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Embodying 'active' ageing: bodies, emotions and risk in later life

By Wendy Martin


The promotion of 'active' ageing in later life has been a key development in recent health policy. These changes not only challenge the prevalent view of old age as an inevitable process of biological decline but signify the tendency of lay and expert discourses to increasingly use the notion of risk. Older people's social identities also need to be negotiated in the context of positive (active/freedom/fluid) and negative (passive/dependence/decline) images of ageing. This thesis explored older people's social identities; meanings about lifestyles, emotions, and bodies; and the salience and limitations to 'risk' and 'reflexivity' within everyday life. The research involved the intersection of in-depth qualitative interviews with photo-elicitation with 50 men and women aged between 50 and 96 years. Thematic analysis using Atlas Ti was undertaken. Three interconnected themes emerged:\ud 1) Participants experienced their bodies as a taken-for- granted aspect of their everyday lives until moments when an awareness of the body interrupted their daily activities. At these moments the everyday visibility of the body was heightened and participants reflected on their own meanings and identities about ageing.\ud 2) Emotions were significant as participants described their everyday lives and social interactions. There was a continual tension between inner (private) subjective feelings and experiences of emotions and the outer (public) bodily and spatial expression of these emotions.\ud 3) Reflexive meanings about risk were multifaceted as participants drew upon diverse discourses when making choices about health-related lifestyles. A sense of embodied vulnerability associated with ageing was evident.\ud Meanings and perspectives associated with ageing bodies were therefore central to everyday experiences of growing older. Alternative images of ageing were intertwined within the accounts of the participants as they fluctuated between a sense of ageing as a time of possibilities and a heightened awareness of their embodied vulnerabilities

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