The world is now a much smaller place, with more and more people choosing to study or work abroad and, consequently, creating transnational families and connections. In this blog post, Martin Hyde, co-author of Ageing and globalisation, discusses how this increase in globalisation has affected conventional views of ageing.
Sometime last year my parents called me to say that they wouldn’t be able to meet up on the coming weekend as they had to go and look after my brother’s kids.
Nothing unusual about this, as more and more retirees find themselves called upon to perform grandparenting duties in times of need – in this case my brother had to travel for work and my sister-in-law was not feeling well.
What made this somewhat more unusual was that my parents were in France at the time and my brother lives in Australia. So, they duly cut their stay in France short, bought return tickets to Australia, flew back to the UK packed their bags and went out to Australia for 3 weeks (my brother had had to go to China and South Korea).
“Wherever we look…we seem to see evidence of the increasing globalisation.”
Unusual but not unique. As families become increasingly transnational more and more people are drawn into these long-distance family and caring relationships. But this is not limited to family relationships. Wherever we look, from travel and transport to economics and the media, we seem to see evidence of the increasing globalisation.
In our book, Ageing and globalisation, we set out to answer 3 seemingly simple questions:
1) Has the world changed from one dominated by a system of nation states?
2) If so what does the contemporary ‘global’ system look like?
3) How does this impact on older people and our ideas about ageing?
“There is still relatively little research on the interconnections between globalisation and ageing.”
Our motivation for asking these questions came from our observation that, despite the fact that population ageing and the increase of global interconnectedness are perhaps two of the greatest changes to have occurred since the middle of the 20th century, there is still relatively little research on the interconnections between globalisation and ageing. We sought to redress this gap by bringing these two issues together to develop a more detailed understanding of both issues and the ways in which they interact.
Undertaking this task is important, not simply because a more integrated approach to globalisation is increasingly necessary, but also because the continuing effects of the global economic crisis of 2008 have destabilised many of the assumptions and policies formulated for old age. Thus, it is not only that people around the world are living longer but the world in which they are doing so has undergone radical changes. We have moved away from a world in which the nation-state was seen as the key economic and political unit to a world characterized by a series of overlapping spaces, such as the global financial markets, the European Union, and technology districts like Silicon Valley. These transformations raise several questions for gerontologists and older people alike.
“Conventional ways of thinking about ageing and later life have weakened.”
Throughout the book we drew on a wide range of data from cross-national surveys to macro-level indicators from international organisations like the World Bank to explore the spatial patterning of these dimensions and the impact of relevant global, regional and national actors. In each arena there is clear evidence that conventional ways of thinking about ageing and later life have weakened. New temporalities around have opened up which, in turn call for, and create, new types of spaces.
However, we are far from witnessing the emergence of a global space of ageing and later life. Instead global, regional and national patterns are still clearly identifiable. This supports the central argument that no single spatial logic is dominant but that different spaces overlap and confront each other across a range of dimensions.
Ultimately the apparent simplicity of our initial questions belied a complex set of answers. Yet it is difficult to imagine how they could not. Both issues, ageing and globalisation, are immensely complex in their own right and as such the interactions between them will be equally complex.
Nonetheless we hope to show in this book that although global processes are having an effect on the experiences of ageing and old age, so too are many other things. Of significant note is that it is often older people themselves who, through their own social and cultural engagements, are responsible for reconfiguring the field of ageing and it this continuing engagement that ensures that the relationship between later life and the development of these new spatialities will be one of transformation rather than determinism.
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