COMMENT: In her recent book (Struggles in (Elderly) Care: A Feminist View, Palgrave Macmillan 2017; see entry for 21 January 2018) Hanne Marlene Dahl makes the point that “struggles over elderly care have intensified” (p. 160). She highlights the increasing emphasis, in Denmark and elsewhere, on making the elderly more independent and “self-responsible” (p. 169). Dahl identifies this “active aging” (p. 167) concept as related to a neo-liberalizing form of regulation (in tune with her post-structuralist perspective she notes that neo-liberalizing is never the only form of regulation; p. 169). One of her concerns is that not all those who are ageing may feel comfortable with this emphasis on independence and indeed may want to resist it.
Elsewhere in Struggles Dahl notes the tendency to stigmatize ageing (p. 140). I am reminded here of Betty Friedan’s 1993 book, The Fountain of Age (Jonathon Cape, London), which sets out to overturn this stigma. Friedan mounts a careful challenge to the view of ageing as “decline” and offers in its place a model of “vital aging” (p. 46). “Vital aging” considers “old age” as another step in human development where we come to display more contextualized understandings of events and people. How far, I want to ask, is “vital aging” from the “active aging” discourse that Dahl convincingly questions?
Set side by side, these accounts pose the challenge of how to critique both the stigma attached to ageing that Friedan emphasizes and the “self-responsibilising” that Dahl identifies. The concept of “social flesh”, which Chris Beasley and I developed, proves useful in challenging this dichotomy (see C. Beasley and C. Bacchi, “Envisaging a new politics for an ethical future. Beyond trust, care and generosity – Towards an ethic of ‘social flesh’”, Feminist Theory, 8(3): 279-298). As argued in the Research Hub entry on “Theorizing care” (28 January 2018), emphasizing human interdependence and reliance on shared resources and space provides a lever to defend both the need to acknowledge the exigencies of ageing alongside ways to facilitate growth and development.