The next installment of chronicling my getting-to-grips with the concepts of positive/active/successful ageing.
I’ve just read this paper:
Minkler, M., & Holstein, M. B. (2008). From civil rights to … civic engagement? Concerns of two older critical gerontologists about a “new social movement” and what it portends. Journal of Aging Studies, 22(2), 196-204.
from which I have learned that the debate in the US is also about ‘civic engagement’ in later life. Part of Minkler and Holstein’s argument is that this theoretically broad idea of continuing political participation and active involvement in community life in practice gets reduced to formal volunteering in public or private organisations. They identify a number of problems with this, some of which are quite theoretical about the nature of subjectivity. Since I’m wanting to end up with something I can use to teach students, I’m going to focus on trying to render their more theoretical observations into something that I think will be more comprehensible to the sort of students I think are going to study this course:
- that it has the effect of equating older people’s value with their continuing productivity. If you’re not producing something of public value, through volunteering, you’re not seen as ageing well.
- that it privileges the public sphere over the private. Many older women have substantial childcare responsibilities for their grandchildren which preclude volunteering, but this isn’t seen as civic engagement.
- that it doesn’t allow for acts of self-nurture, which people also need.
- volunteering is much more possible for the fit and healthy than for those with health problems. Emphasising the importance of volunteering further suggests that the oldest old (the ‘fourth agers’) are not legitimate/significant/ageing well.
- It doesn’t recognise economic differences. You can’t afford to volunteer in later life if you are still working in low paid jobs. (And I’d add, with my ex-volunteer-co-ordinator hat on, volunteering can cost you money, even within a well-managed scheme which pays expenses. Not large amounts of money but amounts that you notice if you are living on a very limited budget).
- the emphasis on volunteering doesn’t tend to count political activism or other more contested, less apple-pie, forms of public engagement. It’s all about mitigating the status quo, rather than transforming it
- it’s all just a way of getting older people to do for free the work that governments and other organisations ought to be doing and paying people to do (there’s an obvious link here to critiques of the Big Society idea here in the UK).
That feels like incremental additions to my previous understandings, but useful ones. I don’t think this is the
droid article I’m looking for for the students, as it seems the debate is too different in the US.