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Elder people as burdens: An overview of negative representations of old age in contemporary anglophone societies
conference contributionposted on 04.09.2020, 00:00 by Daniel Teghe
Elder people are often portrayed and represented in academic and policy literatures as constituting an economic burden for the community, a major cause of impending economic doom for society and an affective factor in the creation of apparent intergenerational disparities. Since the Second World War, becoming and being ‘old’ has prompted calls from some academic researchers and policy-makers for society to focus on a particular way to assess the diminishing productive ‘worth’ of people in later age when compared to their ‘cost’ to society. This paper is framed methodologically by a progressive phronesis approach (Flyvbjerg 1998, 2001) and sets out to explore the construction of negative representations of elder people in western Anglophone societies, focusing on the effect that these representations have on the development of policies for the delivery of publicly funded services to elder people. An argument is forwarded that, as a consequence of these representations, a particular form of rationalising policy-making has emerged in western societies which is termed here as ‘productivism’. Brief examples are provided of how ageing and elder persons have tended to be portrayed through early versions of a productivist lens in the Anglophone high culture, and then within Australia’s popular culture. The paper concludes with a discussion which explores examples of productivist rationalisations by academic researchers and policy-makers.