Thinking about ageing; in fieldwork and in policy

From Promoting the EU Mental Health Agenda website

I rarely reflect on, or share my thoughts about my research and writing projects on my blog and think it is time to change that. In a recent #acwri live chat (summary is available here) Mark Carrigan mentioned that his blog is his notebook; inspired I decided to write down some of my thoughts and recent learnings.

I am currently thinking about writing a paper that explores the negotiation of age and generational differences during fieldwork. Researching grandfathers meant that, not only was I negotiating gender relations, as a your women researching men, but I was also crossing age and generational boundaries (Grenier, 2007).  While age has received much less attention than other social relations such as gender, race and class, particularly in social geography, I am really surprised that there is no explicit focus by social geographers, on the experiences of researching different age groups. This is something I intend my paper to address more generally, drawing on a range of interdisciplinary literatures.

Back to the point of my post for today, in researching for this piece I have been reading a journal article by Andrews et al (2009) entitled ‘Geographical Gerontology: Mapping a Disciplinary Intersection’, published in Geography Compass, in which they discuss the theoretical and methodological implications for merging georontological interests with those of geographers i.e. focusing on the spatial and temporal in the lives of older people in ageing societies. What has interested me in particular are the ways in which policy concepts, that are politically charged, implicate both space and time; key concepts that shape the geographical discipline. Andrews et al (2009, 1653) argue that ‘researchers … need to recognize emerging policy concepts and examine how they connect to … processes across time and space including ‘age- ing-in-place’, ‘healthy ageing’, ‘active ageing’, ‘lifecourse approaches’.’

Ageing in place in the UK is a central component in policy relating to older people and home. There has been an increasing emphasis on people being able to live at home when they are older because it is seen to be both cost-effective and can improve older people’s quality of life. Sixsmith and Sixsmith (2008) critique this notion however and suggest that it can also potentially result in increased loneliness and isolation, particularly if local resources and informal networks are limited and/or weak. While the discourse of the digital divide is popular, increased attention is now also being paid to the role of technology and technology use by the elderly. This has the potential to transform the spaces in which people experience ageing but may only be taken up and adopted to varying degrees.

Both ‘healthy’ and ‘active’ ageing implicate the body space, or the ‘space closest in’ as geographers have coined it. Taken together, these discourses shape an agenda for improving the complete social and physical well-being of ageing individuals and aim to reverse the decline narrative. On a micro-scale this means ageing individuals are required to challenge the youth dominated culture of Western societies and associated ageism through their practices i.e. through being physically active and engaged. It is important, especially for those without family, that this is supported and is made achievable through both public and private spaces.

Finally lifecourse approaches refer to the temporality of ageing. Geographers are increasingly adopting this term to explore the relationality of ageing (Hopkins and Pain 2007) and how social identities change over time, as well as space. From this perspective, health and activity are seen as a summary of an individuals actions and circumstances throughout their lifetimes. This perspective recognises the individuals’ responsibly to adapt to age-related changes and to adopt a healthy lifestyle over time in order to achieve healthy and successful ageing. Once again this is all determined and shaped by life chances and individual capacity and circumstance in their lifecourse.

Having understood a bit more about the policy context, I hope that this will shape my analysis of researching across age and generational boundaries with men who are grandfathers. It is important that the empirical work I do, which is inherently influenced by my positionally as a researcher (i.e. my identity as a young, female researcher) is analysed in context and with awareness of how policy and popular narratives around ageing shape and influence the responses of my ageing participants.


Andrews, G, Milligan, C, Phillips, D and Skinner, M (2009) ‘Geographical Gerontology: Mapping a Disciplinary Intersection’, Geography Compass, 3 (5), 1641 – 1659

Grenier, A (2007) Crossing age and generational boundaries: Exploring intergenerational research encounters. Journal of Social Issues, 63 (4), 713-727.

Hopkins, P and Pain, R (2007) Geographies of age: thinking relationally, Area, 39 (3) 287-294

Sixsmith, A and Sixsmith, J (2008) Ageing in Place in the United Kingdom, Ageing International, 32 (3), 219 – 235

WHO (1999) A lifecourse perspective of maintaining independence in older age, Report


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