ENAS Awards 2017

ENAS Award for Best PhD Thesis 2017

 

Becoming Who You Are: Aging, Self-realization and Cultural Narratives about Later Life (2016) by Hanne Laceulle (University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht)

 

In her dissertation, Becoming who you are. Aging, self-realization and cultural narratives about life, Hanne Laceulle addresses how dominant cultural narratives about aging and later life tend to identify aging with inevitable decline, whereas aging well is equated with staying young for as long as possible. Problematically, however, both decline- and age-defying cultural narratives about aging fall short of acknowledging the positive potentials of later life. Moreover, these dominant cultural narratives cannot provide us with the necessary resources to integrate confrontations with existential vulnerability in our lives in a meaningful way. Drawing on the rich philosophical tradition of thought about self-realization, critically exploring the value of constitutive ethical concepts like autonomy, authenticity, and virtue for the context of aging well, this book suggests contours for alternative cultural counter narratives about later life. Through these counter narratives, older individuals are supported in the search for a meaningful age identity, whereas society is evoked to recognize its older members as moral agents of their own lives, and stimulated to include them as valued participants.

 

The international jury praised the work for

  • its thorough engagement with philosophical as well as gerontological debates;
  • the humaneness and sensitivity that characterize Laceulle’s hermeneutical approach to self-realization and meaning in later life against the predominant paradigm of successful/healthy/positive aging;
  • the fact that her argumentation is beautifully crafted, open-minded, and persuasive.

Runner up: Queer Lines: Living and Ageing as an LGBTQ Person in a Heteronormative World (2016) by Anna Siverskog (Linköpings universitet)

This study is based on life-course interviews with 20 LGBTQ-identified people, born between 1922 and 1950, 62-88 years old at the time of the interviews. Older LGBTQ-identified people have experienced tremendous changes in how gender identities and sexualities have been re-negotiated during their lifetimes. Even though there is a small but growing field of LGBTQ aging studies, queer studies rarely problematizes age or aging. At the same time, the gerontological field often assumes heterosexuality and cis-gender experiences. This dissertation uses a life course perspective and focuses on queer lines, life courses that move beyond the heteronormative expectations of how one should live one’s life in relation to gender identity and/or sexuality. The overarching aim of the study is to explore experiences and meanings of living and aging as LGBTQ in a changing heteronormative world. Thematic analysis is used to analyze and interpret the empirical material. The theoretical framework in this study refers to critical gerontology, feminist theory and queer theory.

 

The analysis points to how experiences of gender identity and sexuality relate to historical and geographical contexts and change over time. It illustrates how gender, age, and sexuality intersect with heteronormative expectations of what a life is supposed to be like. To not live up to these expectations by not adjusting to binary gender norms or not getting married and having children may have large social as well as material consequences. These include having to hide one’s gender identity or sexuality, being socially repudiated and discriminated against or being subject to physical violence. Despite these conditions, the interviewees have oriented toward other lines – other ways of living where there is room for their gender identities and sexualities. The interviews point to the significance of social relations, networks, and LGBTQ communities. LGBTQ groups and meeting places that have been created over time have facilitated in finding these other lines. Most of the narratives on aging are similar to those of other people the same age, but there are also narratives that are specific to LGBTQ experiences. For some the aging body has ruled out the possibility of undergoing transgender-specific surgeries. Others are worried about encountering homophobic or transphobic treatment when in need of care.

 

The results point to the importance of including critical approaches of gender and sexuality within gerontology and life course studies, and to including materiality when theorizing the aging body. The dissertation also constitutes a theoretical bridge between gerontology, feminist theory, and queer theory and contributes to more complex understandings of intersections between age, gender; and sexuality to these fields.

 

The international jury praised the work for

  • its important contribution not just to LGBTQ understandings of aging but also to aging studies’ understandings of the life course;
  • its critical engagement with methodology and well-executed empirical research;
  • its accessible and pleasant writing style.

 

Jury: Aagje Swinnen (chair, Maastricht University), Emma Dominguez-Rué (University of Lleida), Ricca Edmondson (National University of Ireland, Galway), Ros Jennings (University of Gloucestershire), Rüdiger Kunow (University of Potsdam), Karin Lövgren (University of Gävle)

 

ENAS Award for Best MA Thesis 2017

 

This award was not granted.

 

Jury: Dagmar Gramshammer-Hohl (chair, University of Graz), Marija Geiger Zeman (VERN University of Applied Sciences, Zagreb), and Anita Wohlmann (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)