Jul 3, 2014
Journal for Cultural Research
This paper attempts to understand the exclusion of ageing people within contemporary society through developing a model around the notion of the “encounter with the ageing body”. It is divided into three parts. In the first, I develop a model of the encounter through combining Sara Ahmed’s notion of “affective economies” with Shildrick’s theory of the encounter with the “vulnerable self”. I argue that the fear of ageing becomes embodied within the encounter with the ageing body. Specifically, the fear is vulnerability: within the encounter, the youthful self is forced into the recognition of his/her own vulnerability. Modernity requires that this be disavowed, with the ageing body banished to the margins through sequestration to foreclose the possibility of a repeat. In the second section, I discuss the nature of vulnerability within modernity. I explore two approaches to this: in the first, the vulnerability is to the threat of death, which has become particularly problematic within modernity; in the second, the vulnerability is the loss of subjectivity resulting from the ageing body’s failure to correspond to constructions of the ideal body within contemporary capitalism. In the final section, I evaluate whether recent social shifts promise a brighter future for ageing people, arguing that although the situation is not black and white, there is, nevertheless, unfortunately currently relatively limited potential for real change for older people.