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When You're 64: Publics, Aging and Community in San Francisco

  • Author(s): Alley, Richard Jason
  • Advisor(s): Chen, Nancy N.
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation investigates the politics of aging in the contemporary United States vis-à-vis welfare work, public spheres and everyday life. As a quick glance at any recent news headline will reveal, the demographic realities of an aging population has become a pressing concern for policymakers, families and communities throughout the United States. From documentaries about Alzheimer's disease to debates around pension reform, old age has captured the collective imaginary with uncanny zeal. A city often identified with its bohemian youth culture, San Francisco is home to the largest urban older adult population in the state of California, approximately 14% of who are over the age of 65. For many residents, migration to retirement communities is either financially out of reach or socially undesirable, creating a new set of realities whereby seniors opt to "age in place." Based on a year and a half of ethnographic fieldwork from 2009 to 2010 with a coalition of organizations focusing on queer aging, a group of seniors forming a nascent care network amongst one another as well as interviews with older San Franciscans, I examine the aging publics and lifeworlds coming into being in one American city. Throughout, I argue that aging offers a lens through which to analyze competing visions of American modernity--one vision focusing on individuality and independence, another stressing the importance of community and connection.

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