Life Times: Growing Up, Growing Old

Losing Myself
Photodream Art

The Project
Growing up and growing old is something we all do whether we are consciously aware of the process or not. Each of us are born and then starts a period of physical, mental and emotional growth taking us from a tiny baby through childhood until we reach that stage in our progression which the society in which we live deems to be adulthood. Throughout this journey the expectations and responsibilities placed upon us also alter. Upon reaching adulthood these changes continue and at some point, again decided by our society, we reach another watershed – that of old age. Little of this occurs as a result of any conscious effort on our own part. Rather we will all follow this progression irrespective of who we are or where we are born, where we die, or what we do in between. The point of this research stream is to examine this whole progression more closely in an attempt to identify the roles which society, culture, personal belief and choice can, and do, influence the ways in which we grow up and grow old. In carrying out this examination we will also discover other major factors which play a part, and identify many of the practical issues and implications for society.

Since time immemorial humans have lived in close association with each other and their environment. Their success has depended on their ability to interact, to adapt and to survive. While it is fascinating to look at this from such a general and external perspective, even more exciting in many ways is to examine the individuals and groups involved and trace their development, the battles faced, the challenges which arise and the solutions derived which enable individuals to progress from birth to death. Hopefully this lifespan will be over a period of years allowing them to not only grow up but to also grow old.

This life course is one with which we are all familiar and the intent of this project is not to simply reiterate these life stages but rather to consider such aspects of them as will enable us to better understand what these basic transformations mean on both an individual and a societal level. Such basic questions which might be considered are: How do these stages differ within societies? What do childhood and adulthood really mean? Who are the elderly and what role do they play? Most importantly, are these definitions and concepts changing, and if so, what are the implications for communities? These questions themselves give rise to many others including not only historical changes but also the impact of culture, of environment, of war or famine, of violence, of knowledge and learning, of technology and communication, and especially of medical advances. Indeed, every aspect of existence may well affect the way in which we grow up and grow old.

Leading on from these ideas are other aspects which also warrant consideration, for example inter-generational aspects, psychological changes and expectations, depictions of the various life stages by the media and also artists, which may include literature, art, music, photography as well as film, theatre and television. From the diversity of topics mentioned it is apparent that there is much which could be discussed but it is hoped that delegates will be able to focus on some of the more basic ideas mentioned with a view to developing the on-going conversation after this conference is over. So, although a primary concern of this project is to consider the historical changes, the ideas behind each stage and how they differ worldwide, we additionally seek to commence an exploration of recent technological advances which are affecting the way our life course develops. It is particularly hoped that this project will develop over a period of years to enable us to reach a clearer understanding of something of which we are all a part, something which affects each of us, and help us to identify perspectives and changes which may improve the outlook for many. With this outcome in mind it should be remembered that in some countries there are huge cultural barriers to change, while in others change may be taken for granted and normalised through culture and traditional behavioural norms. Because of this wide variation of knowledge and practice this topic lends itself to a conference where contributions from a wide range of countries and disciplines are represented.

The Issues
To explore this subject in more detail we welcome submissions which address some of the following issues or others related to them

  • Life stages and culture
  • Childhood versus Adulthood
  • Who are the Elderly?
  • Medical developments and interventions
  • Media impact and effect on perceptions
  • Technology and its impact
  • 21st century issues:-
    • Climate change
    • Genetically modified foods
    • Energy sources
    • Communications
    • Social changes e.g. Working mothers; Care of elderly

Related themes will also be identified for development and exploration. Out of our deliberations it is anticipated that a series of related cross-context research projects will develop. We welcome contributions from all those who have an interest in or are engaged in research into this topic, whether historically or contemporaneously. History, anthropology, medicine, social work, nursing, psychiatry, sociology, gerontology, criminology, psychology, law, literature, and cultural studies are just some of the disciplines that seek to understand this phenomenon, and this conference is designed to facilitate inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches to the issues, from a range of societal settings all over the world.