May 1, 2018 by Jean
Last week, I attended a Symposium on Aging put on by the interdisciplinary Aging Initiative at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.The all-day symposium included a plenary session, breakout sessions on a variety of topics, opportunities for networking, and a performance of Elizabeth Peavey’s one-woman show, “My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother.” The symposium was well worth the effort to be out of the house before 7:00 a.m. and at the USM campus in Portland for the 8:00 a.m. start.
Although I took away something of value from every part of the day, I found a presentation by Julie Sweetland especially enlightening. Sweetland is a sociolinguist at FrameWorks Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping other nonprofit organizations communicate their messages more effectively. FrameWorks Institute does this by studying the frames we use to understand social problems and providing suggestions about how to shift those frames. If you are not a linguist, you may be wondering what a “frame” is. Think of a frame as a story we tell to make sense of some event or issue.
Since this was a symposium on aging, Sweetland’s presentation focused on how Americans frame aging. After presenting research findings about the stories we tell about aging and the negative images of aging that they reinforce, she provided research-based suggestions about how to shift those frames. Here is a chart from FrameWorks Institute’s website that summarizes those suggestions:
One of the key themes of Sweetland’s presentation was the need to shift from discussions of aging that frame it as a problem of people who are distinctly different from normal adults (a discourse that defines elders as “other”) to discussions that emphasize continuity and use the language of “we” and “us.” (You can see this shift in many of the examples above.) I hope to explore what this means for my own thinking about aging and ageism in a coming post.