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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Critical Analysis of Age-friendly Community Initiatives

  • Author(s): Yeh, Jarmin Christine
  • Advisor(s): Fox, Pat
  • et al.

Problem: As aging and urbanization trends converge, developing “age-friendly community initiatives” (AFCIs) has become a global movement and important policy area, aspiring to support people’s desires to age in place regardless of age, income, or ability level. This project interrogated how AFCIs have been operationalized in practice and in the lived experiences of older people. Methods: Situational analysis was a theory-methods package used to compare the conceptual frames undergirding AFCIs with expert knowledges and lay perspectives. Historical and literature reviews, participant observations, and semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with thirteen AFCI experts and seventeen older adults asked to chronicle their everyday lives using disposable cameras. Findings: The rational dreams of AFCIs and material realities of aging in place are misaligned. Older adults elucidated a moving tension between the daily interiority of identity and contingencies of a changing environment that produces a sensation characterized as the uncanny. The vicissitudes of life and precariousness of their positionalities exposed tactics for “passing” as creative forms of resistance to their expulsion from society. This revealed how there are normative structures around which formal systems or institutions involved with AFCIs could impinge upon older adults; highlighting society’s interest in ensuring they remain healthy and safe, lest they be a threat to themselves or burden on others. This project illuminated how aging in place finds meaning through the quotidian; the mundanity of this work is the crux of its poignancy. AFCIs form a biopolitical paradigm because they not only seek to rework boundaries between bodies and environments, they operate as modes of individual and population governance for the sake of health; yet, struggle to find ways to preserve the inclusion of older people in the ongoing social system. This project contributes to gerontological discourse and has theoretical and policy implications for aging in place inequities.

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