TCD Symposium Celebrating Creativity in Ageing

Posted on: 27 April 2007

Lived Life:  Telling Stories, Telling Truths, a TCD symposium celebrating creativity in ageing was held in Trinity College  on April 26th last  which explored representations of ageing in Ireland. The Lived Life research stream is a Trinity  Ageing Consortium  inter-disciplinary project  which aims to better understand how societal perceptions of ageing influence expectations of later life through the examination of  representations of ageing in advertising, the  media, art, literature and history.

Dr Amanda Piesse, (School of English) gave a presentation on  Images of Ageing in Children’s Literature, an overview of a variety of images of older people in Irish children’s books published in the last fifty years. Beginning with picture books for the very young, and familial images of ‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa’, the study moved on to see how authors have responded to changing social perceptions of older people both in the family and in society. “The study is particularly interested in stereotype and individuality, in gender issues, in issues of autonomy and dependency both within and between the generations, and how autonomy of voice is given to the older person in the text,” said Dr Piesse.

 Dr Yvonne Scott and Amy Lynch (Department of Art History) gave a presentation on Art and Ageing which considered how contemporary Irish artists attempt to deal with age and the ageing process in the context of Ireland’s predominantly ‘youth culture’.

“There is evidence of a shift in the portrayal of older people from the former more literal to more symbolic and nuanced ones expressed not only through painting and sculpture,  but also effectively employing the new media of digital and video formats,” according to Dr Scott and Ms Lynch..

 Professor Eunan O’Halpin and Morgan Gavin (Department of History) in their presentation on  Worthy and Unworthy Poor: Discourse analysis of Dáil debates on pensioners, 1939-1959  illustrated the distinction made by Dáil deputies between the provident and improvident poor and the different ideas on old age pensions raised by urban and rural TDs during the debates of that period. “Generally the old age pensioners were depicted as a worthy class of people who had earned a right to any benefits they may receive. However, there was another contingent in the debates which stressed that among the ranks of the aged there were worthy and unworthy recipients. A dichotomy was set up between hard working people who through their savings were perhaps unable to receive much or any of the means tested old age pension,” commented Morgan Gavin.

 Dr Maryann Valiulis and Deirdre O’Donnell (Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies, TCD), in their presentation, Connecting Gender, Age and Social Engagement, explored how gender and age interact to affect the informal social networks of a specific cohort of older Irish men and women. Using qualitative interviews to access the thoughts, memories and ideas of this particular group of older people the paper gave an insight into the complexities of their gendered and aged subjectivities. The study examined how social structures operate to shape the construction of gender and aged ‘selves’. The social structures and cultural norms in which these older Irish men and women are situated were investigated as well as the human agency employed to negotiate these structures. “That gender is often ‘performed’ in terms of activities and roles undertaken in relation to family, friends and work is well documented. What this research aims to do is to examine how a performance of gender throughout the life course of an individual can shape the lived experience of embodied ageing in the context of social engagement,” explained Deirdre O’Donnell.

An opening keynote address was given by Trinity College’s Professor John Jackson (Department of Sociology) on Remembering the Life and Telling its Story; reflections on methods of  biographical research. The symposium  also included guest speaker, photographer, Ann Henrick, who has recently published a collection of photographs entitled A Time to Dance which celebrates ageing in Ireland.

The seminar was organised by the Lived Life stream of the Trinity Consortium on Ageing in association with The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA). The project is supported by the TCD alumni club, the Front Gate Club.