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Contesting later life

Category: Book chapters


Harper, S. (1997) Contesting later life. In Cloke, P. and Little, J. (eds), Contested Countryside Cultures,  180-196. Routledge: London.

As Hazan (1993) has pointed out, behind the rhetoric of such categories lies the assumption that the aged and non-aged constitute two distinct categories of humankind, or to use Gadow’s (1986) vivid term, as social objects of special contemporary interest, elderly people have become so special as to be considered a separate species. Indeed, I was asked to write a chapter not on ageing but on elderly people; yet elderly people are but adults who in recent years have come to be defined as elderly as a result of certain political acts that have clearly identified the state of old age as commencing at 65-the formal retirement age for many societies (Harper 1997). It is now fully acknowledged that there are many stages of old age and not all should be associated with notions of deterioration and decay. This however also begs the question: not, why do we confuse the different ‘stages’ of ‘old age’, but rather, why do we place all post-65s together in the first place? As has long been realized, the experience of the healthy 65-year-old married male recent retiree is so distinct from that of the frail, widowed woman in her nineties approaching the end of her life (Walker 1981) that to construct both as within the same period of life has little or no analytical credibility.