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Older workers’ talk: discursive representations of age, work and retirement identities

Gewolb, Sheila 2016. Older workers’ talk: discursive representations of age, work and retirement identities. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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There is a growing trend for older people in the UK to keep working for longer. The percentage of 50-64 year-olds rose from 62% in 2001 to 69.4% in 2015; and for people over 65, from 5% to 10.5% in the same period (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2015). There are now over 8.5 million people aged over 50 in paid employment (The Experts in Age and Employment (TAEN), 2012). In the context of this changing workforce demographic, it is important to examine how older people negotiate their age-related identities as older workers and represent their views on retirement. This study takes a Discourse Analytic (DA) approach to examining how older age-identity is negotiated in talk, gathered from seven focus groups conducted in workplaces and twelve semi-structured interviews with older workers and retirees. Discourse Analytic research on identity has often neglected to address age-identity construction. The use of DA methodologies in this investigation has enabled discursive strategies, such as distancing strategy, to be identified during participants’ older age-identity constructions; and Social Identity Theory (SIT) (Tajfel and Turner, 1979; Benwell and Stokoe, 2006), positioning theory (Harré and van Langenhove, 1999; Jones, 2006), and Membership Categorisation Analysis (Sacks, 1995; Housley and Fitzgerald, 2002) have provided frameworks for a discourse analytic approach. Older age-identities were negotiated whilst participants were orienting to being older in the workplace and retirement. Previous qualitative studies [into this topic] have focused on a content analysis of what was said, not how. There is a discursive element to age-identity construction that requires a social constructionist, context dependent approach to how age is negotiated through language. In this study, a DA approach has allowed for a micro-level examination which extends previous research by demonstrating how participants use language to negotiate their age-identities as older workers and retirees by drawing on different aspects of ageing, such as chronological, physical and social dimensions [of age] in a specific social context relating to being older at work. Findings indicate that many participants resisted negative perceptions of decrement and decline that may be associated with ageing and retirement when constructing their age-identities. This was achieved in several ways, for example, by discursively claiming membership of a younger age cohort, resisting the changes that accompany ageing, or by ‘out-grouping’ people who were perceived to display certain archetypal behaviours associated with older people. Findings also demonstrate that older people who were still at work articulated negative views about retirement; however, people who had already retired demonstrated a positive orientation towards this life stage. Keeping busy and active after leaving work was said by both older workers and retirees to play a vital part in defraying the possible decline that accompanies old age and may help to achieve successful retirement and ageing. This study has demonstrated how an ideology of positive ageing has been discursively constructed during older age-identity negotiations.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 13 June 2016
Last Modified: 01 Feb 2017 05:36

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