It’s often said that the time in our lives can often pass without us noticing. Old age can come before we realize it, and it brings with it new elements to our own daily lives that we couldn’t have anticipated before. Observed from a distance and growing old can seem like a universal experience, but observed up close, it becomes clear that the different ways people age are as varied and unique as the people themselves, and these differences can come from within and without. Whether you get to live out your twilight years in a comfortable retirement home in the country, or an understaffed inner-city hospital, these experiences will be profoundly different, and likely had different paths that led to them. Viewed in this way, aging is seen not as some eternal experience that is the same for all people, but as a fundamental part of our politics and economic dynamics, for better and for worse. The COVID-crisis of the last year has brought to light how vulnerable our elderly are, how understaffed our care-facilities are, and how much needs to change to provide lives of safety, comfort and dignity to our elders, but in many ways all this crisis has done is exacerbated certain tensions and antagonisms that were already there, barely concealed by the relentless optimism of neoliberal technocrats. Changing these systems will mean rethinking the aging process, and connecting it with broader questions traditionally raised by the fields of critical theory and radical critiques of political economy.
Diving right into this project are my guests today, Carroll Estes and Nicholas DiCarlo, here to discuss their recent publication Aging A-Z: Concepts Toward Emancipatory Gerontology (Routledge 2019). Styled as a sort of dictionary, the book has entries for a number of terms you would expect a book like this to have: Ableism, Home Care and Retirement all make appearances. Readers will be surprised, however, by the number of entries that also make appearances: Climate Change, Colonialism, Epistemology, Leninist Strategy and Praxis all make appearances as well. This book then is incredibly broad in scope, and attempts to force readers to realize the ways in which aging is affected that go beyond one’s immediate concern, bringing a new layer of understanding to the phrase: ‘The personal is political.’ Speaking as someone who has spent the entirety of the COVID-crisis working in elderly care, this book was a joyful revelation to flip through, and should be considered critical reading by anyone impacted by aging.
Carroll Estes has a long and distinguished career in both academia and activism. She is professor emerita of Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco. It was there that she founded the Institute for Health and Aging. She has written numerous books and articles on the politics of aging, including the co-authored The Long Term Care Crisis, which was a 1994 Most Important Book (Choice Magazine). She is also the recipient of numerous academic honors, and is the former president of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the American Society on Aging (ASA) and the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE).
Nicholas DiCarlo writes about aging and social policy at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco. They have a Masters of Social Work, and a private psychotherapy practice in Oakland.