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Valuing older people

Valuing older people: A humanist approach to ageing

Ricca Edmondson
Hans-Joachim von Kondratowitz
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  • Book Info
    Valuing older people
    Book Description:

    How can we understand older people as real human beings, value their wisdom, and appreciate that their norms and purposes both matter in themselves and are affected by those of others? Using a life-course approach, Valuing older people argues that the complexity and potential creativity of later life demand a humanistic vision of older people and ageing. It acknowledges the diversity of experiences of older age and presents a range of contexts and methodologies through which they can be understood. Ageing is a process of creating meaning carried out by older people, and is significant for those around them. This book, therefore, considers the impact of social norms and political and economic structures on older people's capacities to age in creative ways. What real obstacles are there to older people's construction of meaningful lives? What is being achieved when they feel they are ageing well? This collection, aimed at students, researchers, practitioners and policy-makers, offers a lively and constructive response to contemporary challenges involving ageing and how to understand it.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-293-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Judith Phillips

    The study of ageing is continuing to increase rapidly across multiple disciplines. Consequently students, academics, professionals and policy makers need texts on the latest research, theory, policy and practice developments in the field. With new areas of interest in mid- and later life opening up, the series bridges the gaps in the literature as well as providing cutting-edge debate on new and traditional areas of ageing within a lifecourse perspective. Taking this approach, the Ageing and the Lifecourse series addresses ‘ageing’ (rather than gerontology or ‘old age’), providing coverage of mid- as well as later life; it promotes a critical...

  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)
    Ricca Edmondson and Hans-Joachim von Kondratowitz

    Humanistic concerns build on a rich tradition that has developed through much of recorded history. This tradition was famously summarised in Cicero’s quotation from Terence, intended to underline the fundamental connectedness of all human beings: ‘I am a man, and nothing human is alien to me’ (Cicero, 1991: I.30). In different guises, this tradition remained influential until well into the 20th century. The term ‘humanist gerontology’ was introduced to recent research by American scholars such as Moody and Manheimer. It stresses the fact that human activities (including gerontology itself) cannot be understood without taking seriously the different ideals, values, norms...

  3. Part One: Religion, spirituality, cultural resources and creating meaning

    • ONE Religious belonging and spiritual questioning: a Western European perspective on ageing and religion
      (pp. 23-36)
      Peter G. Coleman

      Social change provides a double challenge to the ageing person. Older people are expected to give witness to what has been important in their lives and what is of lasting value. They need to do this also for maintaining their own sense of identity. At the same time their own adaptation to new times and customs requires that they acknowledge and accept inevitable change. To deny change is not an option, for life necessarily involves change. Balancing these two needs and requirements is no easy task, particularly in today’s fast-altering society.

      In traditional societies, value identification is closely associated with...

    • TWO Spirituality: a means for achieving integration in personal and community spheres in an ageing Singapore
      (pp. 37-50)
      Kalyani K. Mehta

      The search for meaning and purpose in life is far from a speciality of the young; it has been documented as a strong existential and emotional need for older people, especially those who are later in life, 75 years and older. It has been suggested that, within the realm of psychosocial adjustment of those aged 70-84 years, the integrative process plays a critical role. Thus Erikson (1963) postulated eight psychosocial stages of lifespan development, with a focus on the crisis of integrity versus despair at the final stage of life. Since then, many scholars have chosen phenomenological approaches, as well...

    • THREE Integrating the sacred in creative ageing
      (pp. 51-72)
      Michele Dillon

      Seeking some insights into the ways Americans in later life currently make sense of their lives and the process of living them, this chapter reports on a longitudinal study of 184 Californians born in the 1920s whose participants are now enjoying a relatively comfortable older age. It argues that later life is not necessarily fraught with anxiety; neither is it necessarily religious. Nonetheless, the participants in the study do inhabit a social context whose values have been associated with religion, and the majority are still associated with religious practices and communities. Among these, it is possible broadly to distinguish people...

    • FOUR Atheist convictions, Christian beliefs or ‘keeping things open’? Patterns of world views among three generations in East German families
      (pp. 73-90)
      Monika Wohlrab-Sahr

      In the past in Europe, as it is in the present in many parts of the world, attachment to religion has been part of the accepted image of older people. Religious ideas have been important vehicles for making sense of profound questions dealing with life and death, and their association with religiosity has had significant, if varied, effects on older people’s relations with younger people and with society at large. What, then, are the ideas exchanged on these topics in societies where religion plays very little part? This chapter explores attitudes to death and the afterlife among three generations in...

    • FIVE Beyond dialogue: entering the fourth space in old age
      (pp. 91-104)
      Haim Hazan

      Conventional wisdom has it that the final words attributed to the famous and infamous emit an aura of immortality by transcending the circumstantial time and place of their utterance. Edward Said’s last unfinished book, posthumously published in 2006, not only confers a sense of such ultimate truth, but also, in its contents and contentions, offers a powerful key with which to enter the unfathomable realm of what I shall call the a-temporal territory of the fourth space. The book, entitledOn late style: Music and literature against the grain, follows Theodor Adorno’s inquiry into Beethoven’s late style of composition. In...

  4. Part Two: Norms, values and gerontology

    • SIX The long road to a moralisation of old age
      (pp. 107-122)
      Hans-Joachim von Kondratowitz

      Ideas and expectations about ageing in the contemporary world are today inextricably marked by strong normative undercurrents. These undercurrents are the products of a distinct but highly ambivalent historical heritage of modernity – one with which both gerontology itself and the institutional network of the modern welfare state are currently finding it difficult to deal convincingly. To explore this claim in more detail and to describe the dimensions of this ambivalence, this chapter’s main aim is to reconstruct the different historical settings in which the discrepancy between this hidden normative impact and the resulting societal ambivalence took shape. The historical...

    • SEVEN How to balance generations: solidarity dilemmas in a European perspective
      (pp. 123-138)
      Svein Olav Daatland

      Intergenerational family relationships are situated in a field of contrasting expectations, with dilemmas and ambivalences that need to be negotiated. Duty and need, self-interest and altruism, affection and conflict are among the motivations that pull and push in different directions. People’s beliefs and values, their feelings about what should happen as well as their anticipations of what can be expected to happen, clearly play a part in sustaining the shapes these relationships take. Research into these matters, though, has tended to concentrate on the younger generation. This chapter takes a complementary perspective, that of the older generation, and suggests that...

    • EIGHT Pension systems and the challenge of population ageing: what does the public think?
      (pp. 139-160)
      Dina Frommert, Dirk Hofäcker, Thorsten Heien and Hans-Jürgen Andreß

      Over the coming decades, population ageing is set to affect all European countries, probably resulting in a doubling of the ratio of pensioners to the working population within the next 50 years. At the same time, many European countries have until very recently experienced a significant decline in the employment participation of their older workforce, indicating a general trend towards ‘early retirement’. The combined effect of both trends sets serious pressures on contemporary pension systems, since relatively fewer people will be paying taxes and social contributions just as the share of people receiving pensions rises.

      European policy makers, scientists and...

    • NINE Ethos of care and environment in long-stay care settings: impacts on residents’ lives
      (pp. 161-176)
      Adeline Cooney and Kathy Murphy

      In Ireland around 4.6% of older people currently live in residential care (Department of Health and Children, 2006) in either public or private facilities. Older people living in residential care cannot always exercise the ‘consumer sovereignty’ that is attributed to purchasers of market services, and the power relationship between the providers of care and residents is an unequal one. People living in residential care might be afraid to criticise the services provided to them, concerned lest such action might have negative repercussions. In addition, many residents might have little or no support outside the residential care setting and therefore have...

    • TEN Engineering substantially prolonged human lifespans: biotechnological enhancement and ethics
      (pp. 177-198)
      Peter Derkx

      Substantial extension of the human lifespan has recently become a subject of lively debate. One reason for this is the completion in 2001 of the Human Genome Project and the experimental avenues for biogerontological research it has opened. Another is recent theoretical progress in biogerontology. In the 1990s more and more biogerontologists began to agree on the evolutionary cause of senescence: it results from a trade-off between the investment of resources in reproduction on the one hand and in maintenance and repair of the body on the other. This represents a powerful simplification of the theoretical underpinnings of biogerontological research,...

  5. Part Three: Ageing and wisdom?: Conflicts and contested developments

    • ELEVEN Wisdom: a humanist approach to valuing older people
      (pp. 201-216)
      Ricca Edmondson

      From the beginning of recorded history, throughout some five millennia until recent times, the idea of the life course was given shape and content by ideas concerning wisdom. Wisdom was generally expected to accumulate during a person’s lifetime, though it was not automatically assumed that older people are wiser than those younger (‘Better is a poor but wise youth than an old and foolish king who will no longer take advice’: Ecclesiastes 4:13). But the idea that it ispossibleto become wiser today than yesterday could offer meaning and purpose to personal survival, to the presence in society of...

    • TWELVE Social practices, moral frameworks and religious values in the lives of older people
      (pp. 217-232)
      Carmel Gallagher

      This chapter aims to explore aspects of social norms and values in the everyday lives of older people in Ireland. It examines social practices and community participation among older people in one urban and one rural location,¹ focusing on people’s leisure interests, their involvement in clubs, their religious practices, voluntary work undertaken by them, their relationships with kin, friends and neighbours, help given and help received, their use of social services and their informal interactions. Thus it seeks to throw light on how older people live from day to day in neighbourhoods and communities: how they interact, what their social...

    • THIRTEEN ‘Woo-hoo, what a ride!’ Older people, life stories and active ageing
      (pp. 233-248)
      Lorna Warren and Amanda Clarke

      A popular email is currently being widely circulated:

      Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming ‘WOO-HOO what a ride!’

      What is appealing about this message is its explicit lay challenge to exhortations towards active and healthy ageing: looking after yourself is all fine and good, but what is more important is to indulge and have fun. Of course, few of us live...

    • FOURTEEN Does eldership mean anything in the contemporary West?
      (pp. 249-260)
      James Nichol

      This chapter explores the idea of ‘eldership’ in contrasting cultural contexts. It begins with accounts of traditional eldership as practised in Guatemala, New Zealand and Samoa, going on to compare them with understandings within European populations in New Zealand and Great Britain. In the first group of settings, we can witness the continuing strengths of eldership as a formal public and family role within indigenous communities, as well as a willingness to value a more individualised understanding of eldership within sections of the European community in New Zealand. Consideration of the British experience introduces a participative inquiry involving people born...

    • FIFTEEN Talk about old age, health and morality
      (pp. 261-274)
      Outi Jolanki

      How do older people approach fundamental issues involved in the process of growing older? What exactly does ageing mean to them – what changes does it bring to the ways they see themselves and their relations to the rest of society? This investigation tries to approach questions like these by responding to the ways in which people converse and interact in their daily lives. They do so not only directly but indirectly too, and the implications of their talk may be particularly eloquent and rich. The investigation gives special weight to conversation relating to health, a central preoccupation in contemporary...

  6. Afterwords

    • SIXTEEN Exploring positive images of ageing: the production of calendars
      (pp. 277-282)
      Eileen Fairhurst and Sue Baines

      This volume deals with a variety of ways in which ageing can be understood and older people responded to. We have seen that a humanistic approach to gerontology embraces a genuine multidisciplinarity that combines contributions from a variety of standpoints and disciplines – and attempts to deal with some of the real questions as well as the richness that this variety represents.

      In this connection there is a growing interest in, and an accumulating corpus of knowledge on, visual representations of ageing, which reflect precisely this twosidedness with which gerontology must deal. Visual images are extraordinarily powerful, but also extraordinarily...

    • SEVENTEEN Gateways to humanistic gerontology
      (pp. 283-288)
      Ronald J. Manheimer

      The contributors to this fine volume on humanistic gerontology come from a broad array of fields and quite a number of countries and languages of origin. For most, the study of ageing was not the focus of their formal education. Something must have lured them into the realm of the ageing – a favourite grandparent, an opportune moment for a dissertation topic, grant money to research one of the ‘challenges’ faced by older adults, or possibly an intriguing aged character in a novel, such as the ‘ancient clerk’ Mr Chuffy in Dickens’sMartin Chuzzlewit.

      Whichever gate they have traversed, once...