Cross, Joanna Eleanor
University of Bristol, United Kingdom
In gerontology aesthetics is acknowledged but under-theorized, or premised on representational practices rather than their source material. Hence the potential of an applied aesthetics within cultures of ageing, operationalised according to the Kantian legacy as much as the transformational aesthetics of Dewey (1934) and the contributions of contemporary theorists to environmental aesthetics and aesthetics of the everyday. I further develop Dewey’s pragmatist influence by conceptualising creativity in action theoretical terms (Joas, 1996). My aims have been to determine whether such positions deepen our understanding of later life identities, or de-humanisation in the meeting of need and the constitution of creativity in practice. Fieldwork has involved a multicultural sample of 31, urban dwelling, older people, recruited from social hubs and groups for the visually impaired. Methods have integrated auto-driven, photo-elicitation or reflections with in-depth interviews, organized around themes exploring participants’ cultural attachments and social networks. Data was analysed through a synthesis of performative/dialogic and discourse methods (Reissman, 2008; Rose, 2007). Findings include: firstly, the interstitial nature of both aesthetics and creativity, this consistent with the ‘aesthetics bonds’ that constitute individual authority and ontological security in later life. Secondly, an aesthetically grounded critique of art or nature-as-therapy discourses directed at older people. Thirdly, creative support and survival is a crafting of experience (Sennett, 2008), lending ‘truth to the materiality of later life’. I conclude that this applied aesthetics approach provides a challenge to culturally conditioned, normative assumptions of ageing and a relevant model for hybrid and divergent life styles and identities.