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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gero-punk Lexicon, installment three

The Gero-punk Lexicon: Installment 3

Welcome to the third installment of a work-in-progress, the “Gero-punk Lexicon.” In case you are new to the Lexicon, let me tell you a thing or two:

You probably think you know what a lexicon is (a collection of words and their definitions, usually in alphabetical order, but since this lexicon in a work-in-progress and totally gero-punk, it will be in any order I please. So there.). But you definitely don’t know what a gero-punk is, and neither do I, because to be a true punk of any sort is to live experimentally, to live in love with emergence, the unexpected, the improvisatory, the rebellious, the chaotic, guided by your own star, propelled by a good measure of playfulness and well-placed righteous irony. Right now, this project is about de-colonizing the minds and lifeworlds of aging people (And by “aging people,” I mean all of us, and you know I am right!) by critically reflecting upon, interrogating, and offering different interpretations of words and concepts that have become a major part of normative public and academic discourse about aging, later life, and old people. Resist the normative, or at least understand it before you live by it.  The stuff of this project comes from my daily life as a gero-punk. Thanks for reading—Jenny.

Why Gerontology is Cool

First, let’s begin with a little quiz. (Though if you are quiz-averse, a short-answer essay question is available.):

Gerontology is:

a)      The scientific discipline concerned with the history of the earth as recorded in rocks.
b)      That new rock band from France.
c)      A very common but under-diagnosed phobia whereby one is afraid of people over the age of 30.
d)      The multi-disciplinary field concerned with the biophysical, cultural, psychological, spiritual and social aspects of adult development and aging.
e)      All of the above.
f)        None of the above.

(Here’s a hint: The correct answer is “d.” By the way, you can earn extra credit if you can distinguish between “Gerontology” and “Geriatrics.”)

Next, let me acknowledge (in case you are wondering) that I know one can’t just go around claiming that something is “cool” without being prepared to provide specific evidence as to why something is cool, especially when that something is an academic and professional field like Gerontology. I mean, it is one thing to say that a rock band is cool, or a movie is cool, or a particular book or professor is cool, but it seems a bit of a stretch to claim that the study of adult development and aging is cool.  As such, allow me to outline the finer points of my claim to being involved in one of the coolest fields of study and practice there is:

Ø      The older population is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population – as a result there are many needs and opportunities for knowledge production, advocacy, and service provision.
Ø      In the historical landscape of the Human Scientific disciplines, Gerontology is a relatively new academic and professional field that is in the process of developing itself in real-time– As a result there is the potential to get in on “the ground-up” and participate not only in socially and personally important and meaningful work, but the creation of Gerontology itself.
Ø      Of all the social categories, “old person” is the only category (besides Human Being) each and every one of us will occupy, should we be so fortunate to live the long life most of us in the U.S. can expect to live. Some social categories, such as ethnicity or race, can’t be changed; some social categories are mutable but only as the result of great effort and commitment, such as gender identity, education level, and class.  But many of us will get to experience becoming an “old person.” (As such, there’s a tremendous, largely unacknowledged and un-harnessed opportunity for developing and expanding empathy and compassion and solidarity across all social categories and generations based on our shared aging journey and potential for becoming an “old person”!)
Ø      Adult development and aging are multi-faceted, complex processes: bio/psycho/social/spiritual, historically contingent, and within particular socio-cultural-political contexts. As such, Gerontology is a multi-faceted, complex field of study and practice. Many other academic disciplines, fields of study, and professional areas are incorporated into Gerontology or can be used as lenses through which to view the human aging experience: psychology, sociology, geography, epidemiology, nursing, social work, history, philosophy, economics, anthropology, political science, literature, to name twelve! (As such, there are many different “styles” of being a Gerontologist, depending on which aspect of the aging experience you are interested in studying and whether you want to teach, do research, design programs, create policies, provide care, advocate…the possibilities are fantastic and endless.)
Ø      And, here’s the most important reason of all, as far as I’m concerned: The questions that drive Gerontological inquiry and practice are fundamentally questions about what it means to be a human being—The grand, surprising, ultimately unfathomable adventure involved in our precious human existence, however long it may last, however it may unfold.

(This is by no means an exhaustive list—it is just a start, a prolegomenon! And, also, don’t be thinking that I’m so in love with Gerontology that I’m blind to its challenges and limitations, nor ignoring questions as to its usefulness, legitimacy, not to mention its very future as a field. I’m not. Ask anyone, I talk about this stuff a lot of the time. But that’s not what I’m talking about right now. Maybe another time. For now, let’s appreciate the beautiful, aspirational, well-intentioned Gerontology! Hooray!)

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