Held from May 28th – 31st 2019 in Peterborough, Ontario, Trent University and their Centre for Aging and Society hosted the second joint international conference of the North American and European Network in Aging Studies (NANAS and ENAS). At this year’s meeting, delegates from across the world gathered to discuss the conference theme: “Take Back Aging- Power, Critique, and Imagination”.
The pre-conference workshop on “Visual Methods in Aging Research” hosted by Professor Wendy Martin of Brunel University London, set the tone for a critically-forward conference. In this session, participants discussed the merits and rewards of visual research but also the ethical and methodological challenges. The opening plenary by Dr. May Chazan of Trent University, and an intergenerational panel that followed, continued with the theme of ‘the visual’ and storytelling, with attention to how diverse stories of aging can help rethink gerontological concepts, reconfigure dominant narratives, and reshape our cultural imaginaries.
The program then continued with a captivating opening address by Professor Emeritus Martha Holstein who spoke to her embodied experiences of later life “I’m Old and a Woman: A Lament and an Exhortation”. Day two and three pursued further critique and imagination through “Making Up The Life Course: Age Crises, Troubled Identities and Risky Trajectories” by Professor Emeritus Stephen Katz, and Professor Woodward on “Aging and the Anthropocene: The View from Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises”. Both Professor Katz and Professor Woodward spoke to the impact of longevity and the importance of critically theorizing an extended lifespan in contemporary society. The final plenary session was offered by Professor Dolan on “Contemporary Cinema and the Silvering of Stardom: Profits and Social Values” who critiqued the picturesque and idealized visions of aging in mainstream media.
The panel presentations and sessions covered a range of topics including: Ageism, Socio-Gerontechnology, Dementia and the Arts, Long-Term Care, Age-Friendly Cities, Gender, Race, and Sexuality, Intergenerationality, and Precarity and Aging. The programme offered insights into global experience and did not shy away from ‘critical perspectives’ and lively debate. It highlighted issues of the life-course and the increasingly vulnerable margins of social experience. With every talk and session, the taken for granted was challenged and new insights emerged. Social imaginaries and cross-cultural dynamics were debated and discussed, with meaningful reflections on strategies to take back aging.
New perspectives on embodied lives of older people, including post-humanist iterations; the interconnections between the corporeal, relational, and material; and discussions on the meanings and representations of ageing, age categories, and the socio-cultural contexts continued throughout the conference. There was also detailed attention to the questions of privatization, the abandonment of public programs, ‘collective’ forms of agency, and the rise of precarity. A question repeated across a number of sessions was how neo-liberal policies and their emphasis on personal responsibility for managing transitions in later life, may present particular future challenges, in particular where social locations, including gender, age, sexuality, migration, disability, and race were concerned.
In sum, this conference provided myself, a number of students, and other critical age scholars a look into the current landscapes of gerontology. The increasingly diverse environments of an aging population call for innovative and dynamic responses to new challenges that older people will face. In the words of Dr. Margaret Morganroth Gullette from her striking presentation on ageism, “I was taught to hate being a woman. The feminist movement taught me how to claim back my womanhood. That’s what needs to happen now with age. We need to understand and reject the internalized and embodied phobias we collectively hold… and take aging back”. I look forward to working with the past, present, and future cohorts of gerontologists to tackle and contest dominant narratives of ageing.
I would like to thank the Trent Centre for Aging and Society, NANAS, and ENAS for an exceptional conference and The Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging and the Department of Health, Aging, and Society for their support in attending TrentAging2019. I look forward to the next meeting in Bucharest 2021!