Late-life creativity and the ‘new old age’: arts & humanities and gerontology in critical dialogue


Recent work both in the humanities and in the (mainly US-based) field of ‘humanistic gerontology’ has attempted to define late-life creativity in a range of different ways, but the understandings offered are various and, often, ill-defined. By bringing into dialogue academics both in arts & humanities and in critical gerontology (the branch of gerontology most likely, we believe, to offer methodological overlap with the humanities), along with practitioners both in the arts and in old-age care, we seek to move towards a genuinely shared and multidisciplinary understanding of the nature of late-life creativity. Keele University and King’s College London, institutions with both strong arts & humanities disciplines and major centres of gerontological research, are well placed to facilitate the international dialogue needed for the fuller inclusion of arts & humanities perspectives into debates about ageing and creativity.

In recent years, research in social gerontology (Bernard, Scharf, Phillips, Phillipson, Tinker et al.) has focused on new lifestyles and new modes of habitation in later life and their implications for understanding community and well-being; in literature and theatre (McMullan, Ray, Basting, Hutcheon, Taunton), art history (Smiles), and music (Tunbridge), there has been a critical focus on the limitations of habitual constructs of old age (e.g. the idea of ‘late style’) in the assessment of late-life creative output; and in reminiscence theatre (Schweitzer), intergenerational dynamics have challenged essentialist notions of the past and the meanings attached to late-life creativity. In other words, these modes of disciplinary research and creativity have worked to similar ends, but in parallel and out of contact. The logic of the network is to help the two fields converge productively, critically, creatively and practically, so that new understandings of late-life creativity will emerge from critical dialogue and will be able to cross the disciplinary boundaries that so often block discovery.

The network represents, we believe, an opportunity for arts & humanities scholars both to influence policy and practice in gerontology and to learn from the activist and multi-disciplinary tradition of gerontological research, which has always sought to translate ideas into actions designed to enhance social inclusion. For this reason, the dialogues we propose will include not only academics in the two fields but writers, performers, older people involved in creative activity and those involved in the theory, practice and policy of old-age care. The ideas developed will, we hope, both be translated into outcomes that can be widely understood and help give shape to targeted interdisciplinary research, as well as policy thinking, in the future. This, in turn, we believe, will help generate new openings for HE’s engagement with later life and specifically with late-life creativity, both in research and in practice. The network will draw together, and place in dialogue, a very broad range of people involved in a variety of ways with the questions of the long life and of late-life creativity: arts & humanities scholars from a range of disciplinary perspectives and traditions; archivists, creative artists and performers; social scientists and medical practitioners; social care practitioners; and older people as social activist, performers and consumers.

aims and objectives

  • To create a better understanding – an interdisciplinary understanding catalysed by the critical methodologies of the arts & humanities – of late-life creativity.
  • To stimulate sustained conversations between researchers in the arts and humanities, critical gerontologists, older people, creative practitioners and performers, and policy makers in order to provoke new responses to the social, intellectual and creative challenges brought about by an ageing society.
  • To enable the formulation of a shared, interdisciplinary language about ageing and creativity that will provide essential groundwork for future collaborations of a critical, creative, and social-activist nature.
  • To provide a forum for early career researchers in ageing and late-life creativity to exchange ideas and network across disciplines.
  • To provide a forum for international exchange that supports cognate research and practice being undertaken internationally.
  • To investigate the actual and potential impacts of arts and humanities approaches to creativity on practice and policy, by exploring the relationship between critical thinking and strategies of social inclusion and participation.

activities and participants

The network will find its focus in four workshops which will examine key concepts – identity, creativity, memory, community – that are shared between humanities scholars and critical gerontologists but which are understood differently by those working in different academic disciplines, theorists, practitioners, artists, performers and consumers of art.

These workshops will be hosted by the partner institutions: two will take place at Keele and two will take place at King’s. There will be a core group of participants both from the partner institutions and from elsewhere, drawn from a variety of disciplines and reflecting a range of career stages, who will attend all of the workshops, and reflect on them subsequently through the website, blogs, etc.

Participants will include:

David Amigoni (English, Keele, PI)

Gordon McMullan (English, King’s, CI)

Miriam Bernard (Gerontology, Keele)

Chris Phillipson (Gerontology, Keele)

Anthea Tinker (Gerontology, King’s)

Anne D Basting (Center on Age and Community, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)

Hannah Zeilig (Gerontology, King’s, early career)

Michelle Rickett (Social Anthropology, Keele, early career)

Jackie Reynolds (Creative Communities unit, Staffordshire University, early career)

Ruth Basten (Humanities/Counselling, Keele)

Sam Smiles (Art History, Plymouth, emeritus,)

Charlotte de Mille (Art History, Courtauld, early career)

Lucy Munro (English, Keele)

Ben Hutchinson (German, Kent)

Shane Weller (French, Kent)

Robin Hadley (Keele University, PhD candidate, website editor)

Others who have expressed a willingness to be present for one or more workshops include:

Laura Tunbridge (Music, Manchester)

Satish Padiyar (Art History, Courtauld)

Mignon Nixon (Art History, Courtauld)

Brian Hurwitz (Medical Humanities, King’s)

Neil Vickers (Medical Humanities, King’s)

Kélina Gotman (English/Performance Studies, King’s)

Simon Lovestone (Professor of Old Age Pyschiatry, King’s)

Felicity J. Callard (Institute of Psychiatry, King’s)

Pia Kontos (Assistant Professor, School of Public Health, University of Toronto)

Michael Hutcheon (Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto)

Linda Hutcheon (University Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature, University of Toronto)