Are We Really Listening? Ageism, Voice, and Older People’s Diversity in Nordic Societies Undergoing Welfare Change

  • Joan R. HarbisonEmail author
Part of the International Perspectives on Aging book series (Int. Perspect. Aging, volume 22)


Western governments and policy-makers generally agree that older people should be included in the discourse on how their welfare needs are met, notwithstanding declining welfare provisions. In this chapter I argue that both the socio-cultural context for older people’s participation in policy development, and the manner in which it is sought, militate against hearing the “authentic” voices of older people. When policy makers fail to meet challenges to the status quo in their knowledge about ageing, policy development continues to occur within dichotomous contradictory frameworks that characterize late life as decline, disease, and decay, or as productive and active. Thus they fail to include diversity in older people’s abilities, resources, needs, desires, and opportunities. When researchers inadequately address the complexities of accessing the voices of older people they fail in their listening.

I begin by commenting on how older people are constructed within the evolving welfare context. I then introduce the idea of “authentic voice” and its links, first to the emergence of critical gerontology, and more recently to “age studies” that incorporate cultural studies, the arts, and humanities. Taking an historical and global perspective I select examples from government policy-making and academic research to illustrate and explore how policy and research frameworks combine to contain and constrain older people’s voices. Finally I discuss the need for policy makers, and researchers to support older people’s agency by revisiting and reintegrating the slippery concept of “authentic voice” in old age.


Ageism Voice Older people’s diversity Welfare change 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social WorkDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

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