The future is older people: sexual ageism and the history of medicine as public health intervention

In December 2019 PhD student Kazuki Yamada took part in the Cultural Studies Association of Australia 2019 Conference at the University of Queensland. Kazuki’s paper was on ‘The future is older people: sexual ageism and the history of medicine as public health intervention’.

Abstract: Global advances in medicine and public health mean that despite the work still needed in levelling inequalities, most people are now likely to live to 60. However, cultural attitudes towards older people remain slow to adjust and are trapped in biomedically sourced, ageist attitudes understanding senescence as loss and decline. WHO recognises this as problematic and identifies ageism as a public health issue. In this paper, I argue that a historical approach tracing changing conceptualisations of ageing throughout medical and scientific genealogies is essential for projects looking to dismantle ageism. I demonstrate this by drawing strategically on the preliminary results of a project on the history of later life sexuality in Western science (c.1850-1980). I show how contemporary, public health-oriented studies aimed at deconstructing sexual ageism overlook the concept’s reliance on a sociohistorically contingent model of linear temporality, which is revealed when a historical, genealogical perspective is utilised for analysis.

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