Research and Reality

I see the Oxford Institute of Ageing is holding its second Spring School in April, following the apparent success of its first such event last year. The institute describes itself as multi-disciplinary and believes that the production of high quality, strategic research, informed by good policy and practice, will lead to a greater understanding of societies as they age. An excellent aim. They identify a need for ‘an academic network focusing on skill-building and information-sharing within the global ageing research community’. The theme for the Spring School is ‘The Multi-Disciplinary Toolkit for Global Ageing Research’.

Clearly the school like the institute is primarily an academic exercise. The format of the school will be to ‘address concepts and tools in demography, bio-demography, bio-medical research and practice, economics, sociology, health and policy. Special emphasis will be placed on developing methodological skills, both from quantitative and qualitative perspectives.

Additional opportunities for networking and informal discussion will be provided through poster sessions, research discussions and workshops. There will be an opportunity for participants to submit an abstract and present their own research findings’.

Quite apart from the fact that I don’t easily relate to this language, and have never been an academic, the way the institute explains its purpose seems remote from the interests of these blogs. When we set off on this journey in October 2005 I explained that where possible my concern was to be factual and to identify experiences that belong to many of us as we age, and that whilst I admired people who say ‘I am as young as I feel’, I suggested that often we don’t feel a bit young. ‘Being old’, I said, ‘is more than feeling; it demands a level of realism about the decline, but also a recognition of the new perspectives that ageing provides’.

It’s had its ups and downs – as I have – but after nearly 120 postings, the Ageing blogs continue. I miss any such sense of personal experience in the way the Oxford Institute presents itself, indeed of persons per se. Their approach makes me feel as if I am a speciman under someone’s microscope, the Institute subject to a structured bureaucracy, keeping some people busy by being busy. But then I read on their website a balancing comment made about last year’s School. ‘There was a huge sense of an underlying compassion and sense of deep concern for human welfare in general that was actually quite moving’. Does the Institute’s spiel conceal the spirit of the exercise, and is my reaction unfair?

I am not part of a ‘global ageing research community’ but because of my age, claim a place in a diverse ad hoc community of ageing people.

The two communities may need to talk to each other.