Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Growing Old in the Lucky Country

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Growing Old in the Lucky Country

Article excerpt


The word 'critical' can and does mean many things; as this special edition will attest to, the term 'critical social work' has diverse meanings as well. We see critical social work as having an emphasis on:

• Questioning taken-for-granted assumptions and being open to diverse sources of knowledge

• Contributing to social change and concern with the political nature of our everyday actions

• Connecting personal experience to broad social structures and inequalities

• Acknowledging the power of language and discourse

• Promoting respectful relationships and privileging subjective/lived experience

• Reflexivity and the use of critical reflection to examine assumptions implicit in social work practice (Morley et al. 2014: 6-7).

We use this outline to organise the rest of this paper and to develop an overview of the ageing experience in Australia and issues facing older Australians, drawing on critical gerontological social policy, social work and other relevant literature. We argue that despite Australia's - and other Western nations' - relative wealth and historical provision of social welfare, a critical social work perspective serves well to highlight and respond to ways in which social inequalities may persist and be exacerbated in older age.

Questioning Taken-For-Granted Assumptions and Being Open to Diverse Sources of Knowledge

Practice and research in age studies, including gerontology, has privileged perspectives from functional health paradigms which focus on accepted role-based norms for ageing rather than question the 'existential and social challenges of adult ageing' (Biggs 2008: 116). Thus, there is less emphasis on the implications of social discourse, the role of agency, systems of governmentality including the ordering of 'bodies', narratives of later life lived experiences, or the intersections of race, sexuality and gender (Katz 2000). Critical engagement with aspects of ageism including the cultural and social constructs of ageing or social policy mostly emerges from the fields of sociology, gender studies and critical gerontology (Bernard et al. 2000; Calasanti and King 2011; Aberdeen and Bye 2013). However, more recently, several works have considered the epistemological and cultural aspects of contemporary social changes and trends, producing theory in the areas of identity and subjectivity, the body and embodiment, and the representation of age (Twigg and Martin 2015).

Critical theory frameworks that can provide scope for the development of a politics of ageing in everyday life (Twigg and Martin 2015), should include perspectives which explore, ' ...both the personal experience of older adults and their relationship to social and structural inequality' (Biggs 2008: 115). Theories such as critical gerontology and similar perspectives are an important part of age studies because they seek to interrogate the status quo (Ray 2008) and focus on exploring the dominance of biomedical models in research, and the ways in which race, gender, sexual identity and class can construct experiences of ageing. Research that includes the perspectives of older people can reveal the nature and impact of ageism, and contribute to greater self-reflection in the academy (Ray 2008). Critical perspectives are also concerned with the identification of dominant ideologies that contribute to age oppressive narratives or practices (Allen and Walker 2006: 156) and this is an important inclusion for social work theory, practice and research.

Specifically, feminist theory provides a framework that can contribute to developing critical perspectives on ageing. Exploring the social experience of ageing by using a 'gender lens', assists in understanding the nature of gender inequality in later life, for example, the impact of women's ongoing care-giving responsibilities and more generally, their lower financial status (Calasanti 2010: 731). Hooyman et al. (2002) encourage feminist gerontologists to work toward improving the image of older women; in many social contexts, older women tend to be invisible and their concerns understudied (Cruikshank 2009). …

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