Ageing, the Body and Social Change: Running in Later Life by Emmanuelle Tulle (auth.)

By Emmanuelle Tulle (auth.)

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Embodied agency appears reduced to the management of identity predicated on the denial of the phenomenological dimension of ageing in a bid to retain control and relevance. The relationship between ageing embodiment, the modalities of agency it enables and the structures in which older bodies are caught remains under-theorised. How can we judge whether exercising, for instance, will overturn the marginalisation of ageing social actors? As I argued in the Introduction, we cannot evaluate the potential for resistance of ageing embodiment to the social and cultural marginalisation of the old without an end point, that is the achievement of significant social change.

McPherson (1994) uses the concept of “learned helplessness’’ to denote not simply the socio-structural barriers to physical exercise that enfeeblement represents, but also the acceptance by older people themselves that they ought not to exercise. He also alludes to the lack of structures in which older people who might want to do so may be encouraged to develop physical activity strategies. Ironically, enfeeblement speeds up attrition in muscle mass and mobility, leading to the decrease in physical competence normally associated with later life (see Singh 2002).

What emerges from these studies are bodies which are subjected to highly organised forms of control within the broader logic of late modernity. As Wacquant (1998: 346) puts it, “boxers offer us but an exaggerated, idiosyncratic, instantiation of a generic social process’’. Through body work, we come to embody individual distinctions within the confines of a pre-existing structure, as provided by habitus. On the other hand, in their respective ways, these are also marginalised pursuits, as the bodies and values which they produce are ambiguous.

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