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A Non-Retirement Conference

Frictions between age-related rules and (inter)personal meanings in aging. A conference at the occasion of the non-retirement of Jan Baars.

May 10th, 2012. University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, Netherlands

As Jan Baars will reach the age of 65 years in May 2012, he will have to retire from his regular position at the university because of official age-related policies. Although he has worked for 42 years at different universities, being appointed at the Free University in Amsterdam as Assistant Professor for Sociological Theory at the age of 23, he intends to continue his research and teaching at the University of Humanistic Studies. This university has graciously extended a part-time appointment as Professor until the year 2016. Against this background a conference has been organized to analyze and reflect on the tensions between age-related structural policies, such as mandatory retirement, and personal experiences of aging in contemporary societies. This conference and the part time chair of Jan Baars at the University of Humanistic Studies have generously been supported by the Kronos foundation.

The conference will be held on on May 10th 2012 at the University of Humanistic Studies, Kromme Nieuwegracht 29, Utrecht, Netherlands from 10.00 to 15.00.

Speakers at this conference will be:

Chair: Peter Derkx (University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, Netherlands)

The conference fee is 55 Euros. For students, pensioners and members of the BSG/ NVG there is a reduced fee of 35 Euros. You can register for the conference here.

The freely accessible public part of this conference will be the ‘Non retirement lecture’ which will be given at 16.00 by Jan Baars in the Aula of the Academia Building, Domplein 29, Utrecht, followed by a reception.

The age-related organization of retirement offers an interesting example of frictions between large-scale policies and small-scale, (inter)personal preferences and experiences. At a more structural level it may make sense to tie pension entitlements and retirement to a certain age, as this simplifies calculations and even seems to do justice to everybody. At an (inter)personal level, however, this implies that those who experience serious difficulties to continue working have to struggle on, while those who are fit, eager to remain actively involved and of whom even some productivity may still be expected, are forced to retire. In other words, a formal kind of equality is imposed on very different situations, leading not only to inequality, but also to a loss of meaning in life, isolation of age categories and loss of competence and productivity. However, the age-related policies and regulation do not only clash with individual preferences, they are also strongly ageist and as such they institutionalize a diminished respect for citizens above a certain age. In the official labor market statistics of the Netherlands (CBS, SZW) life stops at the age of 65 years; according to these statistics there is no working life after the public pension age. Not only are those who want to continue with their work on a regular basis not taken seriously, they are not even noticed.

Within the field of aging studies, there are two paradigms that can be helpful to address these issues in a critical way, without arguing a priori from the position of major players in this debate such as governments, trade unions or pension funds. A first paradigm has presented itself over the last 25 years as ‘Critical Gerontology’, focusing mainly on a critical analysis of the implications of societal or macro phenomena (such as globalization, social inequality or the labor market) for aging persons. Whereas Critical Gerontology has drawn mainly on approaches from the social sciences, another range of normatively and, hence, also critically oriented work on aging has drawn on the humanities (history, literature, philosophy) and has sometimes been called ‘humanistic’ aging studies.

However, these two normative approaches have reproduced the usual divide between structurally oriented analyses versus studies of (inter)personal meaning. This conference aims at a more explicit confrontation and, possibly, integration of these two approaches, led by the observation that structural dynamics have consequences for individuals and their life worlds and that many issues of meaning that individuals are dealing with, have important structural dimensions. Not only is the issue of retirement a case in point, but Jan Baars has been one of the very few scholars who have been active in both paradigms and has tried to interrelate them from the perspective of time. On the one hand he has organized international symposia on Critical Gerontology and edited a volume on The New Critical Gerontology with eminent representatives of this paradigm such as Dale Dannefer and Chris Phillipson (who will both contribute to the conference). And on the other hand he has developed philosophical approaches to (inter)personal meaning in aging in his more recent articles and books. In this context he also published with Joseph Dohmen (another speaker at the conference) a collection of philosophical texts on aging De Kunst van het Ouder Worden. De Grote Filosofen over de Ouderdom which will soon be published in an English version by Johns Hopkins University Press. Peter Derkx, the fourth speaker and chairman at this conference, is also a philosopher who has recently published a humanist study of aging Humanisme, zinvol leven en nooit meer ‘ouder worden’.

Some more information about the speakers:

Dale Dannefer is the Selah Chamberlain Professor of Sociology at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio) and  the leading expert on social inequality or, more specifically, processes of cumulative advantage and disadvantage over the life course. In 2009 he was awarded the Riley Distinguished Scholar Award by the American Sociological Association (ASA). He has contributed his expertise to the major handbooks on aging and the life course and has edited with Chris Phillipson The SAGE Handbook of Social Gerontology (2010). Over the years Dale and Jan Baars have organized many international symposia, ever since they organized together a Round Table Discussion on Critical Gerontology at the 1989 World Congress of Gerontology in Acapulco, Mexico. Some of these symposia have resulted in the volume Aging, Globalization and Inequality: the New Critical Gerontology (2006) which was edited by Jan Baars, Dale Dannefer, Chris Phillipson and Alan Walker. For more information about his work see http://goo.gl/mxxAL

Peter Derkx has a background in philosophy and history and is professor of Humanism and worldviews at the University of Humanistic Studies (UvH) in Utrecht. He has published widely on the history of humanism and on humanism as a meaning frame. Since 2008 he chairs the research project “Ageing Well: Well-being, Meaning and Human Dignity” at UvH. Two recent publications are: Humanisme, zinvol leven en nooit meer ‘ouder worden’: een levensbeschouwelijke visie op ingrijpende biomedisch-technologische levensverlenging. Brussel, VUBPRESS, 2011, 232 pp. ISBN 978 90 5487 958 9 and “Engineering Substantially Prolonged Human Life-Spans: Biotechnological Enhancement and Ethics”, in: Ricca Edmondson & Hans-Joachim von Kondratowitz (eds.) Valuing Older People: A Humanist Approach to Ageing. Bristol, The Policy Press, 2009, pp. 177-198. ISBN 978 1 84742 292 7. More information can be found at http://goo.gl/6By9X 

Joseph Dohmen is Professor of Philosophical and Applied Ethics at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht. He studied philosophy in Utrecht, Leuven (Belgium) and Berlin (Germany). In 1992 he co-founded the Dutch periodical Filosofie Magazine and defended his doctoral dissertation Nietzsche over de menselijke natuur in 1994 (Kampen: Kok). In 2002 his first book about the art of living, an anthology, appeared: Over Levenskunst. De grote filosofen over het goede leven. In his ethical work he focuses on ethics of existence, moral education (Bildung) of the young and on the art of aging. This ethics of existence comprises a normative ethics in which the ethics of self care, the ethics of care and virtue ethics are integrated. In this context central themes are autonomy, authenticity, virtues, happiness, attitude, social self-realization, time, freedom and meaning. His other publications are Tegen de Onverschilligheid. Pleidooi voor een moderne levenskunst (2007); Het leven als kunstwerk (2008); Brief aan een middelmatige man (2010); De kunst van het ouder worden (edited with Jan Baars, 2010) and De prijs van de vrijheid (with Maarten van Buuren, 2011). Moreover, he produced in 2011 a box with six CD’s Het leven als kunstwerk, accompanying the book of the same title. Some of his books are presently being translated into English and German. For more information about his work see http://goo.gl/3XHQp

Chris Phillipson has held the post of Professor of Applied Social Studies and Social Gerontology, at the University of Keele since 1988 where he founded the Centre for Social Gerontology. He is the leading expert on social policy, globalization and aging and has (co)edited numerous volumes on these subjects. With Dale Dannefer he edited The SAGE Handbook of Social Gerontology (2010). Forthcoming from Policy Press is a volume with contributions from researchers from The UK, Canada, Ireland and the University of Humanistic Studies entitled Ageing, Meaning and Social structure: Connecting Critical and Humanistic Gerontology, edited by Jan Baars, Joseph Dohmen, Amanda Grenier and Chris Phillipson. For more information about his work see http://goo.gl/SfUb1

Jan Baars was appointed in 2001 at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht as Professor for ‘Aging in a Life Course Perspective, especially Interpretive Gerontology’. He studied Social Sciences and Philosophy, working on aging issues since 1985. One of his first articles “The Challenge of Critical Gerontology: The Problem of Social Constitution” (1991), became a classic in the field and was included in SAGE’s Key Issues for the 21st Century: Ageing (2008), “a collection of articles and chapters that define the field of study”. During the last years he has developed a critique of theoretical and practical approaches to aging starting from an analysis of the concepts of time that are – usually implicitly – used, ranging from measuring lives to deepening their interpersonal horizons. This quest has been documented in Het Nieuwe Ouder Worden. Paradoxen en Perspectieven van Leven in de Tijd. (2006), Aging and Time: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (2007), in his contributions to the Handbook of Theories of Aging (2009), the Guide to Humanistic Studies in Aging (2010) and The SAGE Handbook of Social Gerontology(2010). A more fully developed perspective is unfolded in the book Aging and the Art of Living which will be published by Johns Hopkins University Press in the Fall of 2012.