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Review by Celeste Pang, University of Toronto, Email: celeste.pang@mail.utoronto.ca 

Keywords: aging

What can a close reading of twentieth century caregiver guide books tell us about contemporary austerity thinking, ageism, and ableism? How can postcolonial theory drive critical analyses of global dementia policy? How have aging and disability been wrought separately in public policy, to what ends? What new questions and modes of understanding do the arts and arts-informed research bring forward to considering “the aging-disability nexus”? 

These are but some of the questions that contributors to The Aging-Disability Nexus address, and moreover, may make the reader wonder they have never asked themselves about before. 

Provoked, as the editors Katie Aubrecht, Christine Kelly, and Carla Rice, write, “by recognition of the marginal status of disability in cultural gerontological considerations of intersectionality and art, and of aging in disability studies scholarship” (viii). This fourteen chapter edited volume represents one culmination of collective conversations exploring the nexus of aging and disability. Scholarship pursuing this nexus—or “nexuses,” as Ruth Bartlett and Alison, contributors to the engaging closing Dialogue, suggest—is limited, but rich, and this volume represents an important and inspiring moment in critical uptake. 

This volume will be of interest to readers from across academic fields, and with a range of topical and, notably, methodological interests. Along with the perhaps obvious audiences of disability and aging studies, I think that this is an important read for public health and policy.There also includes many sources of inspiration as well for students or others interested in or seeking “evidence” for the promise of humanities scholarship. 

Following a succinct and descriptive introduction, which includes chapter summaries, the volume is organized into three parts: Part 1, Conceptualizing the Nexus; Part 2,  Politics of Care; and Part 3, Timescapes and Landscapes. 

Part 1 explores the theoretical intersection of disability studies and cultural gerontology/aging studies. The four chapters within work to orient the reader towards ways that one may approach thinking about aging and disability together, from theories that might be brought into conversation and key areas of problematization to modes of inquiry. Amanda Grenier, Meridith Griffin, and Colleen McGrath begin with paradoxes, and the exclusionary implications of the institutionalized model of the life course and structured dependency for people with disabilities and older people. Lucy Burke considers the aging-disability-dementia complex with an engrossing close reading of two dystopian novels—one set among single people over fifty in a reserve bank for biological materials and one centered around a family in post-debt crisis USA. Bothdraw on questions about neoliberal paradigms, waste and value, and cultural significations of dementia. Troubling what she calls “austerity thinking”, Sally Chivers brings a crip lens to caregiver guidebooks, and drives home the case for close reading. Wrapping up the section, in a piece that contributes to a strong focus on the creative arts in this volume as a whole, Monique Lanoix offers a discussion of creative agency and myths of control through a phenomenological analysis of dance for people with Parkinson’s disease. 

Part 2, Politics of Care compiles contributions focusing on policies and encounters in long-term care and home care. In the wake of the pandemic and what this has meant for a broader questioning of the viabilities of different forms of institutional and community care, it forwards an especially timely conversation about the intersections of aging and disability and conceptualizations of care. Debates about autonomy and care in the regulation of care in Ontario long-term care homes (Poland Lai), the potentials for a critical ethics of care in rethinking long-term care policy (Maggie Fitzgerald), and the legibility of legacies of disability activism in public discourses concerning direct funding for older people (Christine Kelly), are important and complex conversations that these contributors forward in a way that will raise questions for readers who are new to thinking about these issues or who may feel too well-versed. I was particularly drawn by Christine Kelly’s keen questioning of empowerment discourses, and also still bold wading into a key fissure between aging studies and disability studies when it comes to perspectives on care. 

The qualitative and critical ethnographic contributions by Rachel Barken and Alan Santinele Martino, and Margaret Oldfield and Nancy Hansen, respectively, ground the reader in encounters with care, They also show how powerful ideologies of ability and expectations about age shape the everyday experiences and potential futures of people aging with and into disability. Notable, the pieces in this section are predominantly grounded in a Canadian (and therein, Ontario) context. 

Part 3, Timescapes and Landscapes begins with a plunge into narrative films from the Re Vision archive (viewing link included). Nadine Changfoot and Carla Rice analyze a selection of six films created by aging and disabled storytellers, highlighting the potentials of new materialisms, intrasectional frameworks, and improvisational arts-informed research.Changfoot and Rice mention, “The integral experiences of aging and disability hold possibilities for those who are aging into disability or aging with disability for becoming otherwise, revealing new materialities of desirability and livability that do not map onto binaries of success or failure, fixed or broken, worthy or unworthy” (176). Anne McGuire’s chapter that follows, “From Boomer to Zoomer: Aging with Vitality under Neoliberal Capitalism,” picks up these binaries, and the differently expansive creation of the cultural figure of the “zoomer.” Tracing this figure with that of the boomer through a series of delightfully titled subsections, McGuire also shines light on the twisting path of media and political power. 

The final three chapters of the volume mark a departure from the predominant Canadian focus with pieces that examine the mythic language of dementia in global dementia policy (Katie Aubrecht and Akwai Boafao), reflect upon dynamics of aging, disability, and HIV/AIDS in the experiences of older women caregivers in South Africa (May Chazan), and explore experiences of social exclusion in the British countryside (Nathan Kerrigan). 

The pieces in this volume offer multiple inroads to think more deeply, broadly, and creatively about aging and disability, and about what centering an aging-disability nexus in critical inquiry can do. With the wide array of scholarship and approaches, this nexus is the thread that holds the collection together, but one that does seem to grow a bit thin at times. However, this is more a note perhaps on mode of reading, especially given the notable gap in concentrated critical scholarship on this nexus or intersection. 

I look forward to reading the new and renewed ideas and coalitions that this volume inspires. 

This review was published as part of Disability Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2022.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated.

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

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