Being an Older Woman: A Study in the Social Production of Identity

Being an Older Woman: A Study in the Social Production of Identity

Being an Older Woman: A Study in the Social Production of Identity

Being an Older Woman: A Study in the Social Production of Identity

Excerpt

Isabella Paoletti studies a universal phenomenon in Being an Older Woman: A Study in the Social Production of Identity -- the identities available to the elderly in society. She does so by examining a particular site for the production of age identity: the meetings of a group of Italian women who participated in The European Older Women's Project. In doing this, she reveals that age identity is salient in contexts of interaction, and that this salience ebbs and flows depending on the situations and tasks in which participants find themselves involved. In this manner, being an older woman is an interactional accomplishment, but a sometimes one. That is, while age is always a physical fact, only sometimes does it become a socially relevant component of identity within interaction.

Paoletti employs an ethnomethodological framework to make sense of data collected through participant observation and videorecording. Focusing on the women in Perugia who took part in the European Older Women's Project and participated in a variety of activities at the local level (radio programs, theater and singing workshops) as well as international conferences and exchange visits, the data provide insights into the production of elderly identity by the women themselves and by others (e.g., men, civic leaders, etc.) with whom they come into contact.

As one might expect, the identity of the elderly is problematic. On the one hand, there are stereotypes of how the elderly do and should behave -- stereotypes which some of the women refuse to accept. On the other hand, because the European Project and the local Perugia project were targeted to the elderly, there are strategic moments when the participants feel obliged to invoke the category. In this manner, this study makes visible the rhetorical dimensions of assuming an elderly identity. In addition, being elderly is revealed as only a facet of identity, as Paoletti clearly shows the difficulties that the women (as women) have when they must rely upon the beneficence of municipal employees and association presidents -- nearly all of whom are male. Finally, what is especially valuable about the study is that it shows women attempting to remain (or become) active in their later years . . .

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