Phenomenology of ageing
For decades, frontline health and social care practitioners have emphasised the importance of valuing the firsthand experiences, values, and priorities of service-users, particularly when providing care and support for older people. There have long been calls for a theoretical approach that appreciates fundamentally why working with older people to individually tailor care to their lives is key to their wellbeing, but also that this involves networks of friends, families, and wider communities. Such an approach would help all those involved in care to better understand and support one another through change and transition across the life course – especially in later life.
Taking up this call in my PhD research, I use my background in philosophy (phenomenology) to ask how existential relations between people, time, the lived body, and the world influence how we make sense of our own ageing from the first-person perspective. How do we learn what it is ‘possible’ to do as an older person and what political values are at play in this imaginary? Why do we recognise and interpret certain physical experiences as related to health or age? How is empathy possible between younger and older people, such that we can learn and care across generational experiences?
These questions require a trans-disciplinary approach to research, not only learning from a range of different academic disciplines but also asking critically what assumptions and histories inform their approaches to ageing. In addition to deeply philosophical texts, I have been reading gerontology, autobiography, medical articles, social science, fiction, political theory, and histories of ageing. Though it is sometimes a dizzying variety, this spectrum of literature is vital to appreciating the social complexity of ageing as a phenomenon. More than this, however, I am strongly committed to centring older people and carers’ priorities in the research itself.
Within the University, I am based at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. Like other researchers at the Centre, I am interested in working through public engagement – not only as a means of dissemination, but more fundamentally as an approach to research from its inception. Engaged research means working closely with everyone involved to co-create research that serves and is meaningful to all stakeholders. The impetus is on engaged researchers to learn how to listen and adapt methods/outputs accordingly, rather than on participants to make themselves understood within rigid pre-established academic frameworks – which may not be appropriate or accessible.
I have been speaking with older people, carers, service providers, and local organisations to co-create some research on how older people and carers make sense of their own ageing and later life. We would like to explore how the notion of ‘age’ shows up in everyday experiences and in the stories we share with others, as well as how cultures influence our sense of lived possibility as we become older. In particular, we would like to discuss what is like to get older in this part of Devon, how experiences of ageing are shaped by services in this locality, and perhaps also how experiences of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have brought into relief different aspects of what it means to be older right here and now. Through an iterative process of interviews and group follow-up/feedback discussion, we hope to produce a group understanding of these experiences which can be shared in meaningful and accessible ways with the wider community.
For more information please contact:
Wellcome Centre for Cultures & Environments of Health