Topic outline

  • Course Description

    This course offers a multi-disciplinary investigation of aging as a social, historical and personal process. What does it mean to grow old in a culture that celebrates youth and independence? How have the values and practices associated with aging changed over time? How do social policies and social institutions define and shape old age? How can the experiences of different elderly populations bring to light inequalities of race, ethnicity, class and gender and how does ageism intersect with other forms of oppression?  How have particular individuals navigated the complexities and challenges of aging?


    In exploring these questions, the course opens up central issues and methods in the Social Sciences and Humanities, and offers an opportunity to integrate theory and practice.  All students will spend 2 to 3 hours per week working with a local organization that provides care for older adults. Students will also learn and apply methods of oral history.  The class will meet on Tuesdays, with only an occasional Friday meeting.  The schedule is designed to create time and space for community engagement.


    In a society that will age rapidly over the next three decades, critically informed engagement with aging is vital for students anticipating work in the social service and health fields, family members who will care for aging parents and grandparents, and citizens who will be called on to consider the needs of an aging population. Wherever we are in the life course, the topic of aging invites us to consider fundamental questions of what we value and how we care for one another.


    • Assignments and Evaluation



      Reading and Community Engagement Journal  25%

      The journals will serve two purposes :students will write short responses to the assigned reading and they will also reflect on their experiences working in the community, making links between the academic content of the course and their community engagement. Make a practice of writing regularly after your time in the community. You should have about 12 pages of writing by the end of the semester.  One of the entries will be based on an interview assignment, described below:

      Do a brief interview with a staff person related to your community engagement site and write a 2-3 page analysis.  You do not need to transcribe these interviews, but you will want to quote selectively in your written analysis.


      Life Review/Life Reminiscence   25%

      Students will conduct a life review or series of reminiscences with an older individual.This project will involve two to three hours of interview time and result in the making of something to present the interview subject that reflects his/her life.

      Life Review Analysis

      Use course readings to contextualize the life review interview you conducted.  This is not meant to be a summary of the person's life.  Don't simply re-state what they said--analyze the way they told their story and how their life can be understood in a social and historical context.k  Include selected quotations and details from the interview to illustrate your points.

      Some questions to help you get started:

      What narrative templates does the person use in constructing their life story?  (Ruth Ray)

      How does the person present themselves in relation to family and society?  In Schrager's terms, how does the speaker construct an "I" in relation to the "we"?

      How is the individual's life story shaped by race, class and gender?


      Independent Project 25%

       Students will complete a project of their own choosing related to the themes and issues of the course. Form is open.  If it is a research based paper the length would be 6-8 pages.

      • First Class

        F 9/1

        • T 9/5 Ageism

          Read the three articles below on the subject of ageism.  Start your electronic reading journals.  Write an approximately one page entry for Tuesday that applies some of the language and insights from the reading to an example of ageism of your choosing. 

          • F 9/8 Historical Perspectives on Aging

            • Gawande, Being Mortal

              T 9/12, Being Mortal Chapters 1-3

              T 9/19  Being Mortal, Chapters 4 and 5

              • 10/31 Life Review

                • T 11/7 Interviewing

                  • T 11/21 Age, Gender and the Body

                    Please read "Mirror Mirror on the Wall" for Tuesday.  The other selections are topically relevant and there for your information.

                    • Articles of Interest!