A Cultural Critique of Our Aging Society
Full course description
If you have enjoyed courses in crucial differences, cultural studies, and identities, this course will be another eye-opener. It focuses on age as identity marker and is set up in true interdisciplinary fashion encompassing perspectives from economy, history, the arts, globalisation and gender studies, amongst others. If you believe aging is a far removed from your personal sphere – think twice and continue reading!
Headlines everywhere tell us that ours is a graying world and that population aging will be a defining influence on our twenty-first century, radically affecting public health and national economies. These demographic predictions—the result of the trends of declining mortality and increasing longevity—are typically accompanied by dire warnings of the challenges ahead: unsustainable pension systems which will encumber younger generations, the critical need for more caregivers and more resources to care for the increasing numbers of those who are frail and dependent, concerns about maintaining technological progress and competitive workforces with an aging labor force, etc. Rarely are such numbers presented in terms of the possible benefits that population aging might bring, such as in experienced leadership, informal caregiving, and a more flexible labor force less hampered by child care. Also often excluded from these projections is any sense of what life is actually like for the diverse millions of people who grow into old age. How do we know what these numbers will mean for our economies, our social structures, our loved ones, and ourselves? To begin to address that question, we need to understand better what it means to grow old in the twenty first century and how this meaning may have developed or changed over the course of history or be differently shaped by national and transnational cultures. Also, it requires research into the many images and stories of aging that circulate in popular culture and influence the way we think about older people. This, then, will form the heart of the inquiry we will make in this course. We will explore what aging is and means from different disciplinary, historical and (trans)national perspectives, examining the concerns raised about aging societies and the causes and consequences of ageism, which is prejudice or discrimination based upon a person’s age.
Aging is a topic that we all have a stake in. On one level, this stake is very personal. If we live the long lives we desire, we will all become older, whether or not the label “old” is one we fear or desire. On a larger scale, the concerns of population aging cross every discipline and ageism pervades all parts of our social and personal lives, even when we don’t recognize it. Whatever occupation you pursue, a deeper understanding of aging will have relevance. This course will prepare you to engage critically in the current and future debates about our aging society and to interrogate your hopes and fears for your own aging experiences. Theoretically and methodologically, this course is part of diversity studies as it adds the category of age to other identity markers, such as gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, and religion.
- To understand age as an identity category that intersects with other categories like gender, sexuality, disability, and ethnicity.
- To distinguish between multiple, disciplinarily-influenced ways of defining ‘age’ including chronologically, functionally, subjectively, and culturally.
- To recognize ageist discourses (cf. the reduction of aging to physical and mental decline) and practices and to reflect on attitudes towards age.
- To distinguish between realistic concerns and the alarmist hype surrounding global population aging.
- To understand different methods that are implemented in aging research, ranging from visual analysis to ethnographic approaches.
A 1000- or 2000-level course in humanities or social sciences, for instance HUM1003 Cultural Studies I: Doing Cultural Studies, HUM2003 The Making of Crucial Differences, SSC1029 Sociological Perspectives or SSC1003/2065 Theories of Social Order.
- E-reader containing excerpts from books and relevant journals.