HomeBetween detachment, resumption and ascendancy: living growing old

Between detachment, resumption and ascendancy: living growing old

Entre déprise, reprise et emprise : vivre le vieillir

International and interdisciplinary conference

Colloque international et interdisciplinaire

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Published on Friday, January 03, 2014 by Julie Abbou


Ce colloque international inaugure l’opération de recherche APROVICO (Analyse du PROcessus de VIeillissement par la méthode des COhortes) du projet « Structuration des mondes sociaux » (SMS) du LAboratoire d’EXcellence (LABEX). Réalisée dans le cadre d’un travail interdisciplinaire réunissant sociologues, anthropologues, géographes, médecins, historiens, linguistes et philosophes, ce colloque a pour objectif de développer et d’enrichir la réflexion autour des expériences du vieillissement et de ses modes d’expression. Il s’adresse à la fois à des chercheurs en sciences humaines, sociales et médicales, à des professionnels et des institutionnels exerçant dans le champ du vieillissement.



This international symposium inaugurates the APROVICO research (Analyse du PROcessus de VIeillissement par la méthode des COhortes) included in the « Structuration des Mondes Sociaux » (SMS) project supported by the LAboratory of EXcellence (LABEX). Created as part of an interdisciplinary task involving sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, physicians, linguists historians, and philosophers this conference aims to develop and enrich the thinking on experiences of aging and its modes of expression. It is addressed to both researchers of human and social sciences, physicians, professionals and institutions specialized in the field of aging.

Starting point of this symposium

The starting point of this conference and, more specifically of the research program underlying it could be described as follows: given the increased life expectancy and the mass arrival in an old age of the baby boomers during the coming years, it is important to improve the knowledge on the dynamics of aging. Longitudinal studies, like this one originating this symposium, should help, especially by taking into account the different steps of aging and its transformations, in particular according to social classes and gender. If the existing data (both quantitative and qualitative) give a view of people from different age groups at a given time (Clement and Lavoie, 2005; Membrado et al, 2005. Membrado, 2009; Membrado and Salord, 2009; Membrado 2010; Meidani and Membrado, 2010), it is clear that we know little about their situation when they were 60 years old, their living and  health conditions, their networks or their ways of living.

Scientific context

Biomedical conception of aging, including economic and political concerns, finally gave a negative image of aging, frequently criticized by sociologists since twenty years (Charpentier et al., 2010, Clement et al. 1995, Lalive d'Epinay, 2000; Caradec, 2004). As a matter of fact, since the mid-twentieth century, aging oscillates between two poles that oppose and complement each other: the "young - old", the seniors, and the "dependent" people. The most optimistic interpretation of aging, based on the gain of years of life, highlights a hegemonic model of "ageing well". Considering the increase of life expectancy, this model shows the limits of technocratic thinking and reveals the shortcomings and the denial of thoughts about aging, shaping reductionist approaches, sexist and ageist, contributing to cancel the complexity and the diversity of experiences of aging.

However, the consideration of the ageing introduces discrepancy in the panorama of the hegemonic socioeconomic and political normative consensus, and means retroceding to seniors values rejected by the dictates of market productivity and performance, it means reconsidering the spatial and time arrangement, it means rethinking the social networks of the seniors, it means questioning the notion of autonomy and occurring "losses". By proposing the concept of detachment Barthe, Clement and Drulhe in 1988 try to address the theories of old age marked by the concept of disengagement emerged in the USA during the 1960s. Then, Clement et al., in 1996 and in 1999, with Mantovani (1999) or later with Membrado (2010), or Meidani and Membrado in 2010 never stopped supplying the concept with data from sociological studies that will refine these thoughts. Beyond these researches, the concept will be enthusiastically welcomed by other French researchers who will use it (Caradec, 2008). `

Anyway, how can we characterize what we call detachment? It is a way of reorganising and managing its life course life and sometimes even of the person who, from time to time, attempts to substitute activities or relationships, occurring after various breaks (retirement, widowhood, bereavement) and disabilities (accident, fall), increasing the feeling of fragility and the loss of control over the world, inducing the feeling of not being able to accomplish what was possible when the strength and the desire were there. During this negotiation and reconstruction task with oneself, others and the environment that works by selection, economy of forces and reorientation, people try to pace themselves experimenting by trial and error what can still be done. Such conversion strategies aimed at ensuring a kind of energy saving as a means to preserve ones integrity against the irreversibility of time.

The concept of detachment especially highlights the lack of linearity in these courses of life where detachment and retake work together. In other words, more or less important transitions that characterize the aging meet negotiations revealing the detachment. However this process is not clear: if aging is characterized by breaks, it also involves control and, sometimes, even grips. Characterized by their heterogeneity, the life course of the elders concerns us: if life expectancy without disability increases in the higher age groups, social and gender inequalities persist (Clement et al 2000.).

We noted other kind of more worrying detachment (Clement and Mantovani, 1999), where the proximity of death is distressing. In these scenarios, the relationship to the family environment is frequently difficult and the feeling of having no longer control over their own life choices leads to attitudes of withdrawal. Banned of the world, the aged people don't feel to belong no longer to the society and have a sense of insecurity, situations that are frequently accompanied by a feeling of uselessness. That led to a very negative perception of the world, expressed under the register of the complaint characterizing the uncontrolled detachment process. When old age is synonymous with disease, the detachment process is frequently an ultimate one. Among the detachment indicators, we note signs of alteration in impairment to time and space as well as a strong tendency to disorientation. It is not rare that these forms of detachment (worried, uncontrolled, ultimate) go hand in hand with forms of depression.

It should be stressed here that if losses can be noted, satisfaction could occur. This process is especially present in the beginning of the twenty-first century marked by an increased longevity in our Western societies. In this context, detachment leads to reconstructions that look like a control (or overinvestment) based on a selection process of activities and links especially when we consider some "young old" people who have the physical, material or even heritage resources for it. Consequently, we observe more and more frequently the concern of the older people to conserve their physical strength in order to maintain what they consider as an extraordinary task to free themselves of some so that they remain fully involved in others considered as more important matters, when professional constraints are gone, when children are no longer at home etc. Consequently, trying to understand ageing experiences is more relevant by incorporating the aging process in a wider social conception, in which ageing is not reduced to health hazards, but is an integral part of individual social trajectory including interactions with others and with the environment. Note that the control process (as the detachment process) is generally expressed with a feeling of serenity and continuity strongly reminding that the ageing figures depend on the living conditions characterizing the life course of the subjects.

Using the concepts of detachment and control, we try to describe a "normal" and normalizing process, highly heterogeneous, that might make understandable the ordinary figures of the ageing. According to the life courses and the socio-demographic profiles of the seniors, these figures involve sometimes-strong relationships to the family circle, sometimes desire for independence often built since a long time. Subsequently, detachment and control are the result of strategies of adjustment to different kind of physiological, social and relation constraints, with a probability of occurrence and specificities are combined differently according to different people. Consequently, the experience of ageing can be described both as a tension between the sense of physical and cognitive limits and the will to ensure a continuity in their identity construction and as a desire to have a different presence in the world.

Topics of the symposium

According to the researches performed in Toulouse, the conference aims at questioning the notion of detachment, considered here as a descriptive tool of aging experiences, aims at testing its relevancy for the younger seniors and aims at finding indicators that could be used to appreciate its different configurations: shapes of detachment, control and retake. According to these observations, our approach analyses ageing as a process, as a series of biographical and relational transitions (Caradec, 2000). Inspired by the American work on life course analysis, we propose to analyse these transitions without setting the focus on a particular age category (senior, third age, fourth age, etc.).

Given the analytical perspectives outlined below, three lines were selected for this conference:

  • 1st Axis _ Residential trajectories and temporalities: habitat and time markers;
  • 2nd Axis _ Health trajectories: between autonomy and dependence, fragility and vulnerability;
  • 3rd Axis _ Networks and sociability: around help configurations;
  • 4th Axis transverse _ Place of political, methodological and multidisciplinary issues in the study of aging and social inequalities

These dimensions form a resultant resulting in the identification of different shapes of aging and mechanisms of detachment, control and retake that constitute them.

How can we understand and report these singular experiences of aging? On one hand, through the words of the elders, especially through their stories, and on the other hand, through their relationships to the body, health, space, time and to the other - relationships said, described, measured or observed.

Axis 1 - residential trajectories and temporalities: habitat and time markers

Residential trajectories, motilities, perception of 'home', appropriating or avoiding space, structuring a typical day, social rhythms are striking markers of ageing. In France, valuing of "homecare", as promoted by public policies and by the gerontological position underlying it promoted a "static" representation of the "older people". This "static" perception, both literally and figuratively, goes against the residential trajectories reflected by the courses of aging people. The analysis of these trajectories show the need to take into account socio-technical changes, complex migration and mobility forms and the secondariness shapes resulting therefrom, without forgetting the new practices of habitat, more or less modified, or the conditions of availability of space.  If the citizenship of older people commonly comes as right user, right to access and move, the "gerontophobes" cities are now a point of confrontation of oneself to the other, accompanying the adjustment of the social identity and of the individual practices. That indicates that the factory citizenship with a variable geometry illustrates the different configurations of "home" and reveals the proliferation of territorial frameworks which composes it.

While the relation to the environment changes, the relations with time become more complex. These diversified relations reveal diverse generational cleavages and disparities between different ages and social groups straining intergenerational solidarity. These changes, more or less brutal, subtle or insidious, interfering with the relationship to time, have a direct impact on the reconfiguration of the social rhythms of everyday life. The re-composition of the daily life is then the sign of this time passing taking us closer to the experience of death. Memory institution, object adjusted to the real or perceived erosion of the abilities as the metamorphosis of the social links, ageing is subjected to the test of time, both in its material and symbolic dimension. The increasing complexity and diversification of relation to housing, time and real estate are constantly reminded of these issues that challenge us today to question the notion of control that can sometimes accompany the ageing process.

Axis 2 – Trajectories of health: between autonomy and dependence, fragility and vulnerability.

If time constructed, managed and punctuated by the relatives’ and professionals’ interventions, inform us about the social and political figures of ageing, these restructuring processes of the identity characterizing the fact of getting older, make of health and of the relations to the body a singularly appropriate expression. From this point of view, the body is a medium of the reflective experience of ageing. Beyond these words, difficulties considering health that have affected their life (cancerous pathologies, Alzheimer etc.) and that are added to their biographical nodes (retirement, widowhood, etc.) find their expressions in a number of ethnographic detail observed in these small arrangements with these bodies that are gradually depleted. 

However, these ethnographic data cannot be reduced to an exclusive mapping of these illness, dependency or fragility trajectories and of the resulting accommodation paths. Beyond detachment and occasions that mark the ageing process, these narrative and staging of itself reveal the identity dimension of ageing.

Moreover, the ageing process questions the notion of autonomy, conditioned by diverse health course, but not exclusively by them. If the introduction of the question of autonomy put health, disability and / or chronic illness (Alzheimer, cancer etc.) within the ageing process and the decision making mechanisms operating in it, autonomy involves in addition the question of resources. Sown by social disparities and gendered inequalities, these realities mediate the relation to the body and call for further consideration of the social representations that drive them. Consequently, the cursor moves encouraging us to explore the configurations of the care and the cure and the tensions that run through, especially those who set the care provided to our seniors in the middle of the fragile balance between cure and care. In addition, we have to highlight that these configurations may sometimes meet a market and expanding logic of these bodies, more or less decayed by age.

Beyond any disparaging assessment of ageing, the identity construction of the person is less likely to relate to a projection toward the future than in a revival of the past. However, these relations "of old men and women’s'” to health and to their bodies are rarely the only result of the materiality of these areas and their life stories. These relations to the body and to the health additionally reflect the importance of this part of the social that pervades any subject. They consequently invite us to question further the context of relationships that operate the co-production of health, old age, fragility, dependence and independence for which the figures (individual and collective) about ageing, never join completely each other. Any body weakened by age, disease or disability still remains marked by links with others that it should accurately reflect when it comes to study ageing.

Axis 3 - Networks and sociability: configurations of care

It is clear that the image of the deficit age where invisibility and immobility are combined remains particularly significant. In this perspective, advancing in the age is synonymous with the gradual narrowing of relations to the others, space and time up to the confinement in the intimate sphere (home, nursing home, etc.). In contrast to these simplistic representations, examining the social networks of older people reveals more complex and diverse figures of a plurality of individual and collective ageing. Far from the elaborations in externality of the old age, we encourage the communicators to consider the plurality of the experience reflected by the stories of old people endeavoring to show how, not exclusively the time and place, but the others, too, are mediators of the ageing experiences.

At this finding we have to add the ordinary accomplishing or extra-ordinary activities, in which the terms of sociability are implemented, the relationship between self and the world, the care and cure configurations. In other words, these activities clearly reveal the social bases of these ageing figures. Revisited in terms of social networks, these activities involve sociability issues specific to the ageing process. Researches on the detachment show that, as singular as it is the ageing experience remains common marked by transitions encouraging people to reorganize their activities and relational universe that support them. Thus the ageing process continuously crosses the self-experience of ageing and the eyes of the others, this intersection determining the relational space,  materializing a singular experience. As a matter of fact, the relation to the other, operating within the course of ageing, is one of the most relevant analyzers of the multi- dimensionality of the ageing experience.

From this point of life the detachment involves a mix of redevelopments, shifts and reconfigurations of the relation to oneself, to the relational, symbolic and material environment. Trying to preserve what is important, the old person prefers to free itself of some of his/her activities remaining fully involved in others that he/she considers as essential. This process is composed of multiple lines of tension, sometimes even contradictory. Some of them refer to this back and forth between the distancing and the attachment to the world, other old persons oscillate between choices and constraints. Whatever the tension level, the social environment can strengthen or even legitimize stigma and thereby participate in a form of exclusion.

Axis 4 cross – The place of political, methodological and multidisciplinary issues in the study of ageing and social inequalities

Political Issues: This quick overview highlights the need to consider the context in the analysis of the ageing process, trying to take into account the French specificity, and its sociocultural and political anchoring and examining the public policies crossing the field of ageing. In other words, beyond the dimensions mentioned above, the experience of ageing also shows how the societies consider the diversity of the life trajectories and fit into both their material and symbolic organization, the relation to the finitude. From this point of view, one of the aims of this symposium is to break with this ethnocentric look that is still altering the experiences of ageing.

Methodological Issues and multidisciplinary: Communications within any particular axis will focus on the putting into words and bodies of the ageing, in other words on the stories of our elders as they are mobilized not only in interviews but also through the media. The objective is to show the methods of presentation and staging of the ageing person, structuring identity games and issues. In addition, the communications will examine the trend to enclose the life stories of ageing inside the production of "socially" recommended "autobiographical discourses", nostalgic inventories of past events. The phenomena of "normative charges" in the discursive production or staging oneself will be also examined. Technical, biomedical, scientific or secular discourse, insinuated in the genesis of identity (narrative or otherwise) shall also be considered. From this point of life, we must be attentive to the "effects" that various "media" of saying and observation data have on our thinking about ageing. Life stories, questionnaires administered face-to-face or by mail, stills or longitudinal approaches do not have the same methodological and epistemological requirements. Studying the context of production of oneself remains a capital issue of research in the social sciences. This study invites us to think with a renewed acuity about the ways in which different disciplines take over an object such as old age to build their empirical basis. This point also provides the foundation for multidisciplinary thinking and boost methodological challenges.

Social inequalities: The experience of ageing is plural. It is as diverse as are the life course of men and women, parameterized by multiple social positions and affective, representational and existential universes, also varied. From this point of view, the experiences of ageing are crossed by social inequalities. Communicators should pay a particular attention to issues of social inequalities as they may appear in the field of ageing and life course. Within the world of inequalities we encourage speakers to develop their thinking in a gendered issue showing to what extent, whereupon and how the experiences of ageing are crossed by gender relations.

Through these three dimensions of the experience of ageing (the spatiotemporal markers, the autonomy, and the networks), we want to submit to the collective reflection the experience of ageing, revisited in terms of the notion of the detachment, control and/or retake. From the detachment to the retake through the control, the expected communications should question the surprises that analytical thinking reserves when it comes to understanding what age means. If the ageing is an occasion to accommodate the transformations induced by the passage of time and the hollows of accommodations that come with the advancing age, the “want” sometimes comes off the "power." But this experience, faraway to be disqualifying, signals a "distance" to things that landscape. Communicators should make sense of these paths of accommodation, with an emphasis on action strategies put in place to overcome these "losses" and save the essential. In this context the aim is to account for these "arts to", questioning their development in time and space, as well as in the relation to oneself and to others. Away from disabling and/or exogenous figures of ageing, we shall pay attention to gendered disparities considered as a method of differentiation and prioritization operating within the societal. Proposals for papers should therefore take place within one of the axes described above while reserving a place of their reflection to the deployment of the questions around issues of contextualization, methodology and/or multidisciplinary.

Proposals for papers must enroll in either of these axes

Scientific topics concerned

Aging, quality of life, health, autonomy, risks, vulnerabilities, handicap, gender, social inequality and public policy

Submission guidelines

The deadline for submitting proposals is 28 February 2014, 12am.

Proposals should be sent to the following email address: deprise2014@gmail.com

The format of the proposals is 2 500 to 3000 characters (spaces included) and presents the purpose of the research , the problem, methodology and results.

It should be noted at the top of page: the full name, title and institutional affiliation of the authors (mention the case of a thesis research in progress) as well as the email address to use for trade. Authors are invited to report, the title of the axis to which they refer.

Thank you to name your file as follows: nom.prenom.axen° doc.

Proposals will be selected according to their scientific quality and originality of mobilized empirical material.

Authors will be notified of the selection results in mid-March 2014.

Short texts (20 000 to 30 000 characters) will be expected to END in March 2014 to permit further discussion and to consider, for some texts, a publication.

Entry forms must be sent BEFORE March 21, 2014: inscription.colloque.deprise@gmail.com

What are the consequences to be expected in this symposium?

This manifestation will be followed by a publication organized in three stages:

•   The publication in a book based on a selection of the best papers (including plenary sessions and workshops of the symposium)
•   The internal dissemination of the papers of the symposium within the review of the laboratory LISST – CERs and the site of LABEX_SMS
•   The publication of a special issue in an English scientific journal will target communications made upstream in the context of the Workshop of the Scientific Committee (7 ; 8 & 9 April 2014)

This symposium by its international and multidisciplinary dimensions will consolidate and develop collaborations already initiated in France and abroad.

It will support an objective of promoting research on aging from the pool of doctoral students by providing to them guidance and opening collaborations with federative research networks generated and perpetuated by the scientific event.


Deadline for submission of registration form: 21 March 2014

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Gala Dinner on Friday Night April 11, 2014

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Thursday, April 10

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Cheques should be made payable to the " Agent Comptable de l’Université de Toulouse-Le-Mirail” (Accounting of the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail – Agent) and drawn on a French bank.

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Marie-Ange PARISOT


Colloque DEPRISE _ LABEX _ SMS _ APROVICO _ 2014

Maison de la Recherche

Université de Toulouse Le Mirail
5, allée Antonio Machado
31 058 Toulouse _ Cedex Tél : +33 (0)5 61 50 36 70 & Fax : +33 (0)5 61 50 38 70

Courriel : feyfant@wanadoo.fr & maparisot@univ-tlse2.fr& inscription.colloque.deprise@gmail.com



  • Maison de la Rehcrche – Université de Toulouse II – Le Mirail - 5, allée Antonio Machado
    Toulouse, France (31)


  • Friday, February 28, 2014


  • vieillissement, vieillesse, vieillir, qualité de vie, santé, autonomie, expériences, réseaux sociaux, habitat, trajectoires, temporalités, dépendance, care, cure, risques, vulnérabilités, handicap, genre, inégalités sociales, politiques publique


  • Anastasia Meidani
    courriel : ameidani [at] univ-tlse2 [dot] fr

Information source

  • Anastasia Meidani
    courriel : ameidani [at] univ-tlse2 [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Between detachment, resumption and ascendancy: living growing old », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, January 03, 2014, https://calenda.org/272752

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