Rural and urban ageing

Authored by: Ricca Edmondson , Thomas Scharf

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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Environmental contexts now play an increasing part in understanding the life course. Exploring place and space, with their associated opportunities and constraints for adults as they age, has become a major focus of scientific study (Rowles and Bernard, 2013; Scheidt and Schwarz, 2013). Social and material environments are typically considered in terms of what they allow older people to do and be: the extent to which they inhibit or promote independence, adaptation, and, if necessary, relocation (Golant, 2011). Prominent in this trend has been attention to urban versus rural surroundings, not least the impact of declining urban centres and the rise of suburban life (Scharf et al., 2002), or the pronounced ageing of areas close to major urban centres (Masuda and Garvin, 2008). Urban areas may be thought of as problematic, even dangerous, places for older people to live, yet problems arise in rural areas too. Gerontologists point to the weakness of public infrastructures in the countryside, at times threatening the sustainability of rural communities; it is not the case, as policy-makers sometimes assume, that older people in rural settings will unproblematically be cared for without public support (Wenger, 2001). Both cities and countrysides are changing, stimulating the need for new urban and rural ethnographies, which can embrace the complexity and diversity of older people and their lives (Phillipson and Scharf, 2005). Yet as far as their impacts on ageing are concerned, urban and rural environments may not always be as different as is popularly assumed. On the one hand, towns and the countryside each tend to be understood in terms of strong cultural images presenting them as specific and separate (Halfacree, 2007). On the other, it is not obvious that everyday social practices are always different in these contrasting settings. Underlying all these concerns are hesitations about contrasting the urban with the rural that go back to the foundations of the field.

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