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Emerging age asymmetries in the research relationship: challenges of exploring transition to the fourth age


This article opens the discussion on age asymmetries within the research relationship between researchers who are young and able-bodied and research participants who are much older and have acquired impairments in later life. Based on the knowledge of age relations, we present our conceptualisation of power imbalances based on age. We see these asymmetries as co-existing with other forms of power imbalances between researchers and participants, and argue that these asymmetries are not the results of the limitations of the older adults but rather the consequences of different constellations of possibilities for researchers and participants. Moreover, we assert that taking these asymmetries into account is a necessary step when conducting research with people with acquired impairment in later life. As researchers, reflecting on age asymmetries helped us to avoid othering our research participants and prevented us from marginalising their life experiences. Drawing upon our own research, we reflect upon the network of cognitive, physical and social asymmetries that emerged in our research relationships and identify the main challenges that we faced. In the presence of some of these age asymmetries, we approach the research relationship through the roles which we played vis-à-vis the participants. We consider reflecting and addressing these asymmetries to be a necessary step in creating and maintaining a research relationship based on equality. Only a reflexive and transparent approach to these power imbalances can ensure that data collection and analysis do not contribute to their reproduction. This article presents some general insights on research practices and contributes to the debate on power imbalances in qualitative research. The article also contributes to gerontology and provides new insights about the lives of those individuals with acquired impairment in later life, a topic that has so far received inadequate research attention.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Tatiana Sedláková, Office for Population Studies, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Joštova 10, 602 00 Brno, Czech Republic E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
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