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Three faces of ageism: society, image and place

  • KEVIN E. MCHUGH (a1)

This paper elucidates and champions a spatiality perspective in social gerontology, by arguing that relationships between older people and the spaces and places they inhabit illuminate deeply-ingrained societal attitudes and values. The trilogy of society, image and place is explored through an interpretive reading of images and scripts in ‘successful ageing’ and ‘anti-ageing’ created and promoted by the booming ‘retirement industry’ in the United States. Six tropes are revealed in an interpretation of prevalent images of ‘Sunbelt Retirement Land’: geographic cornucopia, ageless selves, near perfection, the right stuff, down home living, and nomads of desire. This reading serves as a springboard in elaborating Cole's (1992) notion of bipolar ageism, as we vacillate between negative stereotypes of old age and positive elixirs, such as anti-ageing and agelessness, that are cloaked denials of decline, disease and death. The paper concludes with a series of troubling questions about the perpetuation and depth of ageism in society and culture.

Every present day is determined by the images that are synchronic with it: each ‘now’ is the now of a particular recognizability. (Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 1999: 462–63)

Corresponding author
Kevin McHugh, Department of Geography, Arizona State University, Campus Box 870104, Tempe, Arizona 85287-0104, USA e-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
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