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Shaping the active, autonomous and responsible modern retiree: an analysis of discursive technologies and their links with neo-liberal political rationality



Retirement is undergoing structural and discursive transformations that have implications for the individual and social experience and management of later life. Although discourses about retirement do not determine how individuals will prepare for and act as ‘retirees’, they provide morally-laden messages that shape people's possibilities for being and acting. Using Canadian newspaper articles published in 1999 and 2000, and drawing upon the governmentality perspective, this study explores the interconnections between neo-liberal political rationality and discursive constructions of ‘retiree’ subjectivities. The analysis demonstrates the ways in which certain subjectivities, and their associated technologies and practices of the self that are consistent with neo-liberal political rationality, are being shaped as ideal for ‘retirees’. The paper critically examines this process and its implications, and argues that the personal ‘freedom’ promised with the idealised life practices is ultimately illusory, because they oblige older people to resist or defy ageing through relentless projects of self-reflection and improvement, self-marketing, risk management, lifestyle maximisation and body optimisation. The implications of the neo-liberal discourse about old age and ‘retirees’ for future social policies and older people's services are critically examined.


Corresponding author

School of Occupational Therapy, University of Western Ontario, Elborn College, 1201 Western Road, rm2537, London, Ontario N6G 1H1, Canada. e-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
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