An age-old story

Growing older is a fact of life, but people’s hopes, fears, pre-conceptions and experiences surrounding the ageing process are richly diverse. As part of the Festival of Social Science organised by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to highlight how social science impacts on our daily lives, researchers from Swansea University are organising a unique exhibition of thoughts and reflections of younger and older people on what it means to grow old.

The event, entitled ‘Narratives of Ageing’, will show a succession of two-minute video clips – ‘digital stories’ – of a group of students and a group of older people reflecting on life and growing older.

“Often we think of ‘the elderly’ as simply a demographic section of the population,” says Dr Katharine Daneski, one of the event’s organisers. “But when you see people speaking about what it means to get old and reminiscing about their own lives, you realise that these are individuals whose own stories often challenge stereotypes about both youth and old age.”

By presenting the views of both young and older people, an interesting contrast is achieved, says Dr Daneski, with sometimes surprising experiences emerging. “For example while older people tend to agree that they had less freedom than the youths of today, they found ways around the restrictions imposed on them. By contrast, today’s youngsters realise they have a lot of freedom, but often choose to reign themselves in – they do not always fully exploit their freedom.”

The event will also allow members of the public to record their own digital stories on ageing. In addition there will be an exhibition of posters describing the research that is being done at Swansea University into ageing.

“We want to encourage people to think about ageing and reflect on some of the themes that will be presented,” says Dr Daneski. “We also hope they will get a better idea of how social sciences are active in this field, and how researchers are addressing subjects that arise within the area of ageing.”

Digital video recordings are widely used in fields such as community arts, and the Swansea research team is investigating whether this type of technology and approach could have a role in the social sciences. “It is a potentially interesting research tool, because participants have total freedom to explore the topic thus reducing any bias from being led by a researcher’s questions,” Dr Daneski says.

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