Active ageing and the unmaking of old age: The knowledge productions, everyday practices and policies of the good late life

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandlingForskning

Since the end of the 1990s, the European Union and the World Health Organization have proposed active ageing as the best possible solution to the problem of ageing populations. This dissertation discusses how active ageing policies are constructed, what effects they have in the world, and how they are negotiated with everyday practices of the elderly. I have explored these topics via ethnographic fieldwork at two activity centres in the Copenhagen area, via document studies of policy papers and gerontological literature about the concept of activity, and via participation in a public-private innovation partnership (PPIP) that developed technologies catering to the active late life.

A thorough analysis of active ageing entails studying what precisely active ageing tries to solve. I approach ageing as a matter of concern, a term proposed by Bruno Latour to describe how myriad practices and disputed facts are gathered into a concern (2004); I propose the ‘fibre’ metaphor as a tool to study matters of concern. In this metaphor, knowledge productions, policies, and everyday practices are different entangled formations of fibres that, through their relations, feed into matters of concern. Hence, the fibre metaphor includes everyday practices as an aspect of how matters of concern are gathered; with this, I position myself theoretically and disciplinarily as an ethnologist inspired by science and technology studies.

Active ageing policies can be seen as operationalisations of knowledge forms and everyday life problems. Together, they are crafted into one common statement: activity can unmake old age. Hence, these policies constitute solid formats with specific ideals of the good late life. But when these ideals become entangled with the everyday practices of the elderly, they are transformed in various ways – the policies, knowledge productions, and everyday practices are out of sync with each other. I propose the diplomat as an ethnological figure who, through a genuine interest in knowledge productions and policies, can bring everyday practices into the negotiations of active ageing. While active ageing may, in many ways, constitute an unmaking of old age, this is a generative unmaking that creates new forms of the good late life.

The dissertation is divided into three parts, in which part 3 is comprised of four published articles. In part 1, I describe my process in the early phases of the project, and how I came to approach ageing as a matter of concern. By describing my participation in the PPIP and the Center for Healthy Aging in chapters 2 and 3, I show how myriad practices and knowledges gather ageing. In chapter 4, I unfold my research practice and, by describing how my analysis of active ageing has changed throughout the project, I demonstrate how method, theory, and analysis intersect. Part 1 ends with my proposal of fibres as a tool to study matters of concern.

In part 2, I dedicate a chapter to each of the three entangled formations. In chapter 5, I examine how knowledge productions produce specific forms – classifications, standards and models – that constitute different ways of knowing about ageing, which entangle with the other formations. In chapter 6, I explore how the EU’s and the WHO’s active ageing policies differ in their constructions and intents in the world, and suggest that this is due to the way they invest in specific forms and problems from the other formations. In chapter 7, I analyse how everyday practices produce problems, which are articulated and invested in by the other formations. I show how ethnology has researched everyday practices, and use this to position the ethnological diplomat. In chapter 8, I conclude by stating that active ageing attempts to solve the concern of ageing by unmaking old age. However, via this unmaking, something new is generated.

In part 3, I demonstrate four different ways to engage in active ageing. In article A, I describe how I participated in the innovation process of new technologies that cater to active ageing, and show how a specific kind of late life is assumed in such innovation processes. In article B, I portray active ageing as multiple knowledge-driven policy formats, which intend to unmake old age by engaging in the malleability of the ageing process. In article C, I show how a billiards collective at an activity centre negotiates active ageing via its members’ everyday practices, and I suggest that billiards is a culturally specific form of activity that calls for a recomposition of active ageing. In article D, I propose that the way active ageing is practised at the activity centres allows the elderly to keep their diseases ‘at arm’s length’ despite their having severe chronic conditions. Hence, active ageing is encompassed within an ambiguous health strategy that ignores – rather than deals with – disease.
ForlagDet Humanistiske Fakultet, Københavns Universitet
Antal sider252
StatusUdgivet - 19 sep. 2014

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