tables for players, the caller’s station and other key features. I have included digital versions of maps of each bingo hall in Appendix 1 (See Figures A and B). The reasons why I chose these methods were to gain a comprehensive understanding of bingo from three different perspectives: outsider, participant, and host. I chose to interview those in charge of bingo to understand the rationale for hosting bingo and how bingo is understood by those who run it. Engaging as an active participant was essential in becoming personally involved with this event, understanding the dynamics of player and game interaction and establishing myself as a familiar face to the other players. Lastly, I chose to use participant observation, mapping and proxemical analysis to bring in an outside perspective, or a “fresh pair of eyes” to an event which is largely regularized, in order to present and explain bingo from a third and more objective viewpoint.
In the following four sections, I outline the processes and actions that take place within, before, during and after a normal bingo game; all of the following information, unless specified, applies to both of the bingo locations I studied. The purpose of the following segments is to describe the atmosphere and the typical actions of bingo players during a game, in a manner that is understandable and descriptive, which sets the stage for my analysis of such events through the perspectives of the players in order to understand their perceptions of bingo. This demonstrates the role bingo plays as an opportunity for social interaction in conjunction with the theoretical framework of intrinsic disengagement.
“Quiet on the Floor, Please” – Finally Getting to Play
As a social event, bingo begins before a single number is ever called. The time at which “doors open,” literally the first available time you can enter the bingo hall before the event, is typically one and half to two hours before the actual start of bingo. It is extremely common to have groups of twenty or thirty people standing outside of bingo hall for fifteen to twenty minutes before the doors open, all with one common pursuit: to reserve desired tables and seats. The maintenance of a regular seating location is fundamental for a positive social experience for certain players and they will use trash bags or personal items to reserve such spots. Whether they are looking to reserve a table or seats near a particular structure like the exit, bathrooms or television, or for the ability to sit in a regular location with the same group of people, certain bingo players will become particularly agitated or annoyed if their desired spot is taken.
There was one occurrence in which I was on the receiving end of such agitation from a player who thought I was going to take her seat. I had entered the Fairfield bingo hall just as the doors had opened for the regular Thursday night game and was waiting to meet with Susan, the head organizer of Fairfield bingo, for our interview and was standing very close to the exit doors of the hall, which are also close to the first row of tables (see Figure 1). While standing there, an older woman who was roughly seventy years old approached me and told me that I could not sit at this far end of the table. In response, I assured her that I was not planning to sit at this end of the table, which had already been claimed with trash bags, to which she promptly replied again, without regard to my comment that I could not sit at this end of the table because it was already being saved.
Once the saved seats have been filled, a flurry of activities commence. The mood in the bingo hall is light-hearted and carefree. Players are free to converse amongst themselves and almost everyone does. Players may purchase their bingo tickets, which typically cost between twenty-four and thirty-two dollars, from the ticket table, and then prep them, meaning they go through their bingo cards and for the regular games pre-mark all of the free spaces, and for special cards, outline the different winning patterns, so as to save time during the games. On the long table where you buy your tickets, usually located directly next to the entrance, the tickets are grouped in individual piles with signs behind them explaining what game they are for, how much they cost and how much winning tickets of each type pay out. At the end of the table is a display of daubers, the simple marker used when playing, which are available for purchase for one dollar each.
Immediately following that is the cashier station, where you pay for your bingo tickets and receive your door prize ticket. When paying for tickets, it is based solely on the honor system; the cashier does not go through your pile to count each ticket individually but rather accepts whatever quantity you tell them and gives you an itemized receipt after payment. Players will also eat dinner, as bingo halls offer a full kitchen menu, typically including hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, soup, French fries, mozzarella sticks, and so on. A variety of additional activities also take place in order to pass the time until bingo begins, including reading magazines, books or the newspaper, playing cards or the use of electronic devices like cell phones.
Another popular activity which takes place before bingo starts is the purchase of small games of chance or SGC. Small games of chance are available for purchase at both bingo halls and cost one dollar each. They are essentially small tickets which are based on a variety of different themes or games, like Monday Night Football (Figures C-E) or the appropriate Firemen 500 (Figure F & G). Within the tickets there are certain symbols or numbers which indicate either an “instant win value”, typically one to twenty five dollars, or a “holder” ticket, a ticket with a special symbol or set of numbers which indicate that it should be maintained until the remaining tickets have been sold for a chance at a larger sum of money, ranging typically from 250 to 750 dollars.
The unofficial dress code at bingo is undeniably casual with almost all players donning jeans or sweatpants paired with a tee shirt; the emphasis appears to be placed on comfort rather than style. Verbal interactions mirror the low-key dress code; the type of speech used at bingo, between participants and staff members, is informal. Most individuals who play bingo regularly are on a first-name basis with one another and with the staff members. With the interactions that I have heard between players who are unfamiliar with each other, the tone is still quite informal, with an apparent lack of titles, like “Miss,” “Ma’am” or “Sir” when addressing someone unfamiliar. Courtesy words, like “please” and “excuse me” are used infrequently. I do not think that this necessarily reflects a rude or crass attitude on the part of the bingo players, but rather than interpretation of bingo as a familiar and comfortable place where such public niceties are not required.
Most players come equipped with some kind of designated “bingo bag,” which holds all of their daubers, snacks, drinks, and reading materials, among other things. Some players even bring seat cushions to make their folding chair more comfortable. As aforementioned, these personal items can be used in addition to trash bags to signal an area or seat that has been taken. The spatial distribution of these items can also signal the personal boundaries of a player’s or groups personal space, that is a buffer of seats around a group which may be marked as unavailable.
At bingo, the majority of participants are senior citizens. There are significantly more women than men, roughly a five-to-one ratio. While it is typical to see groups of women sitting together, or a (presumed) husband and wife sitting together, there are never two or more males sitting exclusively in a group together. While the dress code is casual, it does not necessarily act as an indicator of lower socio-economic status. The allocation and use of expendable income is obvious at bingo, and while there are low-cost ways to play bingo, no one ever leaves bingo disgruntled that they did not win that night or complaining that they had wasted their money. In fact, consistent failure to win is normally expressed with joking disappointment or over-exaggeration, with common phrases being “Oh I’ve spent so much here I must own half the building / half a fire truck” or “I must be donating a lot because I’m certainly not winning!” (Interviews with Sheila and Darcy, 8 April 2013, Bonneauville). It is impossible to determine different players’ personal socio-economic statuses, but with the unwinnable structure of bingo, without statistical odds, I maintain that for senior citizens, bingo is more of a unifying social event than an event to prove or enhance one’s financial status.
Before the beginning of bingo, the caller, either a male or female volunteer who is responsible for picking and announcing all of the bingo numbers for each game, announces the rules and regulations of bingo. Once the first number has been called, the atmosphere of the room definitively changes. The boisterous clamor is reduced to a low murmur, with the hum of the bingo machine creating a lulling drone of white noise. Players eagerly look to the televisions which give them a head-start on the next number to be called. If the caller makes a mistake, like calling any “I”s in the number 19 game, a game does not require Is to make the winning pattern, the crowd collectively lets him/her know, but becomes restless and agitated if they keep making the same mistake; they begin to grumble loudly and negatively, and eventually leave a very narrow margin of error for the caller, correcting him/her almost instantaneously.
If someone is suspected of winning, for example hearing the sound of a sheet being torn off to hand to the volunteer to be read or excited whispering, the crowd quickly becomes agitated and with a general low murmur declares, “Someone’s got it.” When a player or players win bingo, they loudly yell “Bingo!” which stops the game and promptly draws a volunteer who reads their winning card number to the caller, who enters into the computer, allowing the winning card and pattern to be show on the televisions which publicly confirms a “good bingo”, or a verifiable and correct bingo. The total amount of money won is announced by the caller and promptly delivered to the player by the volunteer who read out the winning card to the winner.
During bingo, volunteers who sells SGC move laterally through the tables, softly whispering the name of the game they are selling; they also will call out winning bingo cards if nearby. The SGC sellers never apply any sales pressure to individual bingo players to buy SGC; they do not hover and are usually polite and will even stop to strike up a conversation with a regular player. For the most part, the relationships and exchanges between the bingo players and SGC sellers are very informal; common phrases are “lemme see ‘em” and “come here.” When all of the tickets in a “jar,” or set of SGC tickets, have been sold, it is announced in between games and the process of determining a winner, which is usually just breaking a seal on the container in which the tickets came in, reveals the winning symbols or numbers, which are announced from the caller station, prompting the winner ticket holder(s) up to the callers station where they are awarded their prize money. During intermission, the kitchen reopens and people are free to talk at a normal volume as well as eat, smoke (outside), buy SGC, read, do puzzles, play cards, and prep their cards.
Once the final number has been called, the loudest grumbling of all begins and almost drowns out the caller’s thanks and well-wishes to the players. Players stand up, place all of their trash in their trash bags, and place their trash bags on top of the table for an efficient cleanup process by the volunteers once all the players have left. Players slowly herd out the two main doors to their cars and cautiously navigate the crowded parking lot as they make their way home. The whole event can take between four and six hours, with additional time needed for preparation and clean up, before and after the game.
The preceding sections provide an accurate picture of a typical bingo game: it is lively, filled with activity and has a clear and consistent structure. Bingo games are events in which social interaction is a key feature, an aspect which is both essential for its success and also a principle reason for participation for those who attend; it is impossible to participate in a bingo game without interacting with someone else, and having some kind of exchange, whether it is verbal, physical or financial. Now that I have established an understanding of what exactly bingo entails, how it functions as an activity to combat social disengagement, as well as the anthropological frameworks to which bingo and its players speak, I will now highlight issues which exist within these two communities, act as barriers to participation in social activities, and promote social isolation which are issues with mobility, American values and ideals and lack of alternative outlets.
Examining the Consequences of Social Interaction and Isolation
Social isolation has negative effects which are associated and / or caused by disengagement from the elderly and also a decline in mobility. It is important, however, to understand not only the structural causes of social isolation but also the consequences on the elderly. More careful attention to the consequences of isolation helps us to understand why social interaction based events like bingo are vital to senior citizen’s well being. Social isolation can be defined as a state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and is deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships (Nicholson 2008:1346). Potential effects of social isolation include depression or depressive symptoms, cognitive decline, poor nutrition, and increased alcohol consumption (Nicholson 2008:1349). Social isolation is more prevalent in older adults because of diminished vitality and health, and often, as with my case study, inaccessible town layout and reduced mobility (Nicholson 2008:1343).
Social interaction is a necessary human exchange which allows for an opportunity to express ideas and experience contact with other individuals. Beyond this standard definition, socializing has positive physical and mental benefits and fosters a sense of belonging within a particular culture or group; the more integrated into a community an individual is, the less likely he or she are to experience negative health effects like physical and mental illness (Putnam 2000:326). Socializing occurs through relationships and interactions with different groups such as family, friends and coworkers; the different types of social interaction may be broken down into two specific categories: “paid” and “unpaid” (Stall, Radian, and Lynch 2008:326). A “paid” activity is described as something that is done for a direct, financial gain (like working), and an “unpaid” activity is described as something that is done for personal benefit or without the expectation of financial gain, such as volunteering, leisure activities or participation in sports (Stalp et al. 2008: 326,329). Once an individual reaches retirement or the end of their paid activities, they engage in other unpaid activities to maintain their accustomed level of social interaction, preventing disengagement and social isolation. A theory which emphasizes the positive benefits of social interaction through activities is the aptly named activity theory, which states that successful aging occurs and quality of life is enhanced when adults stay active and maintain social interactions (Atchley 2011:9-13). Opportunities for social interaction are somewhat inhibited in rural communities, by the American preference to live in private residences, that require a certain degree of mobility, either physically or through the use of a vehicle. This thesis particularly emphasizes the impact of social isolation caused by geographical factors and hindrances, rather than isolation imposed via familial relations – that is, seniors being purposefully ignored by family members or friends.
It is necessary to establish what causes and facilitates social isolation so as to better understand the social needs of the elderly and effectively prevent the negative consequences associated with this issue. One issue is town layout. Both rural towns’ boroughs of Fairfield and Bonneauville are smaller than one square mile in area and yet their layout, with one main road and no central town center, necessitates the use of a vehicle, both for traveling within town and outside of it in order to accomplish everyday tasks, such as grocery shopping. If mobility is lost, especially the ability to drive, seniors in these areas either become dependent on family or friends for transportation which limits their freedom, or they remain confined to their private, residential spheres According to Duany & Zyberk (1992), a loss of mobility coupled with the disconnected and expansive layout of the town confines individuals to their homes and discourages walking and mingling outside of the home: “Suburbs are poorly suited to the elderly – a suburbanite who loses their driver’s license ceases to be a viable citizen.”(Duany & Zyberk1992:13). While this quote specifically references the layout of suburbs as an issue for seniors without automobiles, the concern is only exacerbated in rural areas, which have more expansive layouts and therefore a greater distance between individual homes and everyday locations like grocery stores and post offices.
Another significant contributor to social isolation involves American cultural values that structure the life choices of the elderly. While a house may seem like a symbol of privacy and independence, without mobility, seniors may become confined within these structures. The answer to this issue seems simple enough: have seniors live in either multigenerational households or an apartment complex so they can more easily maintain social networks. Several factors impede this solution from becoming a reality, most of which stem from American ideals and values, especially those held with high importance by seniors, such as independence, autonomy and stability (Schafer 1985:1258).
Many shared values for seniors originate from their experiences during tumultuous or difficult experiences, such as living through World War II. After this time in America, there was a strong desire for upward mobility and stability which was represented and achieved through home ownership; the Cape Cod style home, which is described as “a self-contained world, with a white picket fence, green lawn, living room with a television set…and a kitchen with a Bendix washing machine built into the laundry alcove” (Hayden 2002:21) embodies the ideal home with a structure and layout which emphasize privacy (Hayden 2002:23-25). Houses in rural areas promote isolation because they are solitary structures, which can foster feelings of independence and self-sufficiency; they also serve as status symbols, either for family size, income, or of general stability. The desire to remain in one’s house in old age stems from past ideals, which viewed homes as safe, secure and stable retreats from the world.
As mentioned earlier, mobility is an important factor which is influenced by age and the environment and has a direct impact on an individual’s ability to engage in social activities. From what I have learned from my interviews, the number of players who drive themselves outnumbers the number of players who rely on transportation from others to get to bingo. Yet, over one half of the players I interviewed who drive themselves also bring someone else with them who would be unable to come otherwise. Only one person who relies on transportation from another person reported that there was more than one other person receiving a ride along with them; those who received transportation from another player were most often husband/wife, parent/child or friend/friend relationships. From this information, we can see that no one reported walking to bingo and that the majority of players maintained their own mobility and often welcomed the opportunity to help out another individual with hindered mobility.
One special individual who sticks out in my mind as someone who makes a sincere effort to come to bingo every week and must overcome mobility issues in order to play is Lucy. Lucy is in her forties with glasses and short brown hair. She also has Spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, a rare type of dwarfism, but you hardly ever notice her small stature because of her bubbly and carefree personality. The volunteers at Bonneauville have gone above and beyond at making accommodations for Lucy, even building her a special chair with steps in her regular spot, as well as adding low-rising door handles on all the doors in the bingo hall. Their consideration does not go unnoticed and has earned Bonneauville bingo a special place in Lucy’s heart. Lucy, Opal and their other friend Cynthia used to play bingo at other places like St. Vincent’s in Brushtown and Delone High School in McSherrystown, but bad parking and high steps made it impossible for Lucy to even get into the bingo halls to play. Opal, an older woman in her seventies with gray hair who was wearing a cat sweater during our interview, drives Lucy to bingo every week, an event which neither of them likes to miss. Lucy also confidently stated that she will call Opal even if she is five minutes late in picking her up, and is always waiting by the door when Opal arrives. Lucy exemplifies the dedication of many of the players and is someone who relies on the support of her friends to make sure she has the opportunity to play bingo (Lucy and Opal, interviewed 12 November 2012, Bonneauville).
In an attempt to understand physical and social isolation in seniors on an anthropological and more theoretical level, I return to the intrinsic disengagement theory. This theory states that old age is a universal time for withdrawal by old people and by society (Keith 1980: 343). I believe that the first theory, that society pushes the individual away, is applicable to my project. In my project, I see the layout of towns, the necessity of mobility and the lack of accommodations or considerations for seniors as society’s way of effectively keeping seniors from remaining integrated and involved in their communities and fostering social isolation. In my case study, there is a notable lack of other social events in these two towns, which consequently limits seniors’ options for socialization. The unavailability of alternative events and the low activity level of seniors in this area have caused me to doubt that their distinct withdrawal from society and lack of engagement is the result of their contentment with their lifestyles. Rather, I posit in this instance disengagement relates to and is the result of the lack of available social activities in their community. The following sections are dedicated to explaining the other organizations in these towns which offer opportunities for social interaction. I then distinguish the benefits and disadvantages of each group and analyze how bingo is unique in fulfilling the needs of its specific community of players
Understanding Other Social Organizations in Adams County
Of course, bingo is not the only social activity available to the elderly in Adams County. Yet, through comparison with other types of secular and religious social organizations, bingo serves a particularly attractive purpose because it is open to all and requires no membership fee or religious affiliation. A private organization such as The Red Hat Society is a social group or club exclusively for women, with no age requirement, although women under fifty years old are known as “Pink Hats” and women over fifty are known as “Red Hats”. The Red Hat Society describes itself as a “dis-organization”, which has “no rules, just fun” and is focused around embracing older age and the state of aging instead of hiding it. There are four chapters within ten miles of the 17325 (Gettysburg) zip code, but you are required to register online to find out exactly where they are and who the members are; membership costs between twenty and forty dollars annually. This group is inherently organized around the needs of women, a need to socialize and a desire to positively embrace aging. Members of this group are defined by a group identity, with common shared values, ideas and dress code, and in a way it sounds very similar to a sorority (Stalp 2008:326-340). Lastly, within this organization there is a lack of egalitarianism with the presence of a “Queen” or group leader and also the possibility to be a member without ever physically interacting with anyone if you choose to join their online chapter (“Membership: How to Join” 2009).
In contrast, bingo is open to men and women of all ages and does not require that players follow a certain dress code in order to participate, which is in fact, one of the few rules to this “no rules, just fun” organization. While playing bingo does cost money, participating in bingo does not incur a membership fee, and the cost to play bingo is comparable to the amount of money spent at most Red Hat Society events, which include shopping trips or going out to eat. Bingo is not focused on age, nor does it require a public announcement or acknowledgement of a player’s age for participation. All bingo halls and related information about bingo games is made public and held on a regular and dependable schedule, while most Red Hat Society meetings or events are not mandatory and few follow a definitive schedule. Lastly, The Red Hat Society maintains that it fulfills the desire to have fun and socialize without “having” to do charity work or raise money for a worthy cause, however playing bingo provides an opportunity for socializing while also giving money to a worthy cause (Stalp 2008:335).
A similar organization geared specifically towards men does exist and it is called ROMEO, or Retired Old Men Eating Out. This organization is fairly relaxed as far as rules and participation are concerned, attendance is not mandatory and does not require a fee to join. This organization is much less widespread or centrally organized than the Red Hat Society, with only three chapters existing in Pennsylvania, all of which are located around the Philadelphia area.
The other main alternative for social interaction in Adams comes in the form of church groups and organizations. There is only one church, which is a Catholic church, in Bonneauville, St. Joseph the Worker, which in 2011 was involved in an embezzlement scandal, in which the head priest misappropriated over $380,000 (Marroni 2012). I remember attending bingo after this story broke and it was received with disbelief and a disheartened attitude. This event created animosity towards that church and had a negative impact on the church’s image. In Fairfield, there are five churches within the town and surrounding area, which include one Worship Center, one Lutheran Church, one Mennonite Church, and two Catholic Churches. Events which take place at these churches include but are not limited to: religious services, soup kitchens, volunteering, bible studies, youth groups, food and toy drives.
There are many benefits to participation in secular organizations and church-based activities. Faith-based communities can serve as a source of social capital, which is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups (Putnam 2000:21). Church based organizations “go beyond the building” and are focused on the people who are participating, whether this is the church members, the volunteers or those who are on the receiving end of the help distributed through the aforementioned programs; all of the focus and benefits are on the people who are doing the actions instead of the organization that has hosted the events. According to Robert Putnam, churchgoers are more likely to participate in other social events, vote, participate politically and have deeper informal social connections. Faith-based organizations serve civic life by providing social support to their members and social services to the wider community, but there has recently been a lack in church participation due to generational differences (younger generations are becoming less religious) which can lead to a lack of engagement with local community (Putnam 2000:65-79,247-275).
Bingo differs from participation in secular activities in that bingo does not require a religious affiliation to participate. Participation in church activities is free and open to men and women of all ages, contingent on their membership to that organization and belief set. There is no opportunity for financial gain, but participants in both activities experience extended socialization and improve their local community. Both institutions are regular, predictable, secure and always held in the same location.
The impact of the lack of social activities came up in my interview with May, a sixty-five year old player in Bonneauville. When I asked May about her regular hobbies and social events, she replied that she plays bingo in Bonneauville and also at SAVES (Southeastern Adams Volunteer Emergency Services) and very much preferred to play there than in Bonneauville. She explained that she disliked several things at Bonneauville bingo, including the prohibition of bringing outside food into the bingo hall, and she also thought that the volunteers were not running bingo efficiently, among other things. The example she gave to justify this criticism was that they had not yet begun to sell SGC (small games of chance) and the hall had already been open for a half hour (May, interviewed 8 April 2013, Bonneauville). Her serious, hushed tone and her crossed arms gave the impression that she was she was displeased with these aspects of bingo at this location.
After this discussion, I asked May whether she felt like she was making a contribution to society or the local community through her participation in bingo, and she replied in a very sarcastic tone “Oh yes. We lose a lot” (May, interviewed 8 April 2013, Bonneauville). May’s responses clearly indicated that she was not particularly happy with playing bingo at this location for a number of reasons, which begged the question “Why do you play here if you’re this unhappy?” She responded by telling me that this is one of the only things to do in this area and that it was one of the few activities that she and her elderly mother can still do (May, interviewed 8 April 2013, Bonneauville). In summation, May continues to play at Bonneauville even though she dislikes many aspects of it and frankly stated that she would prefer to give her money to a different organization, but because of the lack of alternative social options in the areas, she still attends these events.
Thus far, I have critically examined the role of social interaction in senior citizens’ lives, the American ideals of independence and autonomy, how the spatial organization of rural communities shapes seniors’ social disengagement and interaction. These analyses help us to understand why bingo plays an important role in the community and how it positively impacts the lives of players. From my research and fieldwork, I have concluded that bingo games held in rural Adams County, specifically the towns of Fairfield and Bonneauville provide a unique opportunity for social interaction which is locally achievable through few other means or organizations. Bingo brings the players, mainly senior citizens, out of their isolated private spheres together and into a dependable public sphere of interaction. Participation in such organized activities encourages socialization, has a positive effect on the players’ mental and physical health (Nicholson 2008) and brings individuals together in solidarity to improve their local community. For many seniors who have limited mobility, bingo remains one of their only opportunities for this kind of socialization, preventing isolation and disengagement from the outside world.
The importance of bingo goes far beyond fulfilling the standard definition of social interaction. Based on the initial information concerning expansive town layout, the necessity of mobility and the preference for the elderly to remain in and maintain their homes, it comes as little surprise that for the majority of the players whom I interviewed (ten out of nineteen), revealed that bingo was the only social event or activity which they participated in during the week. This shows that this regular event, which is consistently attended, provides the only opportunity for social interaction in the lives of a majority of players on a normal basis and that disengagement is a serious issue for seniors in Fairfield and Bonneauville. I have also found in my interviews, that typically the older players are, they participate in less “unpaid” activities, which seems to correlate with the intrinsic disengagement theory. Of the players whom I interviewed who participated in other social activities besides bingo on a regular basis, all but four were under sixty-five. The four exceptions were Janet, who still takes dance classes at eighty-two, Wendy a seventy-seven year-old player who visits her mother in a nursing home, and Beatrice and Quinn, who are both sixty-seven, and still work full time at the Hanover Hospital.
Another common response I received when I would ask the players I was interviewing why they played bingo or if making a contribution to the community was a motivation for playing bingo was “I do it to get out of the house;” two players in particular, Sheila and Clara, told me that during the week they don’t leave their houses, and bingo is the only event that they regularly attend not only outside of their homes but in order to get out of their homes (Sheila, interviewed 8 April 2013,Bonneauville and Clara, interviewed 11April 2013, Fairfield). One interviewee, the active and lively Janet, explained her living situation and motivations for playing bingo, which are shared by many of the players: Janet is an eighty-two year old widow who lives alone, and plays bingo because it “gets [her] out of the house and gives [her] something to do” (Janet, interviewed 8 April 2013, Bonneauville).
These stories from players may seem disheartening and in some cases, the reality is harsh; for some elderly people in these towns, bingo provides the only regular opportunity for social engagement, which is taken up by many players partially because it is the only option available and it fulfills this need to “get out of the house” and do something. It should be understood however, that not all players regard bingo in this way and in fact, many players agree that the social aspect of bingo: being with their friends and family, talking and interacting with different players and being a part of the bingo experience/ community drives them to continue playing. Playing bingo has also had lasting positive benefits for players including establishing and maintaining friendships, and of course, the ability to win money, although I argue that the opportunity for financial gain matters much less to the senior citizen players, who as I have described, will often continue to play despite losing streaks and do not get discouraged when they do not win. The resilience and continued effort to play bingo for the elderly as demonstrated by these examples exemplifies the importance that bingo plays in these players lives’. Regular affairs such as bingo shape everyday life and culture for seniors and allow them to construct a sense of self and values, meriting study by anthropologists and gerontologists alike.
One action which I saw numerous times which reinforced the idea that bingo is a social place in which relationships are created and fostered was when I would ask my interviewees to name their closest friends, and they would usually point to the three or four people they were sitting next to and then look around the bingo hall and continue giving the names of their friends (May and Krystal, interviewed 8 April 2013, Bonneauville and Clara, interviewed 11 April 2013, Fairfield). Of the friends listed by the interviewees, the ratio of friends who participated in bingo was two to one; meaning that bingo serves as either the origin or method of maintaining every two out of three friendships / relationships. One woman in particular, after initially naming her husband as close friend (which he looked relieved to hear), then told me that everyone at bingo was her friend (Amanda, interviewed 8 April 2013, Bonneauville).
Such stories or statements are common among long-time players, who view bingo as a stable, familiar and comfortable space. An example of such a group would be the previously mentioned Lucy, Opal and Cynthia, who are a constant presence at every bingo game I have attended in Bonneauville. They sit in the same seats at each game and are well known by other bingo players; those walking by usually address them by name and with a pleasantry or a wave. In my interview with them, they described how they come to bingo because it is a local, “comfortable” place where they can regularly see their friends, and prefer to do things as a group, like play bingo and dine out, as a group. They all agreed that they played bingo in Bonneauville because they liked the other players and the volunteers who run bingo, and that the crowds were not too big; Lucy and Cynthia likened the people, atmosphere and dependability of Bonneauville bingo to a place is “friendly” that feels like “home” (Lucy, Opal, and Cynthia, interviewed 12 November 2012, Fairfield).
Another example from an interview which shows the role of bingo, this time in a family’s life, specifically a mother-daughter pair, was told to me by Fannie. Fannie, at fifty-five, is still fairly young compared to the rest of my interview pool. She told me that she has been coming to bingo at for twelve years and “doesn’t miss bingo for anything” (Fannie, interviewed 8 April 2013, Bonneauville). When Fannie’s mother was still alive, she was ill and lived with Fannie and her husband. Going to bingo was the only opportunity in which Fannie would get any relief or reprieve from watching her mother, thus she came to relish this activity as her free time and has continued playing after her mother’s passing. Fannie’s enjoyment of bingo and interpretation of it as a break and a way to relax or escape has transferred to her daughter. Her daughter, who is a stay-at-home mom, has an infant son and comes to bingo once every other week because that is the only time she can find someone to babysit, making this her only “break” from her domestic sphere.
Fannie and her daughter show that social isolation can occur regardless of age, and how important it is to balance the “paid,” in this case her job and caring for her mother, with the “unpaid” activities, like bingo in one’s life (Fannie, interviewed 8 April 2013, Bonneauville). Lastly, I return back to Grace, the kind woman whose story I used to begin my thesis. Bingo was one of the first social activities she participated in when she moved to Fairfield nine years ago, and the friendships that she has made and maintained there have served her over the past nine years and continue to help her through this difficult period in her life after the death of her husband (Grace, interviewed 8 April 2013, Fairfield).
Bingo fulfills many roles in the lives of the players: it is a social outing, a source of relief from the stresses of life, and for some it is simply something to do during a week with no other scheduled or regular activities outside of their home. I have explained how the dynamics and limited availability of these two rural towns work to the disadvantage of the social needs of the players; there are little alternative organizations to choose from or participate in and participating in these organizations or activities requires a certain degree of mobility which is not achievable for all players. .
Returning to and Applying Theoretical Frameworks
I have demonstrated the genuine lack of options and alternatives for social interaction in these two towns. Opportunities for socializing are further inhibited by expansive town structure that requires a degree of mobility not achievable for all independent senior citizens. The lack of activity and initiative on the part of the seniors coupled with the restrictive and confining layout of these towns and their citizens support the first caveat of the intrinsic disengagement theory: that society (in one way or another) pushes away the individual; in the instance of my study, is not necessarily the desired course of action, but rather a response to the lack of alternative activities and limited mobility.
The layout, structure, and location of these two rural towns requires its inhabitants to maintain a certain degree of mobility in order to satisfy their daily needs, like working, going to school or going to the grocery store. For seniors however, when faced with problems associated with aging, like deteriorating eyesight, arthritis and low-energy, these trips are not always possible or become less frequent, diminishing chances for social interaction on a level in which seniors may be accustomed to or need. There are no community-based provisions, like public transportation, to accommodate or remedy this decline in mobility for seniors; for example, Gettysburg now has a trolley system which is dependable and easy to located, regularly stopping at prominent places like the grocery store, hospital and Wal-Mart. The aforementioned maintenance of the American ideal of the house as a symbol of security, prosperity and safety serves as a basis and place of retreat and confinement for seniors as their excursions outside of the home become less frequent.
However, the benefits of social interaction have been a prominent and true theme throughout this paper, and provide a strong, positive effect on senior’s health and happiness (Fitzpatrick 2009) . Regardless of activity level, socializing is a necessary element of human nature and culture, which fosters a sense of inclusion, belonging and synergy between friends and family members. From my interviews and interactions with a variety of different bingo players, I have learned and demonstrated the true value and importance bingo holds in their lives. It is worth noting that those who esteem bingo with such significance are not always those who are the most disengaged or solitary: Fannie, who is in her mid-fifties and still works full-time stated that bingo was her preferred activity and that in the past twelve years “doesn’t miss bingo for anything” (Fannie, interviewed 8 April 2013, Bonneauville). Bingo can mean different things to different players, but all of those who play (even the generally displeased May) enjoy, look forward to, and voluntarily make bingo a part of their lives, as they derive positive social, mental and physical health benefits from their participation and improve their overall quality of life.
Conclusion – A Comprehensive Analysis of Theories, Fieldwork and Literature
Through this paper, I have shown how bingo in two, rural communities serves to meet the needs, specifically the social needs of many of the senior citizens in these towns. Bingo is one of the very few social events in these towns, and is often the only social event in which senior citizens participate regularly. Attendance at other social events necessitates a certain degree of mobility and often requires the ability to drive or go outside of the town; this is fostered by the prominent presence of American ideals of independence, autonomy and desire for a private and stable domestic sphere. This lack of options and social involvement by many seniors, coupled with the sense of disconnect created by persons living in individual homes and wanting to maintain their autonomy has created an environment for social disengagement; senior citizens have limited options for social interaction and are otherwise typically confined to their private, domestic spheres, causing them to be generally uninvolved with others and the community. Bingo serves as a regular and dependable opportunity for socialization which allows the players to gather and interact in a public sphere. Participating in bingo is an activity through which all players can create and maintain friendships, interact with upwards of one hundred people for hours, and exercise their mental and physical faculties. All of these actions improve senior citizen’s overall health, attitude and quality of life and prevent social disengagement.
Bingo has become more than just a simple numbers game to the regular players, it is a source of entertainment, a meeting place for friends and family, an escape from the stresses and realities of life, and most of all, a dependable and consistent community event in their lives. It provides a reliable activity which has positive impacts on the lives of senior citizens while preventing social and intrinsic disengagement as the process of aging continues. Bingo touches the lives and hearts of its players and provides a bridge between rural and private spheres into the public and social sphere, which in Grace’s words, gives “balance” to their lives and prevents their absence from society as they continue to age.
Appendix 1 – Images
Appendix 2 – Definitions – Bingo Lingo
Bingo bag- the bag brought by players which holds their daubers, money, snacks and anything else they need to play bingo; some are bingo themed, but this is not a requirement.
Bingo Board- The large electronic board with every possible bingo number on it, which light up if they have been called during the game. The bingo board in Fairfield also has an LED mock bingo card on it, and goes through a rotation of all possible winning patterns for that particular game (regular games have twenty-two different winning patterns).
Caller’s station- the area where the volunteer who announces the bingo numbers and facilitates the flow of the game sits. All of the bingo balls are in this table / apparatus, and can be clearly seen in the bingo hall as they are mixed around using air and one by one, transferred up a tube where they are read by the caller. A camera is also in this part of the table, which projects the next ball onto the televisions in the hall.
Dauber- a special marker used only for bingo. It has a flat bottom, thus allowing it to stand upright on its own, and come in a spectrum of colors, usually indicated by the color of the cap.
Doors Open- The first available time players can enter the bingo hall to engage in pre-bingo activities before the start of bingo.
Good bingo- a term applied to a card which has a verified bingo.
Holder(s)- a particular ticket of a SGC game which indicates a chance to win a higher payout as listed on the ticket once all the tickets have been sold. Except in the SGC games “Around the Farm” and “Monday Night Football”, all holders do not necessarily indicate a winner.
Jar- term applied to a singular, entire pack or entire game of an SGC.
Kitchen- Refers to the actual kitchen itself and also to the counter where you place your order and receive your food. Some food items can be found on the counters before the order station.
Payout- The allotted amount of money which is predetermined and set asidefor each particular bingo game and SGC. The payouts for SGC can be found on the individual tickets and the payouts for bingo can be found on a schedule sheet which comes with each bingo purchase, as well being announced before the start of each new game.
Prepping- The act of buying your bingo cards in advance in order to pre-mark all of the free spaces on regular cards and trace out the special winning pattern on all other cards to save time while playing
Appendix 3 – Bibliography (Works Read and Cited)
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Interview with Laurie, Bonneauville, November 5, 2012.
Interviews with Lucy, Opal and Cynthia took place in Bonneauville on November 12, 2012.
Interviews with Miriam, Sam, Wendy, Barbara, Cathy and Tillie all took place at Fairfield on April 4, 2013.
Interviews with Grace, Fannie, Amanda, Sheila, May, Jewel, Sydney, Krystal, Darcy, Luanne and Kendra all took place at Bonneauville on April 8, 2013.
Interviews with Clara, Beatrice and Quinn took place in Fairfield on April 11, 2013.
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Acknowledgements: I am indebted to my undergraduate research advisors at Gettysburg College, Professor Amy Young and Professor Lydia Marshall, for their patience, advice, and counsel. I also thank Fairfield and Bonneauville EMS for their extended hospitality and the bingo players for welcoming me into their community. Last, I would like to thank my mother, who was the first person to introduce me to bingo and provided continued support and companionship during my research. I obtained IRB consent for this project.
Kaitlin Chiarelli is an M.A. candidate in anthropology with a concentration in international development at the George Washington University. She earned her B.A. in anthropology and Italian Studies from Gettysburg College in May 2013, earning departmental honors in both. She wrote her honors thesis on bingo and social engagement of the elderly in two communities near Gettysburg, based on research conducted over a ten-month span. Her current interests include European immigration, specifically from Africa to Italy.