The latest installment of the Suds and Speakers series was held on March 17, at The Trend.
Graduate students at the Frost Centre organized the event. Professors from the Centre for Aging and Society gave 10-minute presentations about their past and ongoing research.
May Chazan’s, of Gender and Women’s Studies, presentation was entitled “From Active to Activist Aging.”
Chazan’s research aims to challenge the dominant discourses around aging. She is particularly interested in two popular conceptions of aging.
The first is the narrative of decline. As boomers grow older, they become a “burden” to others, namely families and the health care system.
The second is the concept of the “successful” or active aged person. Presently, aging individuals are responsible for their own good health and when an aged person maintains this active, sexual lifestyle, they are deemed to be successful in and with their aged body.
Chazan locates this discourse as part of neoliberalism; the compulsion to be individually successful through consumption.
What the discourses of decline and successful aging miss is the roles aged persons play in social change.
According to various statistics, people over 60 are the most engaged in political activities. Chazan’s research brings an interdisciplinary humanities lens to study older women as agents of change.
Her three areas of research – activist histories, solidarity across differences and feminist archiving – ultimately lead Chazan to think beyond the discourses of individualism and decline.
Rather than participate in either of these dominant poles, older women often reflect upon and live in such a way that they feel like they’ve made a contribution to the world before they’ve departed from it.
Chazan thus aims to redefine what we mean by successful aging.
Barb Marshall, from the Sociology Dept., discussed the “resexing [of] the [aged] body.” Her research revolves around “virility surveillance,” read: active lifestyles discussed by Chazan.
Using magazines such as Zoomer as cultural objects, Marshall attempts to uncover the “forms of sexual agency on offer for older people.”
What she finds is often less than encouraging. There is a clear “doctrine of sexual health benefits,” and Viagra is the anti-aging drug.
There is also the discourse of looking young; indeed, older celebrities frequently appear on the covers of magazines that then tout the celebrity’s secret to staving off wrinkles.
Further, Marshall studies the “hetero imagination or hetero happy” in representations of older individuals. As the image of the young, happy, heterosexual couple figures prominently in media, most images of older persons appear coupled and heterosexual.
Alongside cultural historian Michel Foucault, Marshall’s guiding research question is whether the discourses around aging and their representation offer aged individuals more pleasure. At the colloquium, she seemed skeptical.
Mark Skinner from the Geography Dept. delivered the final presentation. His work centers on the question of volunteerism, older persons and rural communities. His aptly titled “From Panacea to Paradox: Older Volunteers in Aging Communities” expresses the issue of volunteerism as a solution to aging populations.
On the one hand, volunteers are necessary for an aging community, particularly in instances of food delivery and transportation to doctors’ offices. Skinner puts the romantic idea of the rural retirement community to rest as he unpacks their complexities.
Indeed, the fantasy of rural friendliness is tested by the necessity of support for older individuals. Presently, Skinner has uncovered that some communities work well with volunteers and others simply do not.
The risks of relying on volunteers are threefold.
First, not every person can be helped. There will be some forms of exclusion and, naturally, resources will dry up.
Second, there is an “uneven capacity for volunteering.” Volunteers burn out or expend money they may want to save for themselves, e.g., gas money to drive older persons to their respective doctors.
Third, when many of the volunteers are also older persons, the whole system operates in a state of uncertainty or instability.
The three short presentations were successful in transmitting overviews of the researchers’ work and their respective fields. The question and answer session was lively and inclusive, partially due to the suds and informal venue.
Participants were encouraged to read the lecturer’s publications for more detailed accounts of their area of study. For information on the Centre for Aging and Society, visit: http://www.trentu.ca/aging/.
Suds and Speakers will reconvene in the fall.