Ageism and Age

Age is important. Alongside gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, dis/ability, and other axes of social difference, age shapes the social world at every scale and in many different ways. In common with all lines of social difference, age is also the site of oppression and prejudice. Ageism, or prejudice based on age, takes many forms. It is one of the most prevalent types of oppression in that everyone is exposed to ageism at some point and often in multiple and shifting ways throughout their lives. Ageism operates and is experienced through a complex range of mechanisms which have only recently become the focus of academic research and social policy. This includes individuals’ internalized ageist norms and the institutionalized ageism within political, legal, and spatial planning systems, for example. While there has been limited geographical analysis of age to date, the development of multidisciplinary understandings of age and governmental policies addressing age and ageism highlight the important ways space, place, and scale shape experiences of age and the (re)production of ageism.

The gap in geographical analysis of age has shrunk since the 1990s, with the flourishing of work on children and, to a lesser extent, older people. Despite this almost exclusive focus on the margins of the age continuum, an emerging body of work within children’s geographies and older people’s geographies demonstrates the importance of geographies of age more generally. Within these two emerging subdisciplines, geographical work offers valuable contributions to social science and policy debates, highlighting the ways space and scale intersect with age and other axes of social difference. Although geographical analysis has clustered around the extremes of the age spectrum, more recent work suggests this may be used to create a broader, more relational approach to age which explores the performativity of age and infuses human geography with a keener sensitivity to age more generally.

Children’s and older people’s geographies have a number of features in common. Each have their roots in pioneering studies carried out in the 1970s and in both cases this groundwork became reinvigorated in the 1990s and early twenty first century. A wider social science and political interest in both children and older people has enabled these subdisciplines to engage with debates and practices beyond geography. Notwithstanding these common features, there has been far greater attention to work at the younger end of the age spectrum and work in this field provides a suitable point from which to begin an exploration of geographies of age in a fuller sense.

Children’s Geographies
Geographies of Older People
Relational Geographies of Age
Conclusion: Performing age