After noting the centrality of local authority homes for older people in British research on institutionalisation, influential research undertaken in this setting during the 19803 is reviewed. Three problems are identified in this current of research. Firstly, the assumption that there is a uniform process of institutionalisation is questioned. Secondly, the lack of comparative studies is highlighted. Thirdly, the absence of the structured dependency thesis is regarded as indicative of the lack of attention paid to social divisions. In conclusion, it is suggested that the concept of institutionalisation may have outlived its usefulness and that an alternative approach needs to be developed which is capable of focusing on the degree of dependency, independence and interdependence existing in a range of care settings.