We explore sources of insecurity and disquiet as people grow older, including changing life course patterns, historical shifts in living conditions, intergenerational disparities, and (risk of) chronic health conditions. And we examine attempts to pre-empt or manage life course uncertainties.
Life courses and expectations about the stages of life are changing in most societies around the world. New uncertainties and insecurities are emerging, but so are new modes of dealing with them. Relations between generations are transformed as the conditions of life and livelihood shift. Unemployment, migration, loss of adults to AIDS, and changing patterns of marriage and reproduction, reconfigure the social relations of aging. Contested values and plurality of possibilities, together with dramatic turns in political economy, engender reflection and often disquiet about life prospects. Moreover, greater longevity means that people are more likely to live longer with (risk of) chronic conditions. In high income societies, technologies for measuring and managing the body (to promote health and quantify pathology) focus uncertainty and seem to hold out the promise of control. In low income societies, aging is less biomedicalized, although chronic conditions have heavy significance for family relations. In this panel, we wish to examine the process of growing older (not necessarily the state of old age) within a framework of family relations, political economy, and social values. Focus is on the sources of uncertainty and attempts to pre-empt or manage it, whether through daily interactions, societal institutions, social and medical technologies, or ideological commitments. Adopting a life course perspective should ensure a common engagment with temporality and the intertwining of lives across historical and genealogical generations.