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Andrew Dawson

This biographical and, in part, phenomenological anthropology of older people in post-industrial England illuminates a local and generationally specific communitarian critique of and form of resistance against the process of individualisation. Rather than presenting communitarianism conventionally as an abstract political ideology or set of ideas about locality, it is conceptualised as emerging from and being reinforced by experiences of ageing, especially bodily ageing. It these respects, the article responds positively to Tatjana Thelen and Cati Coe’s call to take the anthropology of ageing out of its current condition of relative intellectual marginality, by recognising ageing and its related care arrangements as key structuring features within societies and political organisation and by treating them as a window onto understanding broad-scale social and political processes.

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Malcolm Johnston

Designers of the products and environments we use have a significant responsibility to maintain quality of life for elderly and disabled people. Their ability to achieve this is limited both by information available to them and by the attitudes of society. The fact that we age is immutable and predictably changes the nature of our lifestyles. The environments around us and our daily living tools enhance our abilities to fulfil our lifestyles. In the kitchen, for example, the basic need of food preparation is rendered highly efficient through the layout of work-tops, sink and cooker and made quicker by tools such as mixers and microwaves. Designers have created these tools which meet the needs of the large majority of potential users. Designers can therefore also meet the change of needs resulting from the effects of the ageing process.

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What Is It Like to Grow Old?

Ageing in Some Recent Women's Fiction

John Mepham

‘“Oh, Nathan, aging”, she cried, as we embraced each other, “aging, aging– it is so very strange.”’ It is difficult for younger people to imagine what it is like to be an ageing person, particularly because, as Hagar Shipley, the protagonist and narrator of Margaret Laurence’s novel The Stone Angel, says, ‘Things never look the same from the outside as they do from the inside.’ Fiction, which specialises in presenting how things look from the inside, can help us to imagine the many subjective experiences of ageing. Fictions are like thought experiments or hypotheses. They represent the particularised individual person in his or her oddity and complexity. But in doing this, they are, of course, representing imagined and verbally constructed characters, not describing real people. Fictional characters reflect the desires, anxieties and obsessions of their authors as well as representational conventions, which in the novels I discuss here are those of psychological realism. Novels are not social science, of course, so they have no statistical weight and no automatic claims to validity.

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Carroll L. Estes

In the United States, social policy debate concerning the elderly has, for almost two decades, been permeated by the rhetoric of crisis and attacks on the entitlement programmes that provide the backbone of support for older persons. Based on demographics alone, with older women outliving and outnumbering older men, ageing is appropriately defined as a gender issue and, in important respects, a women’s issue. Corroborating this view, Dr Robert Butler, former director of the National Institute on Aging, recently described the U.S. health programmes for the elderly, Medicare and Medicaid, as ‘women’s programs’ for the very old (Butler, 1996).

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Arvind K. Joshi

The aged in India have conventionally enjoyed privileges within the framework of a social economy where the needs of the old remained a moral responsibility of family, kith and kin. However the present changing times have forced a shift in the approach to old age care. The old person finds him- or herself in a sticky situation, in between an insensitive state and the demands of globalization. The present paper situates this problem within the framework of globalization and systematically measures the strategic response of the state to this daunting challenge, with respect to economic security and health care in particular. In the conclusion, the paper argues for a rejection of the conventional welfare approach and it advocates an integrated approach based on a coherent social development perspective within the valuation framework of social quality.

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Jan Baars

This article concentrates on the concepts of time that are implied in the study of ageing. As such, it does not directly address the complex issue of autonomy and ageing, but is an attempt to prepare the ground for a more fundamental approach to ageing than is usually the case. Instead of assuming that we know what age is, I intend to think a little more about the concepts of time that are presupposed in speaking about age and ageing. Usually these concepts are approached from a chronological time perspective, which is only one, albeit important, approach to time. Another perspective which is crucial for understanding human ageing is subjective, personally experienced time. These perspectives are not by definition in harmony with each other. Subjective perspectives on time and ageing can conflict with objectifying, chronological perspectives. Human ageing means living in dimensions of time where impersonal forces and regularities clash with personal meanings.

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Adam Drazin and Simon Roberts

Ethnographic work conducted by the Digital Health Group, Intel Ireland, explores the questions of how concepts of health and independence relate to peoples' lives in later life. This paper serves to present artistic approaches to the design of the material culture in elderly homes in Ireland, and aims to highlight and discuss the merits and problems of such approaches. Through writing 'in miniature' about specific experiences and homes, we propose that it is possible to develop explorations of material objects in the home which, rather than presenting material contexts as terminal 'conclusions' to the research process, use them as provoking and questioning resources for engaged dialogical encounters with informants.

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Piet P. J. Houben

International comparative research and discussions on the social quality of policies for frail older adults are in need of a common conceptual framework. Such a framework is also needed because, due to the many innovations and the increasing professional differentiation and specialisation in the area of housing and care, more and more specialised professionals and organisations are operating in this area. The resulting differentiation in providers demands extra efforts to meet the multiple needs of frail older adults with a balanced package of products and services. As a result of decentralisation and privatisation, the co-operation between disciplines and organisations needed to achieve this has to be realised on increasingly lower levels. To facilitate co-operation and fine-tuning on regional and local levels, it is useful to develop a common language. Innovation and specialisation lead to an increasing differentiation in the allocation of products and services, which – in combination with the new information technology –creates a growing demand for an adequate ‘Main Menu’ that will facilitate the decision-making processes concerning the allocation of funds on all relevant levels. From a social quality perspective, it is important to ask the question what could be legitimate core concepts in such a ‘Main Menu’.

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Securing Intergenerational Kin Relationships and a House of One's Own

Muslims' Ways of Ageing Well in Kerala, India

Willemijn de Jong

The author explores trajectories of creating well-being with regard to old age in a poor Muslim community in Kerala, India. Theoretically, she draws on the nonstate-led concept of 'inclusive social security' and links it with the anthropology of the house. In doing so she takes approaches of 'making' kinship, gender, age as well as citizenship into account. Care and respect for the elderly result from strong but gendered intergenerational kin relationships in and around the house, which they establish for a large part themselves. Governmental and civil provisions play an enabling or supplementary role. Elderly women, particularly widows, benefit from property relationships that are less gendered. Surprisingly, there is a remarkable tendency of creating house ownership, and thus of bargaining power, for women in this community. It is suggested that this is effected by a combination of Muslim inheritance rules, recent dowry-giving practices and Kerala's matrilineal history.

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Social Gerontology

Concepts and Concerns in the U.S. and Europe

Anne Jamieson

Two recent publications, one American (Minkler and Estes, 1999) and one European (Arber and Attias-Donfut, 2000), provide a good opportunity to reflect on some of the issues and challenges in current social gerontology. Social gerontology is an area of study concerned with ageing and age-related social issues. Its strengths are its multidisciplinarity and the imaginative ways in which it successfully combines a range of perspectives and approaches in exploring the processes and experience of ageing. Within this broad field are widely different interests and concerns, and indeed differences of opinion as to what gerontology should be about. Whether such differences are clear-cut and perhaps even constitute ‘schools of thought’ is debatable. Judging from the discussion by the editors of Critical Gerontology: Perspectives from Political and Moral Economy, critical gerontology constitutes a field or enterprise, which appears as distinct from mainstream gerontology (Minkler and Estes, 1999).