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What Am I Still Doing Here?

Travel, Travel Writing, and Old Age

Robin Jarvis

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.

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The Emotional Disturbances of Old Age

On the Articulation of Old-Age Mental Incapacity in Eighteenth-Century Tuscany

Mariana Labarca

This article explores the role attributed to disturbed emotions in the understanding of old-age mental incapacity in eighteenth-century Tuscany. It claims that interdiction procedures provided a fertile forum for the negotiation of what constituted mental incapacity in old age, which progressively involved a discussion on accepted or proper emotional reactions. Delving into the language employed in interdiction narratives, it argues that references to disturbed emotional states were increasingly employed as a means of providing evidence of disordered states of mind. It also suggests that the constituent elements of mental incapacity and the emotional reactions deemed indicative of its presence were dependent on the familial and sociocultural context in which the behavior was identified. Interdictions thus reveal the articulation of a collective, culturally embedded language of mental incapacity that was profoundly entrenched in the formulation of behavioral norms and the shaping of standards of emotional reaction.

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Lionel Blue

In this article, Lionel Blue contemplates approaching the end of life. The rabbinic tradition describes this world as a ‘prozdor’, a corridor to the world to come. We are ‘in between’ creations, with a toehold in heaven, yet intimations of heaven can be found in this life. As for dying, that can be a messy business. ‘I do not like the pain which accompanies all transformation.’ Dying is very different in the experience of those who are left behind, who wish to hold on to the one who is dying, whereas the latter may need silent companionship and permission to depart. Lionel offers some personal stratagems for dealing with old age. Indulge yourself and treat yourself insofar as your medication allows. Treasure friendships. Keep up your conversation with God.

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Home and Away

Place Appreciation and Purposeful Relocation in Later Life

Neil Thin

Worldwide, people’s attachments to places are typically ambivalent, and complemented by desires for mobility and scene-changing. So to understand relationships between place and wellbeing, we need to look beyond the simple idea that some kinds of place, local characteristics and place attachments make people’s lives go better. Places matter, but wellbeing is not environmentally determined, it is a complex outcome of lifelong interactions between people and places. Some of these are conscious and deliberate, and some involve deliberate relocation as well as processes of attachment. This article supplements the environmental determinism of ‘good place’ theories, and the social constructionism of ‘healthy place attachment’ theories, with recommendations for a systematic approach to mapping and analysing how wellbeing happens. It pays particular attention to deliberate ‘place appreciation’, which refers to these dynamic interactions through which people actively derive value from places. Ethnographic examples of deliberate ecological self-improvement in later life are explored to highlight three kinds of place-related wellbeing strategies: place-making, local mobility and relocation. A simple analytical system is proposed to highlight the potential relevance to policy and practice of a systematic sociocultural ecology of wellbeing.

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Attraction, Amusement, and Anxiety

Aging Women in Varanasi

Sheleyah A. Courtney

This article explores socio-cultural practices with regard to aging women in Vārānāsī, a city in North India. It is based on 17 months of field research carried out in 1999-2000 among marginalized Hindu women. I argue that aging is a continuous process that is characterized by the specific psychological patterns that form throughout a woman's life history. These patterns are demonstrated by women's particular types of behaviors and demeanors and, in turn, permit others to ascribe to them—in varying combinations and ratios—specific cultural values or qualities. I argue that these attributes are the critical ones that inform the cultural construction and designation of being 'middle-aged' and 'older' as it pertains to Hindu women of Vārānāsī.

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Lawrence Cohen

This chapter engages both the irony of old age and the old age of irony. Building on an understanding of senility and dementia as reg- isters of voice, it makes three principal assertions: first, that a form of listeningwe might term ironic may allow for less depersonaliza- tion of those we hear to be senile; second, that an ironic relationship to the biologization of everythingavoids a return to nature/culture binaries; and third, that irony for both Plato and for Vico is framed as a temporal register of the aging of things. Using Socrates as an example of a figure whose aging is outside of nature yet under the law, the essay explores the tension between living with the difficult elderly and seeking to displace them in order to maintain the time- lessness of culture.

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Irene Bloomfield

Old age is not popular in western society. The former veneration connection between age and wisdom has virtually ceased to exist, and reactions toward elderly people are frequently of pity, exasperation or even tempt, but the life expectancy of people today is ten years more than the end of World War Two and twenty to thirty more than at the beginning this century, so that there are a lot more of us around, and it has become necessary for psychotherapists to take notice of a hitherto much neglected the population.

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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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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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Editorial

Age and Autonomy

Anne Showstack Sassoon and Wendy Stokes

In the first, double issue of The European Journal of Social Quality, the concept of social quality was explored from a variety of perspectives, as work in progress. Continuing this endeavour, this issue focuses on ‘Age and Autonomy’. These terms are offered as starting points rather than taken for granted concepts. The discussion of the themes of independence, dependence, and interdependence in the first issue continues here with a focus on a topic which is on the political agenda throughout Europe, North America, and elsewhere: demographic changes. Increases in life expectancy and decreases in birth rates in many countries, changes – often different for men and women – in the proportion of the life cycle in formal paid work, and the longer, more active period of older age contemplated by large numbers of people are major social challenges. With regard to older people, increased activity and participation as well as the need for support and care are aspects of a complex picture that are often obscured in political debate.