ENAS Awards 2019

ENAS Award for Best PhD Thesis 2019

 

Growing Sideways: Challenging Boundaries between Childhood and Adulthood in Twenty- First Century Britain (2018) by Anne Malewski (Department of English and Creative Writing, University of Roehampton, London)

 

The focus of Anne Malewski’s dissertation thesis is on alternative perspectives on growth in twenty-first century Britain. The thesis investigates “instances of blurring age boundaries from a unique angle: as examples of growing sideways, an alternative way of growing and being that disassociates from rigid age categories and potentially is as valid as growing up” (4). It endeavors to show that the concept of growth as “a desirable, inevitable, and upward process” is a “pervasive grand narrative that privileges adulthood” and questions these normative concepts in order to explore “less conventional ideas of growth that allow for multitudes of valid experiences” (5).

 

The methodological reference frame of the thesis is cultural studies and age studies. It intends to reconstruct a discourse of age boundaries, defining the concept of “growing sideways” both with reference to cultural theory and to the film and television series and children’s literature it examines as primary source material.

 

The research questions Malewski identifies and explores are:

  • How is growth identified and evaluated as normative and non-normative in different contexts? 

  • How are different kinds of age boundaries identified and how are they imposed? 

  • How can age boundaries be contested, traversed differently, altered, discarded, or circumvented through sideways growth? 

  • Can growing up be defined as a long-term venture that culminates in adulthood? Can growing sideways, by analogy, be seen as a short-term or also as a long-term endeavor? Where does it lead? 

  • How do factors such as race, class, and gender impact growth?

 

The foci of the thesis are the possibilities and limitations of non-normative growth as “sideways growth.” The historical reference point is contemporary Britain. This is explained by Malewski’s view on the contemporary moment as one “at which ideas of growth are being (re-)negotiated in various settings and cultural forms especially broadly, diversely, and urgently, and in specific, new forms” (13). For the analysis of conceptual areas of her reconstruction of a discourse of age boundaries, Malewski identifies the three areas of appearance, play, and space, which relate “to different kinds of boundaries between child and adult: bodily and vestimentary (appearance), behavioral and attitudinal (play), and spatial (space) boundaries” (13). The structure of her book follows the three areas she defines as conceptual demarcations in chapters 2, 3 and 4.

 

All three jury members have agreed that the thesis is very original. It engages with an impressive amount of cultural theory in an innovative and productive way. Although its focus is on cultural theories of aging rather than on old age, the alternative concept of growth that Malewski develops introduces a theoretical perspective applicable to age studies in general. 


 

Runner up: Ageing in Welsh Fiction in English, 1906-2012: Bodies, Culture, Time and Memory (2018) by Elinor Shepley (School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University)

 

Firmly grounded in age studies, the thesis examines a proliferation of aging characters to be found in twentieth and twenty-first centuries Welsh fiction in English. It builds its argument on the assumption that older people have a special significance in this body of literature, which Shepley explains with the special interest of Welsh fiction in the marginal related to Wales’ status as a province of England. The thesis combines perspectives from postcolonial studies with its primary focus on literary gerontology and Welsh literature studies. This productive combination provides the innovative aspect of the thesis together with its theoretical, analytical and stylistic excellence.

 

Shepley illustrates in her thesis that Welsh literature explores and alludes to old age stereotypes basically in order to undermine them. In chapter 2, her focus is on stock older characters and their gendering, providing insightful analyses of gossip (as historic misogyny towards women who speak out) and of dementia narratives. Chapter 3 provides representations of older people as seen from within and explores the significance of the gothic in literary representation of old age. With reference to Leder, Shepley examines the ‘dys-appearance’ of the body as well as the importance of space, that is, of having a home in old age. The fourth chapter turns to an allegorical reading of the ways in which Welsh writers of English language fiction use older characters to symbolize social changes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Further, she examines how age and class become entwined (with a special focus on a working-class sensibility) and explores how aging characters represent a particular type of Welsh local identity.

 

The jury members agreed that this is a highly accomplished thesis on the theoretical, analytical and stylistic levels. It provides an insightful analysis of a literature that is undeservedly marginalized and frequently undervalued. As such it fills an obvious research gap of an understudied subject, on which further research should be built. It is also an original contribution to age studies.

 

Runner up: Empowering the Elderly? A Qualitative Study of Municipal Home-health Visits and Everyday Rehabilitation (2017) by Amy Clotworthy (Department of Ethnology, University of Copenhagen)

 

The dissertation focuses on the change of the perception of aging in relation to local government policy using the example of one specific township in Denmark. The thesis provides an ethnological perspective in a qualitative study on care, in particular, on “home-health visits and training programmes directed towards elderly citizens in the Danish municipality of Gentofte” (6), based on ethnographic fieldwork and semi-structured interviews. It places its findings in a broader theoretical framework, based on Michel Foucault’s notion of governmentality and Hannah Arendt’s phenomenological approach to the central activities related to the human condition (labor, work, and action).

 

Central research questions of the thesis are:

  • How do particular political goals and individualized health policies influence the provision of in-home health services for the elderly? 

  • How has the goal of eldercare in Denmark shifted from providing help to enabling “self- help”? 

  • How are municipal health professionals expected to transform elderly citizens into a new type of subject? 

  • What dynamics are involved when policy meets practice at the intersection of the state, the professional and the citizen? 

  • What are the meanings of the home (privacy, security)? 

  • How does a shared responsibility for health care emerge?

 

In her analysis, Clotworthy problematizes gerontological concepts such as ‘healthy aging’ or ‘active aging’ and introduces the new concept of the “limited yet limitless” aging consumer. Referring to the entanglement of the perception of the elderly as a high-risk group of society with a discourse about ‘healthy aging,’ Clotworthy defines the “limited yet limitless” aging consumer as a new type of citizen, while the health professional is re-configured as a seller of services. Clotworthy also problematizes the dichotomy between the private and the public; action and resistance; and focuses on the perception of body/embodiment and corporeality.

 

The jury members have agreed that this thesis is innovative and provides thorough and thought-provoking analyses. Besides, Amy Clotworthy proved to be a competent and reflexive ethnographer in the field. The description of the fieldwork is thorough, well-written and allows the reader to follow her decisions made in the field and the origination of the empirical material. 


 

Jury: Heike Hartung (chair, University of Potsdam), Dagmar Gramshammer-Hohl (University of Graz), and Ľubica Voľanská (Slovak Academy of Sciences)

 

ENAS Award for Best MA Thesis 2019

 

Cultural Age Markers and Differential Treatment Due to Age: How Do We Know Someone is Old? by Anne Velardi (University of Anchorage)