CAG2018: Opening the Social: Sociological Imagination, Age and the Life Course

Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Research Assistant, Stephanie Hatzifilalithis was awarded a Gilbrea Travel Award to facilitate her travel to the Canadian Association of Gerontology (CAG) 2018 conference held in Vancouver, BC.

The Canadian Association on Gerontology (CAG) is the multi-disciplinary association in Canada for persons who work with or on behalf of Canada’s aging population. CAG held its 47th Annual Scientific and Educational Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada from Thursday, October 18 to Saturday, October 20, 2018 at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre. Hosted by The Gerontology Research Centre at Simon Fraser University, the theme of CAG2018 was Making It Matter: Mobilizing Aging Research, Practice & Policy.

I have been a student member of CAG since I started my doctoral degree and have attended the conference for the last three years I always look forward to meeting with like-minded students and academics to learn about the wide array of gerontological research that is occurring across Canada. Reflecting on contemporary concerns from researchers, scholars, practitioners and older people about mobilizing research, the keynote speakers, Professors Carol Brayne, Roger Y.M. Wong, Dale Dannefer and Catherine Ward Thompson–all did justice in showcasing the implications of “making it matter” in the ageing realms.   

This year, I was particularly intrigued by a keynote lecture by Professor Dale Dannefer who discussed, “Opening the Social: Sociological Imagination, Age and the Life course”. Naturally, this lecture piqued my interest as a critical researcher because all too often we have conversations about ageing that inherently excludes ‘the social’. Simultaneously, our conversations about late life often remain tightly focused on the individual level rather than the life course and the contexts within which ageing operates. Professor Dannefer reflected on the present state of social gerontology and expressed that progress has both been limited and not benefitted from a retreat of theorizing in gerontology. Dannefer spoke to how social gerontology is still in its early development, and the fresh challenges in contemporary society such as the social consequences of austerity, and widening social and cultural divisions call for attention to ‘the social’.

A pioneer in developing cumulative (dis)-advantage theory as an explanatory life-course framework, Professor Dannefer discussed the links between the social dynamics of the life course and age. Professor Dannefer took us through a historical timeline, noting the development of social and cultural critiques and the importance of rethinking basic assumptions and searching for other environmental ordering principles. Following a look at different ageing cohorts, Dannefer spoke to how the nature of age cannot be fully grasped as something within individuals but needs to be considered as something between them and requires recognizing a connection between social structure and intra-cohort dynamics. Social forces in aging are imminent whether or not there are differences across cohorts, Dannefer explained. An argument was put forward about the mistakes that we in the field make when attributing ‘human nature’ to cultural practices and in gerontology specifically, for general purposes of aging. Professor Dannefer summarized by pushing the audience to understand and identify a paradigm that recognizes potentials for growth and change not just in childhood but also in adults of all ages. Ultimately, Dannefer urges scholars, researchers, practitioners and policy makers to reconsider the priorities currently set and look to how we can open the social and the social imagination of later life.

The session was very informative and covered an impressive range of issues that could have been expanded to a whole conference. As a researcher in the social sciences I was pleased to see that most, if not all, keynote lectures highlighted the importance of theoretical frameworks and the contributions they provide to the field of gerontology more broadly.

Thank you very much to the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging at McMaster University and the Social Science for Human Research Council (SSHRC) for supporting my work and my trip to Vancouver to attend this year’s conference, looking forward to next year in Moncton, New Brunswick.