Towards new rural ageing futures
DOI link for Towards new rural ageing futures
Towards new rural ageing futures book
Rural ageing futures Rural ageing research is an area well suited to inter-disciplinary and even transdisciplinary efforts (e.g. Keating, 2008), as the contributions in this book attest. In spite of the breadth of perspectives already engaged, there are major benefits to be gained from widening the fields of engagement even more. A number of disciplines (e.g. psychology, planning, and the arts) and fields of inquiry (e.g. institutionalism and biographic narratives) offer other perspectives on person and place interactions (e.g. Rowles and Bernard, 2013), but these have not yet made inroads in rural gerontology. For instance, there is much still to be considered in terms of the complex circumstances and processes by which certain individuals develop strong place commitments and attachments. We should also recognize that, for some, it is much less about ‘place’ and more about an opportunity to play a particular role or exert an influence over others. In keeping with our call to avoid dualistic thinking, our enthusiasm for new approaches and new contexts should not be regarded as a call to abandon more established frameworks, approaches, and concerns. As intimated by Milbourne (Chapter 6), the ubiquity of rural disparity and the ubiquity of policy neglect of the conditions under which many older rural people are ageing in place demand ongoing research and policy attention. As much as we may wish to challenge the inevitability of rural disadvantage and illuminate the strengths and resilience of rural communities, there is an obligation to acknowledge gaps in rural resources that are present in many jurisdictions. If anything, we are excited at the prospect that a continued focus on welfare and inequity will be enhanced by new outlooks and perspectives that help secure better futures for many rural people, not just rural seniors. As the chapters in this book illustrate, rural hinterland communities are diverse and dynamic environments. Attention to local networks must include
voluntary sector leaders, many of whom are older. Efforts to make rural communities more age-friendly often attract agents from a variety of community sectors. The outcomes of these initiatives often have benefits for more than older residents; from improving the walkability of communities to attracting new and expanded health services (see Hanlon et al., 2014). These place-focused networks offer a glimpse into avenues for the remaking of rural spaces and places in the face of globalizing forces of austerity and dependence. Older people who become deeply engaged in community development are changed in positive ways as they find ways to participate and shape the direction of place re-making initiatives. For these individuals, there is a great potential to enhance personal senses of self-worth and likewise an opportunity to inform a collective re-valuing of the ‘productiveness’ of older volunteers. As a number of chapters in this book illustrate (esp. Skinner et al., Chapter 4), however, the voluntary leadership of older people can also be a source of social exclusion and division. The social dynamics of place re-making therefore deserves more careful attention in future rural ageing scholarship. By design, many of the contributed chapters illuminate the intersectionality and interdependence of community and personal development. The concept of place integration, which Cutchin (1997a, 1997b, Chapter 3) has so cogently developed for over two decades, offers a rich philosophical and theoretical launching point from which to continue to chart these important intersections. We foresee other lenses and approaches emerging that will continue to offer new insights and perspectives on person-place interconnections. These new vantage points may come from reconsiderations of well-established scholarship or, perhaps, in considering newer approaches from across the social sciences such as actor-network theory (ANT) and other so-called ‘non-representational’ approaches to wellness and place (e.g. Andrews et al., 2014). These new perspectives are described in brief in the remainder of this section. Within broader social theory, ANT is a useful framework for understanding social processes as relational networks that may involve interconnections between and among both human and ‘non-human’ network elements. That is, agency in this schema is not restricted to the authority or skill possessed by human actors. Instead, things and ideas in combination (or performance) with people are seen to be ‘actants’ that possess the power to influence social processes and individual behaviour. In the context of rural ageing, such a framework presents many possibilities. For instance, various forms of technology (e.g. mobility aides and communication technologies) that, as Herron and Waldbrook point out (Chapter 14), are critical resources of daily living for many older rural residents, would clearly lend themselves to such considerations as ‘actants’. More than this, however, the built environment itself is a material presence in the lives of those who are ageing in place. Likewise, the idea and ideals of voluntarism in their many varieties and guises might be worthy of consideration as having an ability to influence social behaviour. Rural landscapes would also seem to be an obvious thing to include in an investigation of actor-networks, given the power that such a category of place
appears to hold for people’s expectations and assumptions about feasible and desirable behaviours, and what sorts of opportunities, experiences, and resources people may come to expect in these spatial contexts. Within the discipline of geography that informs much of the research in this book, there is much interest in ‘non-representational’ approaches that seek to move beyond the intellectual stranglehold of interactionism and constructivist thinking (Thrift, 2004). Operating under the rubric of a so-called relational turn, non-representation has taken hold in various forms of cultural and economic geography and, more recently, was the focus of consideration in health geography (Andrews et al., 2014; in regards to applications in the study of ageing see also Hanlon, 2014; Kearns, 2014; and Skinner et al., in press). One of the more interesting aspects of this line of inquiry is the idea that people and conditions co-evolve with landscape and place. The work of MacPherson (2009) and Latham (2003), among others, offer useful illustrations of the ways in which such a framework offers unique insights into the complex interdependencies of people and place. For instance, in the case of MacPherson’s (2009; 2010) work, ‘blindness’ is not regarded as an affliction that simply acts on individuals. Rather, blindness is performed in and through the everyday landscapes occupied by individuals such that these individuals and landscapes are continually recreated by such interactivity. This approach to people-place interrelationships appear to us to hold enormous potential for moving rural ageing research forward, including our own interests in community development and voluntary initiative as networked, relational, and performed activity.