Summer School 2014

The 2014 International Women, Ageing and Media (WAM) Research Summer School (at the University of Gloucestershire) took place in Cheltenham (UK) on 17th, 18th and 19th June and brought together international postgraduate researchers across disciplines whose research engages with women, ageing and issues of identity, representation, cultural activity, creativity, lived experience and popular cultural forms (e.g. popular music, film, television, literature, dance, fashion and digital social media).

All participants took part in a methods project during their attendance titled ‘Keep Dancing’ and this works towards the publication of a joint methods paper in the Postgraduate Journal of Women, Ageing and Media as an event outcome.

This year the Summer School included a public symposium funded by the University of the West of England: Older Age and Cultural Activity that took place on the afternoon of the 17th June. This featured Dr Trish Winter (University of Sunderland, UK) who presented work from her AHRC funded project A Somatic Ethnography of Grand Gestures Elders Dance Group to a mixed audience of Summer School participants, research staff, service providers for older people, older people’s user groups and anyone interested in the importance of cultural activity in later life. The content of the symposium fed directly into the methods workshops during the following two days of Summer School.

Opening Keynote

Line Grenier (University of Montreal, Canada)

Music-ing and ‘ageing together’: Notes from a collaborative ethnography of Étoile des aînés

Étoile des aînés is a ‘music talent’ contest for people aged 65 and over, organized in Québec by one of the most important investors in the seniors housing market in North America, Chartwell-Reit. Since its creation five years ago, Étoile des aînés has attracted over 1,200 participants and thousands of adults in their later life as audience members and volunteers. Since 2012, the contest is the site of a pilot project I have been conducting with a colleague and a research assistant, aimed at investigating intersections of ageing and popular music in the context a global demographic shift to an ‘ageing society’ and governmental discourses and policies around ‘active ageing.’

In this keynote presentation I will critically reflect on the methodological practices, assumptions and ethnical concerns that shape our ways of thinking with age through Étoile des aînés. By means of a series of anecdotes (Morris, 2006), I will consider the methodological effectivity of the key concepts that we put to work: what do concepts of music-ing (Small, 1998) and ageing together (Katz, 2009) do (Bal, 2002), how do they focus our interest (Stengers, 1987) and implicate us and our own ageing (Hendricks, 2008) in the research. Through these anecdotes I also hope to bring to light how the notions of process, relationality and performativity that inform our research problematic also shape the specifics of our collaborative ethnography (Matsutake Worlds Research Group, 2012) – from the techniques we have adopted for observation, archiving, analysis and writing purposes, to how we relate to each other and to other actors ‘in the field.’


Elena Fronk (University of Maastricht, NL)

The Performance of Age Identities in Online Dating 50plus

50plus online dating services are on the rise. They construct coupledom as an ideal and necessary condition for ‘successful ageing’, which older singles can attain by becoming active members of dating sites. This trend is also reflected in popular representations of dating at later life, which will be the focus of my presentation. My analysis of recent German movies, documentaries and an audio play, which feature older singles’ search for love, is inspired by the work of cultural critics in Aging Studies (e.g. Stephen Katz) and Love Research, (e.g. Eva Illouz), who have shown how contemporary cultural imaginaries of success in love and later life construct the failure to fulfill these often unattainable demands as a personal, rather than as a social or institutional one. In addition, concerns about the ways in which they preempt or indeed empty the meaning of love and later life have been raised. How do dominant cultural ideas about love and later life enable and constrain the ways in which older singles’ search for love is represented in popular media? Which ways to perform the pursuit of late life love are intelligible? Which are not? How do popular representations recite, reconfigure or resist dominant scripts? Answering these questions, I seek to show how exactly the cultural imperatives to age successfully and to love happily intersect, to reproduce and transgress dominant ideas about age and love.

Hannah Grist (WAM, University of Gloucestershire, UK)

I, Anna (2012) and the Femme Fatale: Post-Noir and Representations of Female Old Age

Through textual analysis this paper explores post-noir film I, Anna (Southcombe, 2012) using the lens of age – more specifically, the aged female body. This paper promotes the concept of the femme fatale in modern film noir as having much to offer women and ageing studies. Older women on screen have commonly been theorised within two opposing paradigms: ageing as decline, and ageing successfully. This paper argues that through a specific representation of the aged femme fatale body I, Anna offers a destabilisation of the common stereotypes constructed around these paradigms and promotes an understanding of women and ageing on screen that is more nuanced than the binary these current paradigms allow. This paper also marks out post-noir British film as an interesting avenue from which to explore the representation of ageing women in film, as existing research has so far focussed on romantic comedy and bio-pic. This paper therefore seeks to add to the growing body of new work on female ageing and representations in the media.

Grace Hall (The Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland)

Women with Attitude – Photographic Project

Women with Attitude is a body of work, which celebrates the older woman, her sense of style, and zest for life as she continues to manage the physical challenges that come with the ageing body.

Nine women, aged between 60 and 90, took part in this collaborative project in which, together with the photographer, they explored not only their sense of style, but also their attitudes towards their clothing, being older, being photographed in a studio setting and having themselves documented in what can be a very unforgiving medium, the photograph.

The collaborative process involved five shoots with the subjects being given a choice as to what they wore for each shoot. Each member of the group completed a questionnaire with the stated objective of eliciting and compiling data on the participants’ relationship with clothes, their attitudes towards style and fashion, and the way clothes express their individual identities as they negotiate the ageing process.

Each participant had the opportunity to view and comment on the images that represented their sense of self. This photo elicitation process was documented through the medium of a video.

The images have not been retouched in any way in Photoshop, so any imperfections due to the aging process are revealed, but are ignored by the women.

Christina Haralanova (Concordia University, Canada)

Gender, Ageing and Hactivism: A Feminist Inquiry into Montreal communities

The proposed paper for this symposium will examine the key role that has been played by women in the formation of hacker communities in Montreal with a focus on the intersections of gender and aging. Hacker culture is often constituted, rhetorically, through principles of freedom of information and open access to technology. It is a culture that attempts to solicit participants who enjoy tweaking machines, cracking open devices and repurposing technologies so that they can be customized for an individual or collective use. While the figure of the hacker as white, young, male is a powerful norm within popular culture, my research focuses on the (invisible) contribution of women from different generations of Montreal technoculture. My research examines the multiple and complex reasons for their historic exclusion based on age and gender in the hacker culture, as well as the life stories of younger women ageing within these communities. What role does age and age-ism play in hacker culture and hacker identity, especially for female hackers? How are issues of intergenerational knowledge passed on in hacker culture? Do people, and women in particular, leave the community when they reach a certain age or moment in their lives?

I am a member of two hacker communities in Montreal. To tackle these issues I will interview a dozen participants from different generations and genders, within these two communities. Applying a feminist perspective and critique to hacker practice, the proposed analysis of the hacker communities will join some of the broader feminist critiques on gender and techno-science, by identifying the reasons and consequences of the gender and age segregation in the field of hacking.

Maxine Horne (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)

Are you lonesome tonight? Exploring experiences of loneliness in older age through and with pop song lyrics

My PhD is looking at the experience of loneliness in older age through community dance practices. I am a community dance practitioner experienced in running creative dance workshops. This paper looks at how song lyrics play a role in the sessions.

My PhD is practice based in that the research is conducted through my practice as a community dance artist, it is also arts based in that some of the data collected is in the form of creative movement

Music is a vital part of the dance sessions I lead and loneliness is a difficult subject to talk about. This aspect of my research wants to look at ways in which song lyrics support expressing feelings about loneliness through movement and/or talking?

I have selected songs from across the decades to stimulate movement and conversation. The approach to using the songs varied: for some, the loneliness connection was explicitly highlighted, for others, familiarity with the lyrics was assumed. Data was collected in the form of videoed movement (the dancers), reflective movement (the researcher) and writing reflecting on the movement and the conversations around the movement (the researcher).

Can song lyrics facilitate creative movement exploration of a sensitive topic?

Kate Latham (WAM, University of Gloucestershire, UK)

Carnival and dementia. Is it heresy?

The presentation will begin with a question for the audience regarding any direct knowledge of a person with dementia to ensure sensitivity of delivery. It will offer an interactive starting point for the understanding of positioning regarding this disease which has an impact on the reading and reception of the twelve texts of fiction at the core of my research. Whilst much fiction nods towards dementia as a trope for old age, whilst generally treating it respectfully and sympathetically, it takes Lore Segal, a woman writing in her mid 80s to take a transgressive and satirical position about them in her novel Half the Kingdom (Segal, 2013). This will raise the question of whether Bakhtin’s concept of carnival has a role to play in understanding dementia both in fiction and in the clinic. This may be viewed as heresy. Does the age of the novelist allow this stance because, in the words of the great Maggie Kuhn, “We have nothing to lose.”?

If there is time available we may have a straw poll about whether the case has been made for the novel to have greater prominence having failed to make the Big Twelve.

Susan Liddy (University of Limerick, Ireland)

Stories We Tell Ourselves: The Power Behind the Camera

International research has highlighted a dearth of female screenwriters, directors and producers in contemporary cinema (Smith, 2010; Lauzen, 2012; British Film Institute, 2012). Diversity in any film industry has a significance that goes beyond questions of equal access to employment. As a report commissioned by the Writers Guild of America (West) describes it: ‘it is about opening space for the telling of stories that might not otherwise be told’ (Hunt, 2007:51).

Older female characters rarely drive screen stories. This paper examines the links between women in senior positions behind the camera, particularly screenwriters, and the inclusion and treatment of female characters onscreen. Is there a distinctly female perspective, a so-called ‘female voice’? If so, given the underrepresentation of women filmmakers, are there consequences for the visibility of older female characters onscreen? This paper will focus on recent feature film narratives written by Irish, and Irish-based, female screenwriters in order to discover if they contain elements of what McCreadie calls ‘a female sensibility’ (McCreadie, 2005).

I am currently interviewing policy makers and commissioners in the Irish Film Board in order to open up a debate on the underrepresentation of women in the Irish Film Industry. This paper will also draw on my initial findings.

Sue Phillips (WAM, University of Gloucester, UK)

Journey into Age – A qualitative, ethnographic study of older women

This presentation sets out the early thinking in relation to my doctoral project. It asks the question who defines ‘old’ particularly in regard to older women. It looks at the perceptions young children (9-10) have of ‘old women’, then explores the changes as people grow into middle age (35-55) and finally checks out the reality for a particular group of older women who have chosen to join the national network ‘Growing Old Disgracefully’. It aims to explore the movement away from the stereotype of old age which this group is challenging, and also the very real, generational shift between the group’s attitudes and self-presentation, and that of their mothers and grandmothers. It will be a qualitative, ethnographic study with a strong autoethnographic element, reflecting the researcher’s own ‘journey into age’ and using a variety of methods to tease out the eventual findings. Predominant amongst these will be participant observation, semi-structured and unstructured interviews and textual analysis. In the paper I look at some of the potential logistical hurdles, the approach to gatekeepers of schools and groups, the need to consult the Ethics Committee of the University, and potential insider-outsider problems.

Sabine Turker (CIAS, University of Graz, Austria)

Representations of Age and Aging in Selected Works by Philip Roth

The presentation looks at the representations of age and aging in three novels by the American author Philip Roth. It investigates the notion that aging is not simply a natural, physiological process but a culturally constructed concept. Referencing work by influential scholars in the field of Aging Studies, it shows that the experience of growing old(er) is largely determined by prevailing ideologies about age. Also, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion and social class determine how a person experiences and views the aging process. The presentation focuses on three novels by Philip Roth: The Humbling, Everyman and Indignation. While the first two texts feature protagonists who are what is generally considered old(er), Indignation is the story of a young man’s struggles in life. A careful
analysis shows that the three texts do not present a unified view of what aging and growing old can mean. Rather, aging is portrayed in ambivalent terms. Aging and old age are portrayed as a challenge, just as youth is a challenge. The presentation also aims to illuminate aspects such as gender and aging as represented in these three text. The texts are clear in their message that life is a thing worth holding on to even if it means dealing with life’s many

Lucy Wood (University of Gloucestershire, UK)

Exercise, Music and Wellbeing in Older Women

The World Health Organisation estimates that around 6% of global deaths are caused by lack of exercise. Medical conditions such as obesity (WHO, 2003), coronary heart disease (Shaw, Gennat, O’Rourke, & Del Mar, 2006) and cancer (Westerlind, 2003) are associated strongly with a lack of exercise. Additionally, low exercise levels can be linked with psychological conditions including depression, stress and anxiety (e.g., Cancer Research UK, 2012; Weyerer & Kupfer, 1994). Moreover, it is estimated that that the direct financial cost of physical inactivity to the NHS is £900 million (Scarborough et al., 2011).

According to the Health Survey for England (HSE, 2013) 29% of women over 65 years old are classed as inactive, and this figure rises to 61% for women aged 75 – 84 years old. Physical activity is of particular importance to those aged 65 and over as every year, 30% of those aged 65 and over will fall, resulting in significant morbidity and mortality. Therefore the activity guidelines recommend that over 65s undertake balance and co-ordination exercises twice a week to reduce the likelihood of falling (HSE, 2013). These statistics highlight the need to increase exercise levels, throughout all age groups, but particularly focus for women over 65 is needed.

Music has been identified as a tool that may influence exercise behaviour. Listening to music when exercising is known to improve short-term motivation, psychological affect and potentially wellbeing. Following a systematic review of exercise to music, motivation, psychological affect and wellbeing, the key themes and limitations found will be explored further through focus groups and interviews with women aged 65 and over who exercise to music regularly.

Naomi Woodspring (WAM, University of the West of England, UK)

On Time and Body: Women coming of age in the sixties and ageing

In recent years, the social sciences have developed a newfound interest in the body. Time, including and beyond chronology, generation, rhythmicity, and history, is a growing edge in social science literature. To date, no one has tackled ageing bodies embedded and embodied in time. My research centers on the primacy of time and ageing as women come to know, experience and conceive of the bodily ageing process. Women, coming of age in the sixties timescape were in the center of a social rupture. That rupture saw the search for new/different meanings of embodied womanhood. Music and dance, the Pill, and the women’s liberation movement have influenced expressions of physicality throughout the lifetime of this cohort. For this generation, the experience of these events is now influencing the embodied meaning of ageing. This presentation explores the experience of women born between 1945 – 1955 (the postwar cohort), ageing body, and the influence of time as they grapple with questions of identity as older women. The inclusion of the intersection of time and body adds to our understanding of ageing.


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