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Discerning the Future of the Geographies of Aging

Type: Panel
Sponsor Groups: Health and Medical Geography Specialty Group
Organizers: Andrea Rishworth
Chairs: Andrea Rishworth


Since its inception, geographers and gerontologists have sought to bridge interests in aging to form a broad, loosely defined body of scholarship known as geographic gerontology. Emerging from the confluence of geographies of aging and a more recent ‘spatial turn’ within social gerontology, geographic gerontology represents a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship encompassing the application of geographical perspectives, concepts and approaches to the study of aging, old age and older populations by geographers, gerontologist and allied scholars from the health and social science (Skinner, Andrews, Cutchin, 2019). This work extends literature on the socio-cultural and biological nature of aging, (un)healthy aging bodies in dynamic social and physical environments, and the material and/or affective processes through which aging comes into being, with a particular sensitivity to the importance of place, space and scale (Skinner, Andrews & Cutchin, 2018; Schwanen, Hardill, Lucas, 2012).

While the foundations of a contemporary field of study have been established for over a decade, the full depth, breadth and scope of geographic gerontology has yet to be examined (Skinner, Cloutier & Andrews, 2015). Explanations for this are varied and relate to diverse conceptualizations and applications of core concepts (i.e. place, space, scale), dichotomous examinations of central factors in the aging process (i.e. sociocultural vs. biophysical, social vs. ecological, macro vs. micro), undertheorized and oversimplified human-place relationships, and a general neglect to the majority of the world’s aging populations, and its connections to broader global processes, such as climate change, disasters, conflict, political unrest, and urbanization (Andrews & Duff, 2019; Rishworth & Elliott, 2019; Buse, Martin, Nettleton, 2018; Skinner et al., 2018). Not only do these scholarly gaps underscore a particular irony, considering that the majority of the world’s population is aging, it also calls into question why there remains such a paucity of empirical and theoretical engagement from geographers on aging issues, despite burgeoning geographic work in other subdisciplines. For instance, why is there still no AAG specialty group devoted to aging, despite the many socio-economic, political, environmental and health inequalities older people experience globally?

What is needed is for scholars to envision a renewed interdisciplinary field that takes seriously how and why age, aging and old age matter for all of life. As others in the field aptly argue, it is no longer appropriate to focus on the separation between the natural from artificial, the flesh from technology, the body from society, medical from social, nature from culture, macro from the micro (see Andrews & Duff., 2019; Bengtson & Settersten, 2016; Rishworth & Elliott, 2019; Schwanen, et al., 2012), but rather work together in such ways that fully articulates the goals, objectives and priorities of a truly interdisciplinary field. Geographers have an important role to play in articulating new objectives, envisioning expansive ontological and theoretical perspectives, and formulating new methodologies capable of responding to the emerging biopsychosocial, socio-spatial, and temporal processes affecting aging populations worldwide.

This session brings together a range of scholars working in the geographies of aging to discuss current disciplinary challenges and offer potential opportunities for growth, not only to inject new life into the geographies of aging literature, but also add to the many questions being asked by researchers outside of sub-disciplinary bounds.


Andrews, G., & Duff, C. (2019). Understanding the vital emergence and expression of aging: How matter comes to matter in gerontology's posthumanist turn. Journal of aging studies, 49, 46-55.

Bengtson, V. L., & Settersten Jr, R. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook of theories of aging. Springer Publishing Company.

Buse, C., Martin, D., & Nettleton, S. (2018). Conceptualising ‘materialities of care’: Making visible mundane material culture in health and social care contexts (anchor paper to the special issue). Sociology of Health & Illness, 40(2), 243–255.

Rishworth, A., & Elliott, S. (2019). Global environmental change in an aging world: The role of space, place and scale. Social Science & Medicine, 227, 128–136.

Schwanen, T., Hardill, I., Lucas, S., (2012). Spatialities of aging: the co-construction and coevolution of old age and space. Geoforum 43 (6), 1291–1295.

Skinner, M., Andrews, G., Cutchin, M.P., (2018). Introducing geographical gerontology. In: Skinner, M.W., Andrews, G.J., Cutchin, M.P. (Eds.), (2018). Geographical Gerontology: Perspectives, Concepts, Approaches. Routledge.

Skinner, M. W., Cloutier, D., & Andrews, G. J. (2015). Geographies of ageing: Progress and possibilities after two decades of change. Progress in Human Geography, 39(6), 776-799.


Type Details Minutes
Panelist Malcolm Cutchin Wayne State University 15
Panelist Susan Elliott University of Waterloo 15
Panelist Rachel Herron Brandon University 15
Panelist Andrea Rishworth Pennsylvania State University 15

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