For the past two decades, my intellectual commitments have been informed by the Critical Gerontology framework, an alternative approach for Gerontological education, theory, research, and practice that Katz, extending provocative notions from Deleuze and Guattari, refers to as “…a pragmatic and nomadic thought-space across which ideas flow and become exchanged…a magnetic field where thought collects, converges, and transverses disciplines and traditions” (2003: 16).
The Critical Gerontology “thought-space” evokes several strong principles that guide my ongoing inquiry, teaching/learning and praxis, most particularly:
1) the importance of acknowledging and bridging the biographical and the historical, the personal and the political, social structures and individual agency; 2) the privileging of collaborative theorizing, not only with other scholars but with my students, and especially with elders, the very subjects of – and potential partners in – my inquiry as a Gerontologist; 3) the commitment to grappling intentionally with – rather than attempting to simplify or reduce – the complexities of what it means to be a human being; and 4) the imperative that the ultimate outcome of all of my striving must be deeper understanding of human development and aging in the service of personal, social and cultural transformation (Katz 2003; Ray 1999; Zeilig 2011).
What I consider to be especially powerful about Critical Gerontology is that it serves as a meta-framework, a comprehensive sensibility, within which to ask and pursue answers to questions about the most complex features of our travels through the life course as human beings because it foregrounds the recognition that who we are and the work we do in the world are inexorably intertwined (Glendenning 2000). And, most crucially, it provides a lucid counter-argument to the narrow and over-determining normative discourses and practices that still dominate a great deal of the research and theory regarding adult development and aging (Biggs et al. 2003; Katz 2005).
Increasingly as I travel through my own life course I have found myself turning the lens of Critical Gerontology back upon myself. I have been supported in my movement toward deeper reflection and purposeful action especially by Biggs, who, quite boldly, in his discussion of research training for a critical sensibility toward aging experiences, asserts that, “We need, then, techniques by which to know ourselves and the contexts in which we work” (2005: S125). He continues, advocating that “identifying multiple sources of empathic understanding such as similar life events and attending to biography, oral history, and testimonia may be used to enhance a will to understand. The problems of…amnesia of depth, indicative of seduction by simple states of mind, plus their undertow, the avoidance of personal anxieties associated with age, point to a need for enhanced self-reflection of this type” (2005: S126). (You rock, Simon Biggs!)
I remain convinced of the relevance and power of the Critical Gerontology ethos not only for my work-life as an educational gerontologist, but life-wide (and deep!) as a gero-punk.
Biggs, S. (1999). The mature imagination. Buckingham, U.K.: Open University Press.
——. (2005). Beyond appearances: Perspectives on identity in later life and some implications for method. Journal of Gerontology, 60B(3), S118-S128.
Gilleard, C., & Higgs, P. (2000). Cultures of ageing (sic): Self, citizen, and the body. New York: Prentice Hall.
——. (2005). Contexts of ageing (sic): Class, Cohort and Community. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press.
Glendenning, F. (2000). Teaching and learning in later life: Theoretical implications. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate Arena.
Hendricks, J. (2003). Structure and identity—Mind the gap: Toward a personal resource model of successful aging. In S. Biggs, A. Lowenstein, & J. Hendricks (eds.), The Need for Theory: Critical Approaches to Social Gerontology (pp. 63-87). Amityville, New York: Baywood Publishing Company.
Katz, S. (1996). Disciplining old age. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
——. (2003). Critical gerontological theory: Intellectual fieldwork and the nomadic life of ideas. In S. Biggs, A. Lowenstein, & J. Hendricks (eds.), The need for theory: Critical approaches to social gerontology (pp. 15-31). Amityville, New York: Baywood Publishing Company.
Ray, R.E. (1999). Researching to transgress: The need for critical feminism in gerontology. Journal of Women and Aging, 11(2/3), 171-184.
——. (2000). Beyond nostalgia: Aging and life-story writing. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
——. (2003). The perils and possibilities of theory. In S. Biggs, A. Lowenstein, &
J. Hendricks (Eds.), The need for theory: Critical approaches to social gerontology (pp. 33-44). Amityville, New York: Baywood Publishing Company.
Zeilig, H. (2011). The critical use of narrative and literature in gerontology. International Journal of Ageing and Later Life, 6(2), 7-37.