Representing self - representing ageing
The aim of this study is to use creative arts to negotiate and challenge images of ageing and explore their contribution to participatory approaches to research in social gerontology.
This initiative has brought together researchers from gerontology and art therapy, an independent photographer/therapist, and Eventus, a cultural development agency based in Sheffield.
Three different blocks of workshops will be run with a range of older women who will be invited to explore media and cultural representations of older women and use videographic and photographic techniques to create their own images of ageing. The exact format of the workshops will be negotiated with participants.
Exhibitions of representations, produced during the projects and released with participants’ agreement, will follow from the workshops. The invited audiences to the exhibitions (including participants, policy-makers, local politicians, older people's organisations, as well as members of the public) will have the opportunity to give their responses to the images via talking head videos.
Alongside the talking head videos, the initiative will be documented and evaluated using observation, interviews, short questionnaires, self-reflective diaries, video diaries and sketch-books. A website and DVD of the initiative will also be produced.
The Second World Assembly on Ageing (2003) recognised a need to challenge stereotyped images of ageing and later life, particularly those related to older women. The use of visual methods as a means of allowing older women to articulate their experiences of ageing is one way of doing this but, to date, 'ordinary' older women have not had the opportunity to either comment on, or create, their own images of ageing and old age.
This is an important omission given that the limited images that are popularly available either present older people as dependent and frail, or as ageing 'positively' and belying their physical age. Representations of ageing are particularly important to older women because their experiences of ageing (and ageism) are deeply rooted in appearance. In particular, the perception of their aged bodies makes them invisible in later life and can affect their social status and access to resources and opportunities.
Such invisibility is being explored and challenged by women both within popular culture and through academic work but still in limited ways: for example, television programmes uncritically buy into the anti-ageing industry and focus on heterosexual women. Biographical accounts have been written largely by white, middle class feminists or explore relatively specific aspects of the lived body.
Female artists have produced new images challenging conventional stereotypes of older women, and practitioners and researchers are increasingly using visual methods as a tool for personal empowerment and social critique. Such approaches offer a way forward for older women’s participation beyond their typical involvement in research as users of welfare services.
The study will ask how media and cultural representations of older people have conveyed ideas and expectations about age and gender.
The aims are to:
This initiative will bring together a team of researchers and practitioners from the fields of later life studies, art therapy and photo-therapy with a shared interest in ageing and gender, along with a cultural development agency which aims to use the transformative power of the arts to make a difference to people and places.
Four sets of workshops will be run will be run with a diverse range of older women who will be invited to: 1) explore media and cultural representations of older women; and 2) use videographic and photographic techniques to create their own images of ageing. The exact format of the workshops, and the ways in which older women's experiences of participation will be captured, will be negotiated with participants.
Exhibitions of representations, produced during the projects and released with the agreement of individual participants, will be organised following the workshops. The invited audiences to the exhibitions (including participants, policy makers, local politicians, older people's organisations, as well as members of the public) will have the opportunity to give their responses to the images via talking head videos.
Alongside the talking head videos, the initiative will be documented and evaluated using a variety of methods including observation, interviews (with the research team and participants), short questionnaires, recorded discussions among participants, and visual elicitation techniques.
The impact of this innovative project will be:
Practical, in older women’s production of visual materials providing powerful statements about women’s experiences of ageing and equipping them with a novel means of challenging stereotyping.
methodological, in developing new approaches to participatory research with older people.
The different visual and textual material generated through the projects will offer a mosaic of outputs including:
Key policy and/or practice impacts of the research
Policy and practice implications will concern the general need to challenge stereotyped images of ageing and later life and to facilitate contributions of older women to the representation (by the media) of their activities, experiences and concerns (Second World Assembly on Ageing, 2003: 45). This will involve policy makers and practitioners primarily in the fields of social exclusion, equality, housing, health and social care, adult education, and community arts:
Key non-academic user groups that will be targeted
Assistance needed from the NDA programme in this targeting