Wray, Sharon (2003) Connecting agency, ethnicity and ageing. Sociological research online, 8 (4). ISSN 1360-7804

The experience of growing older in Britain is ethnically and culturally differentiated. Yet, mainstream gerontological and sociological approaches to ageing have failed to examine, in any detail, the interconnections between agency, ageing and ethnic diversity. This means that theories of ageing often exclude experiences outside the 'traditional' domain. Here, traditional includes those theories of ageing that have relied on western (British/American) concepts to measure personal power and fulfillment in later life. Yet, the meanings attached to agency, empowerment, autonomy and independence vary in relation to the specificities of time, space and culture. Despite this, western culturally specific concepts tend to underpin the notion of 'successful ageing'. This paper questions both the effect this has on how agency and empowerment are theorised and the extent to which some experiences are excluded by definition. It presents findings from an ESRC qualitative research project on womenís experiences of agency and dis/empowerment in later life across ethnic diversity. There were differences, for instance, in the timing of old age, what constituted control and agency and womenís relationship with their bodies, as they grew older. The paper considers the extent to which current gerontological and sociological theories and concepts of ageing adequately represent ethnic and cultural differences in what it means to grow older.

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