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New perspectives on living arrangements in older age: A conference report

Gerontologists focusing on housing assume that the social, physical and emotional environment is filled with meaning that directly has an impact on personal identity, sense of security and future in the process of ageing (1). Demographic change and social transformations – even during times of global crises – influence the scope of agency and experience of housing, close social relationships and well-being in later life phases. Various sub-disciplines of gerontology, such as environmental gerontology and ecological gerontology, focus on the complex interrelationship of (living) spaces, social relationships and ageing. 

Recently, there has been a broadening of perspectives in this area, which is why Sections III and IV of the German Society for Gerontology and Geriatrics (DGGG) addressed the complex topic of (new) forms of housing and living arrangements in older age at this year’s joint conference. From 16 to 17 September, I participated in the online conference which was organised by the University of Siegen.

In a variety of symposia, workshops and e-poster sessions, participants from different scientific disciplines and practitioners in the field of ageing discussed the relevance of different living arrangements for quality of life and well-being in older age. The aim was to discuss framework conditions which are necessary to enable people to live an autonomous life in older age. Thereby, contributors also focused on the influence of social and regional inequalities in ageing. Besides housing special attention was paid to opportunities of older persons participating in digital technologies and the experience of the Covid 19 pandemic referring to ageing.

The conference’s online format was very complex because of up to seven synchronous sessions. As a participant, I had to choose e.g. between a symposium on new forms of housing for people with care needs or a symposium on services of general interest in urban and rural areas. In addition to theoretical approaches, I was also introduced to new practical approaches, e.g. green care farms.

Two keynote speakers deepened the conference topic with two exciting contributions: Prof. Dr. Ralf Lottmann (Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences) by addressing the diversity of living arrangements of older LGBTI* persons and Prof. Dr. Dagmar Haase (Humboldt University Berlin) examined „Urban Ageing in the Environmental and Spatial Context of Large Cities“.

Due to my dissertation project on ageing in couple relationships in later life phases, my personal focus was on the relevance of spatiality in relation to doing ageing (2). In collaboration with Lisa Reifert (AiA project AWiSA, Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences) and Julia Weigt (research fellow of the PhD programme „Villages in Responsibility„, University of Vechta and research assistant at the ISMG) I co-organised the symposium „Processes of inclusion, exclusion and distinction of older people – research on spatial and social positioning“ (moderation: Prof. Josefine Heusinger, Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences). In my contribution to the symposium I addressed spatial manifestations of shared experiences of ageing in older couples. I discussed findings from my PhD-project on couples‘ practices of boundary making in relation to (normative) ageing images 3;4) partnership and housing ideals, which are reflected spatially in living arrangements of couples in later life phases.

Against this background, my personal highlight was the symposium „Mapping Age – On the relationship between age and spatial-objective environments“, which I joint – inspired by a special issue of the Journal of Gerontology and Geriatrics published in 2020 (5). In an opening presentation by session moderator Dr. Anna Wanka (Goethe University Frankfurt a.M.), „Mapping Age“ was introduced as a heuristic device with a relational understanding of spatiality that enables gerontology to view ageing and spaces as processual and relational rather than static and fixed. Furthermore, Anna Wanka used findings of a literature review to demonstrate consequences of digitalisation for the co-constitution of ageing and space. She illustrated how hybrid spatialities also produce hybrid forms of ageing that emerge between digital and analogue living environments. Prof. Grit Höppner continued with her talk on a study of constructions of places and affects related to partner bereavement. In her perspective on the construction and adoption of spatiality, she pointed out possibilities for conceptually capturing doing grief in case of partner bereavement. In my opinion, Grit Höppner’s talk and the following concluding theoretical contribution by Dr. Anna Richter clarified the potentials of a practice-theoretical approach to researching social practices and spatial circumstances relating to ageing.

This special perspective on the intertwining of spatial-material environments with social practices around ageing is also concerned by the international research network „Material Gerontology“ which integrates theoretical approaches to fill gaps in gerontology.

Generally, the program of the conference represented the complexity and relevance of living arrangements in later life and gave the opportunity getting in touch with novel research fields, perspectives and interdisciplinary synthesis. Furthermore, despite the digital realisation of the event, I felt inspired to continue networking with researchers in my field of interest and to continue working on my PhD.

Julia Piel, Doctoral candidate in the core project „Autonomy in Old Age“, research assistant at the Institute of Social Medicine and Health Systems Research (project: PoSEvi), Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg

References

  1. Arrigoitia, M. F., West, K., & Peace, S.* (2018). Towards Critical Intersections of Ageing, Housing and Well-Being. Home Cultures, 15(3), 209–221. https://doi.org/10.1080/17406315.2019.1690274
  2. Höppner, G., & Wanka, A. (2021). un/doing age : Multiperspektivität als Potential einer intersektionalen Betrachtung von Differenz- und Ungleichheitsverhältnissen [un/doing age : multiperspectivity as a potential of an intersectional consideration of relations of difference and inequality]. Zeitschrift Für Soziologie, 50(1), 42–57. https://doi.org/10.1515/zfsoz-2021-0005
  3. Lamont, M., & Molnár, V. (2002). The Study of Boundaries in the Social Sciences. Annual Review of Sociology, 28(1), 167–195. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.soc.28.110601.141107
  4. Van Dyk, S., & Richter, A.-S. (2017). Altwerden im Spannungsfeld von Normierung und Eigensinn [Growing older in the field of tension between standardization and selfishness]. In T. Spies & E. Tuider (Eds.), Biographie und Diskurs: Methodisches Vorgehen und Methodologische Verbindungen (pp. 249–267). Wiesbaden: Springer VS. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-658-13756-4_13
  5. Wanka, A., & Oswald, F. (2020). „Mapping age“ – das Verhältnis von Altern und Raum neu denken [Mapping age-Rethinking the relation between aging and space]. Zeitschrift fur Gerontologie und Geriatrie, 53(5), 379–381. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00391-020-01769-4

Web sources

AWiSA – Altersgerechtes Wohnen in Sachsen-Anhalt:

https://www.awisa-lsa.de/

PhD-program “Villages in Responsibility“, University of Vechta:

https://www.uni-vechta.de/ispa/forschung/promotionsprogramm-doerfer-in-verantwortung

Netzwerk Material Gerontology:

https://materialgerontology.wordpress.com/

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