Cardiff University, UK
WS171: Age, image, identity: Exploring ageing and ageism in contemporary Britain
Age identity and bodily display: the older dancer
The age profile of the population is shifting upwards, yet contemporary culture sees the body as the crucial indicator of the self, and bodily ageing as problematic. All bodies age, both in functional and aesthetic terms, but how bodily ageing is experienced and culturally interpreted deserves sustained attention across a range of social contexts and activities. This paper uses data from an ethnography of dance classes for people over 40 in order to explore potential identity constraints and affordances of ageing in the context of bodily display. Dance (and particularly perhaps ballet and contemporary dance) is a form of self-expression generally associated with younger bodies, in two senses: the expectation that it is younger bodies who will have the physical abilities to dance, and the expectation that it is younger bodies who are worth looking at when they dance.
I elicited participants’ own representations of how their bodily self related to other aspects of their ageing identities, using interviews, questionnaires, ethnographic notes of classes, focus groups, and participants’ own diary materials. The theoretical background to this study includes Hepworth’s work on the mask of ageing, Woodward’s work on the ‘unwatchability’ of older bodies, and Shilling’s ideas on bodily symbolic capital and the body-as-project. A critical pragmatic analysis is used to explore a range of relevant themes including the use of body in dance, , the relationship between body, the lifespan and identity, functional, aesthetic and control aspects of bodily awareness, the use of the mirror in class and elsewhere, and self-presentation and self-esteem. The analysis shows participants reclaiming the body as a legitimate expressive space, with obvious identity implications .
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Hepworth, M. (2004) ‘Images of old age’, in J. F. Nussbaum and J.Coupland (eds.) Handbook of Communication and Aging Research. Mahwah: New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum pp. 3-29 (Second edition).
Shilling, C. (1993) The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage.
Woodward, K. (1991) Aging and its Discontents: Freud and other Fictions. Bloomington, I.N: Indiana University Press.
Age, image, identity: Exploring ageing and ageism in contemporary Britain
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30