A Two-Day National Conference
(under the CAS III programme)
Ageing, Ageism and Cultures
Department of English, Centre for Advanced Studies, Jadavpur University
Dates: 21, 22 September 2017
This conference seeks to address discourses of ageing and ageism, taking off from the definition of the term ‘ageism’ inaugurated by Robert N. Butler’s pioneering works on the subject. Ageism, as Butler observes, is non-normative, vis-à-vis youth, since society is largely structured on the assumption that the majority is not old. By the late 19th century, the ageing body had acquired a negative signification, when 19th century science, to quote J. A. Vincent (2006), “reconceptualized death as an internal phenomenon of the body”. Vincent roots his argument in Foucault (1973) who observes how the aged body was reduced to a degenerative state whereby the meanings of old age and the body's deterioration seemed condemned to signify each other.
The negative stereotyping of ageing is most apparent in social prescriptions regarding how one is supposed to age. Just as certain forms of gendered behaviour are regarded as unbecoming of men or women, the ageing individual, irrespective of gender, is expected to adhere to a set of performative codes in order not to violate norms of respectability. For instance, ageing is often associated with austerity, detachment from materialistic pursuits and renunciation, and any digression from this norm is often frowned upon. But, is ageing all about loss of power and agency? Although within discourses of ageism, elderly people are most often perceived as victims and ageing is seen as aberration with respect to the more ‘valued group’ of younger people, it is not always the younger generation that ‘others’ the elderly.
The antipathy of the elderly towards the younger generation could be as ruthless as the younger generation’s aversion for the aged. Older people have often expressed resentment or even fear of the youth, who seem to render them redundant, or are a source of feelings of shame. (Segal, 2013) But the other facet of ageing, the predilection on the part of elderly people to take advantage of their age in controlling, othering and tyrannising the youth is barely reflected upon. Since age is often associated with wisdom, knowledge and experience, elderly people, by the virtue of getting on in years, are empowered to a certain degree (Hall, 1922). Again, ageing people and discourses of ageism have gained a tremendous economic currency as the market has come to identify ageing, diseased and frail people as potential consumers, in need of healthcare or emotional caregivers, in the absence of immediate family members. However, there is no specific age for ageing, although there is indeed an official age beyond which one is granted ‘senior citizenship’.
Gerontology has identified four different ways in which ageing needs to be viewed – chronological, biological, psychological and social. The last is the most indeterminate and the most complex, for the idea of social ageing varies from one place to another, and is conditioned by class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, physical fitness, cognitive capabilities and even marital or relationship status – single, married, partnered or widowed. Again, ageing and the discourses of ageism vary from one culture to another. This conference while addressing these different dimensions of ageing and ageism, and their representational politics in cultural texts – literary, cinematic, theatrical, or in the media in general, would also make an attempt to look into the sociology of ageing. Abstracts (of not more than 250 words) are invited on the following topics:
Ageism and the body
Cultural constructions of old age
Ageing: victimhood or empowerment?
Market economies of ageing and neoliberal discourses of ageism
Ageing and queer lives
Ageing and expatriation
Ageing, kinship and intergenerational conflict
Ageing and death
Managing ageing and care ethics
Development of Gerontology as a discipline
Needless to say, the above list is by no means exhaustive and papers on other subthemes related to the main theme of the conference, are more than welcome.
Last date of submission of abstracts: 1 August 2017.
Submission of full-papers before the conference: Optional
Abstracts should be sent to both these addresses
Selection of abstracts is subject to blind peer review. Selected presenters shall be informed by 15 August 2017.
Image Courtesy: Institute of Geriatrics and Active Ageing