Trent Conference reclaims aging from the margins

Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Alison Ross received a Gilbrea Travel Award to faciliate her attendance at the TrentAging 2019 conference.

May 2019
By: Alison Ross

The mission of this year’s Trent Aging Conference was to reclaim aging from the powers that have largely pushed the experience to society’s margins. Doing so demanded cross-cultural and activist strategies to challenge assumptions, promote novel insights, and reflect critically and creatively upon age and all its representations and meanings. In its entirety, this multidisciplinary event offered an important opportunity to share innovative strategies in critical aging studies and gerontology.

Reflecting upon the various conference presentations, the value I found in Trent Aging 2019 was its blending of critical scholarly inquiry with creative pursuits in its application of an intersectional lens to aging studies. Two notable sessions were particularly compelling in their demonstration of this value: “Risk, racialization, gender, and sex: Embodying qualities of everyday lives in long term care” and “Aspects of LGBT aging in Canada, the UK, and the US”. Both sessions considered the intersection of diverse social identities with age, offering a more nuanced narrative of the lived experience that would not otherwise have been captured without intersectional research methodologies.

The lessons learned from these sessions are significant to researchers-in-training, such as myself. Considering age not as a singular category, but rather interdependent with, and mutually reinforced by, other intersecting marginalized identities is an integral component of interpretative qualitative methodologies. For instance, Prince Owusu of Carleton University emphasized the experiences of racialized bodies in long-term care settings, which are largely white spaces. Owusu explained that racialized bodies cannot and should not be conceptualized as one category, but rather a reflection of varied and diverse life experiences. Similarly, Jane Traies of the University of Sussex reminded of us that despite older lesbian women’s shared identity, the community is heterogeneous and “desperate” for representation and recognition.

These sessions were powerful reminders that, despite methodological challenges, qualitative work should allow the participant the necessary space to make sense of their different categories of identity in the construction of their life story. For those of us engaged in qualitative research, Trent Aging reminded us of the social nature of qualitative research and therefore legitimized calls for emphasis on social location. By this measure, Trent Aging was effective in helping participants “take back aging” from the margins.

I am very grateful to McMaster’s Department of Health, Aging, & Society and the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging for their support of my research and travels to Trent Aging 2019.