Abstract The current North American successful aging movement offers a particular normative model of how to age well, one tied to specific notions of individualist personhood especially valued in North America emphasizing independence, productivity, self-maintenance, and the individual self as project. This successful aging paradigm, with its various incarnations as active, healthy and productive aging, has received little scrutiny as to its cultural assumptions. Drawing on fieldwork data with elders from both India and the United States, this article offers an analysis of cultural assumptions underlying the North American successful aging paradigm as represented in prevailing popular and scientific discourse on how to age well. Four key themes in this public successful aging discourse are examined: individual agency and control; maintaining productive activity; the value of independence and importance of avoiding dependence; and permanent personhood, a vision of the ideal person as not really aging at all in late life, but rather maintaining the self of one's earlier years. Although the majority of the (Boston-area, well-educated, financially privileged) US elders making up this study, and some of the most cosmopolitan Indians, embrace and are inspired by the ideals of the successful aging movement, others critique the prevailing successful aging model for insufficiently incorporating attention to and acceptance of the human realities of mortality and decline. Ultimately, the article argues that the vision offered by the dominant successful aging paradigm is not only a particular cultural and biopolitical model but, despite its inspirational elements, in some ways a counterproductive one. Successful aging discourse might do well to come to better terms with conditions of human transience and decline, so that not all situations of dependence, debility and even mortality in late life will be viewed and experienced as “failures” in living well.
Abstract Neighborhoods are important places of aging and meaningful contexts of life for many older people. The overall aim of this study was to explore the public life of older people aging in place in order to understand neighborhoods as the material places where public life occurs, networks as the social places of public life, and to examine how these neighborhoods and networks influence the experience of aging and wellbeing. Adopting a friendly visiting methodology, data was collected over an 8-month period using participant observation, visual methods and an innovative interview technique called the “go along method”. Data were analyzed using grounded theory and a coding strategy that integrated textual, visual, and auditory data. Results provide insights into the micro-territorial functioning of neighborhoods and highlight third places and transitory zones as significant sites for older residents. Embedded within these places is a natural neighborhood network — a web of informal relationships and interactions that enhance well being and shape the everyday social world of older adults aging in place.
Abstract Successful aging, though controversial, is used as an overarching conceptual framework in social gerontology. In this theory critique, the discourse of successful aging is identified as problematic with respect to four dimensions. First, successful aging is ageist in nature, and it produces a disharmony between body and mind. Second, successful aging, with the emphasis on quantifiable activities driven by the “busy ethic,” overlooks the deeper concern of quality experience. Third, the capitalist and consumerist components of successful aging are under-addressed. Fourth, successful aging is a discourse developed upon Western (specifically American) values and thus may not readily apply to other cultures. Harmonious aging, as proposed, is inspired by the Yin–Yang philosophy. Harmony refers to the balance based on differences instead of uniformity. This new discourse aims to recognize the challenges and opportunities of old age itself, ease the tension between activity and disengagement theories, heal the integrity of body and mind, and emphasize the interdependent nature of human beings. The call for the discourse shift attempts to promote intellectual exploration of what constitutes a good old age and to capture more cross-cultural diversities in the context of global aging. This theoretical endeavor is important to change the status quo of gerontology as being “data rich but theory poor,” and to contribute to cross-cultural gerontological research, education and communication.
Abstract Active ageing is a policy tool that dominates the way the ageing society has been constituted during the last decades. The authors argue that active ageing is an attempt at unmaking the concept of old age, by engaging in the plasticity of ageing in various ways. Through a document study of the different epistemes, models and forms used in the constitution of active ageing policies, the authors show how active ageing is not one coordinated set of policy instruments, but comes in different formats. In the WHO, active ageing configures individual lifestyle in order to expand the plasticity of ageing, based on epidemiological and public health conventions. In the EU, active ageing reforms the retirement behaviour of populations in order to integrate the plasticity of ageing into the institutions, based on social gerontological and demographic conventions. These conventional arrangements are cognitive and political in the way they aim at unmaking both the structures and the expectations that has made old age and format a new ideal of the ‘good late life’. The paper examines the role of knowledge in policy and questions whether the formats of active ageing should be made to co-exist, or whether the diversity and comprehensiveness enable a local adaptation and translation of active ageing policies.
Abstract This paper explores the role of abjection in understanding and interpreting the dichotomy between the ‘third’ and the ‘fourth’ age. We use Kristeva's term abjection to refer to a realm of decay, disease and impurity that embodies the capacity to disgust. While there is a longstanding tradition of representing the aged body as an object of disgust, recent cultural, economic and political changes have undermined the solidity and stability of age and its bodily signifiers. A new potential to transgress the abjection of a long life and an aged appearance has been matched however by an intensification of ‘real’ old age with even less capacity to transgress the abjection that is associated with frailty and the loss of agency and symbolized by the fourth age. Appeals to a universal ontology of human vulnerability and/or the redeeming influence of intimate care are considered as possible sources of protection from such abjection.
Abstract While the determinants of successful aging receive much attention from researchers, few studies have considered media portrayals of successful aging. Yet the mass media shape the agenda for discussing and understanding aging and transmit the meanings and various experiences of aging between generations. Through thematic analysis of 146 articles featuring older adults in various contexts including family, work, civic engagement, social policy, health care, consumer market, and leisure published in The Globe & Mail in 2004–2006, this paper explores stereotypes of successful aging. Drawing on the insights from critical gerontology and critical discourse analysis, this study suggests that the three themes in the media discourse of successful aging (successful aging as an individual choice, individual responsibility for unsuccessful aging, and how to age successfully by staying engaged) embody the neo-liberal principles of containing the costs of eldercare and maximizing individual effort and responsibility for managing risks of disease and decline in later life.
Abstract Within contemporary Western contexts, positive aging discourses are a key aspect of structured mandates for how to think about and act toward aging bodies. This study adds to previous work on embodiment that has situated how aging bodies are managed by focusing on the body as an aspect of retirement preparation, and critically considering how the imperative to govern the aging body in ways consistent with being a ‘good’ neoliberal citizen circulated through positive aging discourses is negotiated by aging individuals. Utilizing narrative data from a study addressing the discursive re-shaping and narrative negotiation of retirement within the Canadian context conducted with 30 informants aged 45 to 83, this paper draws upon a governmentality perspective to critically analyze ways informants talked about their aging bodies as part of preparing for and moving into retirement. Overall, the findings illustrate how informants embodied positive aging discourses and, in turn, embodied neoliberal rationality particularly in taking up the call to attend to the body as part of the broadening of retirement planning within a neoliberal context in which health, social, financial and other responsibilities are increasingly shifted toward individuals. Although informants described realizing some of the promises offered up with positive aging discourses, such as a sense of youthfulness and bodily control, their narratives also point to detrimental individual and social implications that can arise out of the limits of bodily practices, the need for perpetual risk management, an aversion to oldness, and attributions of failure. As such, this study raises concerns about the implications of the intersections of positive aging discourses and the neoliberal agenda of activation, responsibilization and individualization.
Abstract Since the late 1980s, the concept of ‘successful ageing’ has set the frame for discourse about contemporary ageing research. Through an analysis of the reception to John W. Rowe and Robert L. Kahn's launch of the concept of ‘successful ageing’ in 1987, this article maps out the important themes and discussions that have emerged from the interdisciplinary field of ageing research. These include an emphasis on interdisciplinarity; the interaction between biology, psycho-social contexts and lifestyle choices; the experiences of elderly people; life-course perspectives; optimisation and prevention strategies; and the importance of individual, societal and scientific conceptualisations and understandings of ageing. By presenting an account of the recent historical uses, interpretations and critiques of the concept, the article unfolds the practical and normative complexities of ‘successful ageing’.
With the biomedicalisation and the pharmaceuticalisation of dementia, music programs, as with other arts- and leisure-based programs, have primarily been implemented as non-pharmacological means to generate social and behavioural changes. We argue that understanding and fully supporting the musicality of persons living with dementia requires engagement with citizenship discourse. Specifically we draw on a model of relational citizenship that recognizes that corporeality is a fundamental source of self-expression, interdependence, and reciprocal engagement. We articulate this argument with reference to the musicality of two residents living with dementia in long-term residential care; one example is drawn from an ethnographic study of selfhood in dementia and the other is from a study of elder-clowning. Relational citizenship brings a new and critical dimension to the discourse on music, ageing, and the body in contemporary society. It further highlights the ethical imperative to fully support musicality through institutional policies, structures and practices.
Abstract The article analyses the role of handbags in the everyday lives of women with dementia. Drawing on findings from an ESRC funded UK study ‘Dementia and Dress’, it shows how handbags are significant to supporting the identities of women with dementia as ‘biographical’ and ‘memory’ objects, both in terms of the bags themselves, and the objects they contain. This is particularly so during the transition to care homes, where previous aspects of identity and social roles may be lost. Handbags are also significant to making personal or private space within care settings. However, dementia can heighten women's ambivalent relationship to their handbags, which can become a source of anxiety as ‘lost objects’, or may be viewed as problematic or ‘unruly’. Handbags may also be adapted or discarded due to changing bodies, lifestyles and the progression of dementia.
Abstract This study explored the sexual subjectivities of older Australian women. In this article we present findings from 15 qualitative interviews with Australian women aged 55-81 who were single at the time of interview. The majority of these women were single following divorce or separation, with a smaller number of women who were widowed or never in a long-term relationship. We found that these women’s sexual desire and sexual activity were fluid and diverse across their life course. Although some participants desired a romantic or sexual relationship, they were also protective of their independence and reluctant to re-enter into a relationship in later life. Our findings indicate that these women’s sexual subjectivities were shaped by dominant norms of ageing, sex, and gender. At the same time, older women are challenging and resisting these norms, and beginning to renegotiate sexuality in later life.
Abstract This paper explores the idea of the ‘fourth age’ as a form of social imaginary. During the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond, the cultural framing of old age and its modern institutionalisation within society began to lose some of its former chronological coherence. The ‘pre-modern’ distinction made between the status of ‘the elder’ and the state of ‘senility’ has re-emerged in the ‘late modern’ distinction between the ‘third’ and the ‘fourth’ age. The centuries-old distaste for and fear of old age as ‘senility’ has been compounded by the growing medicalization of later life, the emergence and expansion of competing narratives associated with the third age, and the progressive ‘densification’ of the disabilities within the older institutionalised population. The result can be seen as the emergence of a ‘late modern’ social imaginary deemed as the fourth age. This paper outlines the theoretical evolution of the concept of a social imaginary and demonstrates its relevance to aging studies and its applicability to the fourth age.
While the major scientific discoveries that would extend the length and health of human lives are not yet here, the research that could create them is already underway. As prospects for a world in which extended and improved lives inches closer into reality, the discourse about what to consider as we move forward grows richer, with corporate executives, ideologues, scientists, theologians, ethicists, investigative journalists, and philosophers taking part in imagining and anticipating the rich array of humanity's possible futures. Drawing from in-depth interviews with key stakeholders ( = 22), we offer empirical insights into key values and beliefs animating the “longevity movement,” including what constitutes an ideal human state, the imperative to intervene, and the role of individual liberty and concerns for equality. Emerging from these interviews are common concerns about reducing suffering, preserving diversity in visions of successful aging and how best to promote access to a future that may not remain hypothetical for long.
Most older persons (age 65 and over) in the United States occupy suburban residential areas. Distinguishing where the older population lives is important because critics argue that the built environments of their suburban communities make it difficult for them to age in place successfully, that is, to have healthy, independent, active, and enjoyable lives. They point to their low population and building densities, long distances separating their residences from services, amenities, and commercial areas, and few transit and walking options. Consequently, when the mobility limitations of older residents prevent them from safely driving their vehicles, they have difficulties reaching destinations outside their homes (mobility behaviors) to satisfy their discretionary and obligatory needs. This paper questions this suburban bashing. It argues that future cohorts of older people, especially women, will be more able to drive, cars will be technologically safer and easier to operate, and ride-sharing options will be more available. More suburbs will also have mixed-use and pedestrian-accessible built environments reducing the need for vehicular travel. Most importantly, the information, activities, goods, services, and care required by older people to age in place will be delivered to their dwellings. Home sharing, home care, internet connectivity, e-commerce, social media, smart homes, telemedicine and robotic technologies will make the mobility or out-of-home behaviors of older residents less necessary. The paper introduces the constructs of and to encompass these expanded travel and in-home delivery strategies. These new ways of connecting with their environments will result in more self-reliant older persons who are less constrained by their mobility limitations. These conclusions offer insights for planners and policymakers seeking to make their suburban communities more age-friendly. They must keep pace with the changing ways that older people will access their environments if they are to improve the quality of their lives and help them to age in place successfully.
The number of international migrants around the world has steadily increased, as has the number of people that belong to the older segments of our populations. Due to these demographic transformations, topics that have yet to receive scholarly attention have begun to receive the attention of research communities. This article aims to expand the social gerontological agenda on civic participation in old age by arguing that migratory life courses offer new angles of investigation. By bringing attention to older migrants' civic participation, this article argues also for the expansion of the imagination of migration scholars who have yet to regard civic participation as an angle of investigation worthy of attention when it comes to this population. Thus, by proposing some of the research questions that could be posed if older migrants' civic participation was to be a part of the research agenda of social gerontologists and migration scholars alike, this article proposes that the ways in which these older people chose to engage civically is one of the ways through which we could bring explicit attention to the contributions that they make to their so called ‘host’ societies.