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).
Concepts and Concerns in the U.S. and Europe
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.
Sandra S. Butler and Adrienne L. Cohen
This article presents two independent studies examining the experiences of older adults aging in rural environments in the United States. In face-to-face interviews, study participants (n = 66 in study 1 and n = 8 in study 2) were asked what they like about aging in a rural area and what they found challenging. Interview transcripts were analyzed for recurring themes in each study and striking similarities were found with regard to the importance of nature or “aesthetic capital” to the well-being of the study participants. Primary themes emerging from study 1 data included peace, safety, beauty, space, and interacting with nature. The themes emerging from the second study included the world outside the window, traveling around by car, and longing for natural beauty. A negative theme that emerged from both studies related to the dearth of health and social services in rural areas. Implications of the studies' findings with regard to the value of nature in the lives of elders are discussed in relation to practice, policy, and planning.
Travel, Travel Writing, and Old Age
This article offers preliminary thoughts on travel writing from a gerontological perspective. Gender, race, and sexuality have provided important analytical frames for travel writing studies, but age has yet to function as a topic or point of reference. Through a consideration of five travel books by respected modern authors—Jan Morris, Dervla Murphy, V. S. Naipaul, Paul Theroux, and Colin Thubron—the article asks what motivates travel writers to stay “on the road” into their seventies and beyond, and what the distinctive features of travel narratives written at this life stage might be. The article aims to demonstrate the intrinsic fascination of travel books in which a strong abiding curiosity about the world coexists with an acute—and often melancholy—awareness of the passing of time and personal mortality.