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Making meaning in/of old age

Research project Concurrently with the ageing of the population, the questions of experienced possibilities to affect ones situation will probably become more important. How these experiences are conditioned by things as location, physical ability and social networks, but also by cultural belongings to, and identifications with, categories as gender and ethnicity are therefore important to consider.

This study relates mainly to questions of identity constitution. Elders living in the northern Sweden will be studied regarding the constitution of their political subjectivity (political self image and –confidence) in relation to place/community, social networks, state institutions, organisations, and personal life histories. Politics will here be defined in relation to collective efforts to influence the development in ways that benefit the interests of a group (and at the same time constitutes the group), and in a wider sense as processes of articulations that constitutes (reproduces and challenges) established meanings, values, and identities (also on an individual level).

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2007-01-01 2008-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Culture and Media Studies

Research area

Ethnology

Project description

When old age is discussed nowadays the need for more differentiated terms is often mentioned. “Young-old” and “old-old”; the “go-go” and the “no-go”, or the “wellderly” and the “illderly”, are all denominations suggested to point out the difficulties of colliding persons with very different physical abilities and social circumstances into one category.
It is important to recognise how there is a powerful moral charge to these dichotomies. Not seldom is a “failure” in performing a healthy and active lifestyle seen as an individual short-coming, that actually risks defining the identity of the “failing” subject.

This study relates mainly to questions of identity constitution. Elders living in the northern Sweden will be studied regarding the constitution of their political subjectivity (political self image and –confidence) in relation to place/community, social networks, state institutions, organisations, and personal life histories. Politics will here be defined in relation to collective efforts to influence the development in ways that benefit the interests of a group (and at the same time constituting the group), and in a wider sense as processes of articulations that constitutes (reproduces and challenges) established meanings, values, and identities (also on an individual level).

It has been suggested that in response to circumstances where cultural recognition and cultural continuity is something that does not come by itself, individual actors will attempt to find or create spaces that lend some form of predictability to life (Biggs 1993; Phillipson & Biggs 1998). It might be added that such attempts also comprises the constitution of arenas for exercise of agency, and positions from which an individual subject may speak and be recognised.

All images of identities, or subject positions, can be seen as productive of social and cultural hierarchies; they have, using Foucault’s terminology, power/knowledge effects. Taking a constructivist perspective on ageing implies a view on stories as being in themselves productive, as performative. Every story is also viewed as dependent not just upon the experiences of the teller, but on available ways to interpret these experiences (Scott 1992).

In a first case study elders are studied through qualitative in-depth interviews regarding the active constitution of individual and collective identity accomplished by the participation in specific projects where they are taking part of school work. The point of departure is that these more or less organised projects provide the active elders with a physical as well as a social place, on which such a constitution can take place. Specific interest will be levelled at the productive use of nostalgia. The aim of the case-study is to describe how persons that have been engaged as "Class-Grandparents" talk about their experiences – experiences that are actually described as producing an intelligible subjectivity as one of its main effects.


Projektet finansieras (2007 och 2008) inom ramen för forskningsprogrammet "Åldrande och livsvillkor".
(Ämne: Etnologi)