Identities and social relationships


Authored by: Julia Twigg , Wendy Martin

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Gerontology

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415631143
eBook ISBN: 9780203097090
Adobe ISBN: 9781136221033


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Identity has been one of the central themes of the cultural turn, whether through a focus on categories such as gender, ‘race’, ethnicity, class, sexuality, or through an exploration of the complex and fluid ways in which identity is experienced in post-, late- or high-modernity. In her chapter Barbara Marshall explores the shifting bases for identity formation in later life. Drawing on social theory, she outlines how traditional anchors of identity have eroded, to be replaced by ones that are more individualistic, embodied and consumption-based, and in which reflexivity and self-fashioning are central. In understanding questions of identity scholars increasingly deploy the concept of intersectionality. Toni Calasanti and Neal King note how jeopardy is not simply additive, but alters in complex ways that reflect the intersections between social and cultural categories. Central to their analysis is a concept of power. Categories such as gender, race or class do not simply describe differences but refer to power relations between subordinated and dominant groups; among these are groups constituted by age. Jeff Hearn and Sharon Wray address the contested territory of gender, reviewing the different ways in which gender and gendered relations have been theorized, outlining the implications of this for age studies. They reflect, in particular, on the way new theorizing within poststructuralist, discursive and deconstructive approaches has troubled what were traditionally perceived as fixed identities in relation to gender and age. Traditionally, sex and sexuality were not central topics in social gerontology. However under the impact of poststructuralist theorizing, especially that derived from Foucault, and reflecting cultural changes in the discursive constitution of older people in popular culture, the subject has increasingly come to be studied. Noting the long history of negative depictions of sexuality in old age, Linn Sandberg explores the significance of the emergence of a new cultural trope of ‘sexy seniors’, with its links to ideas of successful ageing in which remaining sexually active is part of a wider set of disciplinary practices aimed at creating healthy, responsible, successful (and gendered) subjects. Sandberg’s account focuses on heterosexuality, but in the following chapter Yiu-tung Suen reviews current understandings of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ageing, highlighting the distinctive experiences of the current cohort of LGBT older people. In doing so he reflects on how work in this area does not just address identity and relationships but raises questions of how we understand the nature of ‘care’ in relation to these groups. Though gender and, to a lesser degree, sexuality are now recognized as central themes in cultural gerontology, Sandra Torres argues that ethnicity has not received the theoretical or empirical attention in age studies that it deserves. In reviewing the emergence of ethno-gerontology, she highlights in particular the impact of globalization on international migration and the challenges this presents to our established understandings.

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