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Cultural-historical aspects of senescence: experiences, representations, identities

ARIS Code: J6-2572

Project duration: 1. 9. 2020–31. 8. 2024

Project leaderUrška Bratož, PhD

Participating institute at ZRS KoperInstitut for Historical Studies

One of the major problems of the contemporary western (and European) society, is the demographic issue of population aging, the challenges of which have already been pointed out by many economic and other institutions. In order to understand the status, attributed to old age in contemporary society and culture, the knowledge on connected historical processes is crucial. Despite this, old age is still a marginalized topic in Slovenian academic field (although characterized as a priority in many calls), but the present project proposal’s intention is also to draw attention to its significance.

The project research will focus on cultural and social aspects of ageing in the Slovene part of the Habsburg monarchy in the period between 1848 and 1914. Project strives to provide a more gender-balanced narration of aging and old age, taking into account also the changes in the concepts of masculinity and femininity in old age. In this period certain transformations of representations and personal experiences of old age can be distinguished, i.e. the differences between traditional/modern and pre-industrial/industrial, that characterize also the basic theories of the history of old age. Old age will be explored as a cultural construct through representations of old age and individual experiences. To that end, interdisciplinary methodology of the new cultural history will be adopted. Identities and self-representations will offer a corrective to the mainstream scholarship on history of old age, which focus on structures, institutions and processes on social and global levels. Both categories are recognized as the most neglected in the field.

The changes in cultural and social constructions of old age will be presented through:

  1. the transformation of population and its impact on the structure of different forms of co-habitation, intergenerational relationships, solidarity and processes of inclusion and exclusion in old age,
  2. the transformation of cultural representations of old age as well as social, political, economic and legal meanings, related to old age, and
  3. personal experiences and self-representations of individual male and female elders.

The project will highlight the plurality of experience of old age and connected values, with the help of analytical categories, such as gender, religion, social status, area, nationality / ethnicity etc. in comparison with other cultural environments.

By developing new perspectives, a contribution will be made to the interpretation of the influence of modernization on social structures, processes, institutions on one hand, and on representations, self-perceptions and activities of old age on the other. Based on informal forms of solidarity the project team will rethink the impact of development of welfare state and civil law on life experiences of the elderly and the image of retirement as an inactive life stage. The analysis of the demographic structure of the population within the selected historical context will serve as a framework for processes, which affected the experience of old age. The elderly individual will be studied both in the medical respect of the biological ageing, and in the context of different socio-cultural identities, attributed to him/her.

Research will tend to follow contemporary epistemological emphases on a gender-balanced review of the old age. On one side social, political, economic and legal aspects of old age will be observed, on the other personal (self)perceptions of the elderly will serve as a basis for the analysis of collective and individual identities. With the help of the case studies a great significance of age as an analytical category in political, intellectual, cultural and social history (and some other historiographical orientations) will be indicated.