9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN01 Ageing in Europe

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Neighbourhood Building II, C5.08

Conceptualizing the neighbourhood as a dynamic social space: older people as actors in place-making

This article offers a selective review of a broad range of social science literature examining the neighbourhood as an important setting in everyday life for the elderly. The main purpose is to explore several theoretical perspectives for studying older people?s neighbourhood as a dynamic social space. Although in recent years there has been a renewed interest in the concepts of social cohesion and (local) community among both academics and social-policy-makers, most research has not focused on life span or gerontological issues. However, understanding the links between contemporary debates about the way space is involved in "learning to live together" and central concerns of social and environmental gerontology, may provide clues about how to incorporate an inclusive sense of citizenship which recognises the full societal contribution of older people into a conceptual framework of the social environment. The argument is developed that mainstream gerontological research concerned with neighbourhood and community issues in old age has often been informed by an uncritical reliance on assumptions and images about older people as merely help and support subjects. It is argued that an interpretation of the neighbourhood as a social space beyond its potentially supportive role may open up interesting perspectives for exploring new practices of citizenship in old age. Rethinking the concept of social space as a potential expression of human agency in later life could break new ground for recognizing older people as actors in place-making. This place-based aspect of citizenship can possibly be understood as an important dimension of social inclusion because older people are no longer marginalised from a process of which they are part. A key argument of the paper, however, is that the extent to which older people are able to actively shape and (re)construct their environment is related to the dynamics of late-life inequality. The conclusion provides some basic elements to lay out a conceptual model for understanding the role of neighbourhoods as dynamic, multi-dimensional, socially and historically contextualised processes that both shape and are shaped by the experiences of older people.