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British Academy ‘Big debate’: Challenging Negative Representations of Older People

by on March 26, 2014

Last night was the second in the British Academy series of Big Debates about age, provocatively entitled ‘Too Old and Ugly to be Useful? Challenging Negative Representations of Older People’.  Unfortunately we both had evening commitments in London that meant we couldn’t get to Sheffield for this event (a great pity given the subject matter and speakers).

A video of the event will appear on the British Academy website in due course. Here’s a link to last month’s debate on ageing as ‘Benefit or Burden’.

In the meantime, these are some interesting points from last night’s debate (as culled from the website and twitter stream):

Professor Pat Thane (KCL) argued that representations and experiences of older people have always been highly diverse, with a spectrum between those who are highly active and contributory to those with high levels of dependency.  With more people living longer and more active lives, this makes the present (rather than the past) the ‘golden age’ of ageing. Nevertheless, the UK has one of the lowest state pensions of wealthy developed countries. Current research suggests that older men report more discrimination than older women and that older poorer men are most at risk of discrimination.

Dr Lorna Warren (Sheffield University) showed how the media play a critical strategic role in the transmission of images – positive and negative – of older people, particularly of older women. Physical signs of ageing are frequently stereotyped or become the target of humour, influenced by the narrative of the anti-ageing industry – and sometimes they are simply air-brushed out of existence. These presentation techniques are key to understanding not only why the older face doesn’t ‘fit’, but also how more positive representations may be successfully launched through the visual. She introduced the Look at Me research project which challenges current media representations and perceptions of older women in our society.

Our thanks to @claremcm1 @SocStudiesShef @NDAprogramme and @Britac_news for sources of information about the event.

We’ll post a link to the video of the event in due course.

  1. It was a great evening – sorry you couldn’t be there – I went rather on the spur of the moment as I only heard about it via Twitter on Monday!

    • Glad you enjoyed it and were able to get there. We went to the first debate which was very good and had booked for this but then realised we were both committed to other events in London! Very sorry to miss it. We’ve met Lorna Warren a couple of times at various events (including the launch of the Charter against ageism and sexism in the media) and her research is excellent and thought-provoking.

  2. Paula Fitzgerald permalink

    First debate outside London for me, and a thought-provoking evening indeed! Personally, for me there was quite a bit of reflective thinking after each presentation. However, the “icing on the cake” was when a “virtual” Mary Beard asked us (in the audience) why is it a compliment to be told that you look younger than you are….in spite of everything we know about the topic of age we remain flattered by this….

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