ENAS Awards

ENAS Awards 2022

ENAS Award for Best PhD Thesis 2022 – Two winners

Media Relations – How and Why Older Women Care for Information and Communication Technologies (2020) by Barbara Ratzenböck (University of Graz, Austria)

Working, activism, learning, getting news, shopping, leisure, catching up with family and friends – Our societies have long become “digital by default” (Hill/Betts/Gardner 2015: 421). Living digitally is essential for many young people in Europe, whereas particularly older adults are overrepresented among non-users of the internet. In Austria, particularly considerably fewer older women than men use the internet (Statistik Austria 2019; 2020; 2021). To counteract the risk of exclusion from digital society, researchers and policymakers are interested in older women’s ICT use. When, where, how, and why do ICTs matter? How does this connect to a lifetime of experiences with media technologies? To paint a multidimensional portrait of media use, this doctoral research examined how 12 Austrian women, aged 60-70, use ICTs in their everyday lives combining findings from life graph discussions, guided interviews, and walking interviews in small domestic spaces with supplementary statistical data from wave 1 (2016) of the ACT Cross-National Longitudinal Study: Older Audiences in the Digital Media Environment. Although older women are a diverse group, the study identified multiple patterns of their evaluation and use of ICTs, most notably, how their engagement with new ICTs is informed by a double logic of care. Either they use new ICTs to care for others (particularly their families), or, on the contrary, they are too busy caring for others to engage with ICTs. Contrary to common public misconceptions, older women are neither “technophobic” (Neves and Amaro 2012: 2; Suopajärvi 2015: 113), nor generally have a limited interest in ICTs (Sayago and Blat 2010: 117). Rather, as this research indicates, older women are affected by the ascription of narrow social roles that limit the scope of their agency (Maierhofer 2003: 40, 2007: 113, 2012: 99).

The jury highlighted the unquestionable sociological impact of the thesis for its sound analysis of the intersection between technological development and the population aging process. For the jury, the thesis presents an outstanding study of the individual and collective ways in which older women in Austria experience new information and communication technologies after retiring. Moreover, the thesis contributes to method development by the use of the method of walking interviews in small domestic spaces after life graph discussions and guided interviews. According to the jury, the analysis of the use that retired women make of new technologies opens different lines of research that must necessarily be addressed to suppress the digital and social exclusion of older people.

Fictions of Dementia – Narrative Modes for Presenting Dementia in Anglophone Novels (2020) by Susanne K. Christ (Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany).

In the face of the pressing challenges of the demographic change and rising global prevalence of age-related impairments, we have to think about how we want to live with dementia. Cultural artistic production finds forms of engaging with these questions – narratives can be conceptualized as a way of cultural coping with dementia. Located at the interface of the study of literature and culture, my study explores forms and functions of the representation of dementia in Anglophone novels. Dementia is initially conceptualized as a narrative-epistemological paradox: the more those concerned know what it is like to have dementia, the less they can tell about it. The subjective experience of dementia thus rejects knowing by a third person. Among the many cultural narratives about dementia, narrative fiction is the only discourse that provides an imaginative glimpse at the subjective experience of dementia in language. The narratological modelling of four narrative modes elaborates how the paradox becomes productive in fiction on a continuum between proximity to the character and epistemic stability. Depending on the narrative perspective taken, but also on the type of narration, the technique for representing consciousness and the epistemic strategy of narrating dementia, the narrative modes come with different epistemological prerequisites and possibilities for narrating dementia. The analysis of four contemporary Anglophone dementia fictions based on the developed narratological model reveals their potential functions. First, self-narrated and simulated, dementia causes narrative difference, which trains cognitive flexibility, subverts stereotypes, and explores limits of understanding. Second, self-elucidated or explained, narrating dementia allows perspective taking and offers readers the opportunity to learn about the challenges of dementia in everyday life. Third, contextualized, embedded, and elucidated, dementia becomes a backdrop against which the meaning of memory, knowledge, and imagination can be explored.

The jury highlighted the fact that the thesis is valuable because it shows an impressive and all-comprehensive knowledge of literary history, especially from a narratological perspective, and of the current state of the art. This works presents dementia narratives as embedded within other literary streams related with illness, disability, and aging studies and within the current interest in the human consciousness. According to the jury, despite the numerous works on dementia and narrative that have been published before this thesis, this work manages to present an innovative analysis of how dementia must be addressed through the analysis of the narrative strategies and techniques of making subjective experience understood.


ENAS Awards 2019

ENAS Award for Best PhD Thesis 2019

Growing Sideways: Challenging Boundaries between Childhood and Adulthood in Twenty- First Century Britain (2018) by Anne Malewski (Department of English and Creative Writing, University of Roehampton, London)

The focus of Anne Malewski’s dissertation thesis is on alternative perspectives on growth in twenty-first century Britain. The thesis investigates “instances of blurring age boundaries from a unique angle: as examples of growing sideways, an alternative way of growing and being that disassociates from rigid age categories and potentially is as valid as growing up” (4). It endeavors to show that the concept of growth as “a desirable, inevitable, and upward process” is a “pervasive grand narrative that privileges adulthood” and questions these normative concepts in order to explore “less conventional ideas of growth that allow for multitudes of valid experiences” (5).

The methodological reference frame of the thesis is cultural studies and age studies. It intends to reconstruct a discourse of age boundaries, defining the concept of “growing sideways” both with reference to cultural theory and to the film and television series and children’s literature it examines as primary source material.

The research questions Malewski identifies and explores are:

  • How is growth identified and evaluated as normative and non-normative in different contexts?
  • How are different kinds of age boundaries identified and how are they imposed?
  • How can age boundaries be contested, traversed differently, altered, discarded, or circumvented through sideways growth?
  • Can growing up be defined as a long-term venture that culminates in adulthood? Can growing sideways, by analogy, be seen as a short-term or also as a long-term endeavor? Where does it lead?
  • How do factors such as race, class, and gender impact growth?

The foci of the thesis are the possibilities and limitations of non-normative growth as “sideways growth.” The historical reference point is contemporary Britain. This is explained by Malewski’s view on the contemporary moment as one “at which ideas of growth are being (re-)negotiated in various settings and cultural forms especially broadly, diversely, and urgently, and in specific, new forms” (13). For the analysis of conceptual areas of her reconstruction of a discourse of age boundaries, Malewski identifies the three areas of appearance, play, and space, which relate “to different kinds of boundaries between child and adult: bodily and vestimentary (appearance), behavioral and attitudinal (play), and spatial (space) boundaries” (13). The structure of her book follows the three areas she defines as conceptual demarcations in chapters 2, 3 and 4.

All three jury members have agreed that the thesis is very original. It engages with an impressive amount of cultural theory in an innovative and productive way. Although its focus is on cultural theories of aging rather than on old age, the alternative concept of growth that Malewski develops introduces a theoretical perspective applicable to age studies in general. 

Runner up: Ageing in Welsh Fiction in English, 1906-2012: Bodies, Culture, Time and Memory (2018) by Elinor Shepley (School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University)

Firmly grounded in age studies, the thesis examines a proliferation of aging characters to be found in twentieth and twenty-first centuries Welsh fiction in English. It builds its argument on the assumption that older people have a special significance in this body of literature, which Shepley explains with the special interest of Welsh fiction in the marginal related to Wales’ status as a province of England. The thesis combines perspectives from postcolonial studies with its primary focus on literary gerontology and Welsh literature studies. This productive combination provides the innovative aspect of the thesis together with its theoretical, analytical and stylistic excellence.

Shepley illustrates in her thesis that Welsh literature explores and alludes to old age stereotypes basically in order to undermine them. In chapter 2, her focus is on stock older characters and their gendering, providing insightful analyses of gossip (as historic misogyny towards women who speak out) and of dementia narratives. Chapter 3 provides representations of older people as seen from within and explores the significance of the gothic in literary representation of old age. With reference to Leder, Shepley examines the ‘dys-appearance’ of the body as well as the importance of space, that is, of having a home in old age. The fourth chapter turns to an allegorical reading of the ways in which Welsh writers of English language fiction use older characters to symbolize social changes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Further, she examines how age and class become entwined (with a special focus on a working-class sensibility) and explores how aging characters represent a particular type of Welsh local identity.

The jury members agreed that this is a highly accomplished thesis on the theoretical, analytical and stylistic levels. It provides an insightful analysis of a literature that is undeservedly marginalized and frequently undervalued. As such it fills an obvious research gap of an understudied subject, on which further research should be built. It is also an original contribution to age studies.

Runner up: Empowering the Elderly? A Qualitative Study of Municipal Home-health Visits and Everyday Rehabilitation (2017) by Amy Clotworthy (Department of Ethnology, University of Copenhagen)

The dissertation focuses on the change of the perception of aging in relation to local government policy using the example of one specific township in Denmark. The thesis provides an ethnological perspective in a qualitative study on care, in particular, on “home-health visits and training programmes directed towards elderly citizens in the Danish municipality of Gentofte” (6), based on ethnographic fieldwork and semi-structured interviews. It places its findings in a broader theoretical framework, based on Michel Foucault’s notion of governmentality and Hannah Arendt’s phenomenological approach to the central activities related to the human condition (labor, work, and action).

Central research questions of the thesis are:

  • How do particular political goals and individualized health policies influence the provision of in-home health services for the elderly?
  • How has the goal of eldercare in Denmark shifted from providing help to enabling “self- help”?
  • How are municipal health professionals expected to transform elderly citizens into a new type of subject?
  • What dynamics are involved when policy meets practice at the intersection of the state, the professional and the citizen?
  • What are the meanings of the home (privacy, security)?
  • How does a shared responsibility for health care emerge?

In her analysis, Clotworthy problematizes gerontological concepts such as ‘healthy aging’ or ‘active aging’ and introduces the new concept of the “limited yet limitless” aging consumer. Referring to the entanglement of the perception of the elderly as a high-risk group of society with a discourse about ‘healthy aging,’ Clotworthy defines the “limited yet limitless” aging consumer as a new type of citizen, while the health professional is re-configured as a seller of services. Clotworthy also problematizes the dichotomy between the private and the public; action and resistance; and focuses on the perception of body/embodiment and corporeality.

The jury members have agreed that this thesis is innovative and provides thorough and thought-provoking analyses. Besides, Amy Clotworthy proved to be a competent and reflexive ethnographer in the field. The description of the fieldwork is thorough, well-written and allows the reader to follow her decisions made in the field and the origination of the empirical material. 

Jury: Heike Hartung (chair, University of Potsdam), Dagmar Gramshammer-Hohl (University of Graz), and Ľubica Voľanská (Slovak Academy of Sciences)

ENAS Award for Best MA Thesis 2019

Cultural Age Markers and Differential Treatment Due to Age: How Do We Know Someone is Old? by Anne Velardi (University of Anchorage)

Anne Velardi’s MA thesis looks at how differential treatment due to age has contributed to the prolonged unemployment of adults over 40 years old. Through the concept of “cultural age markers” as well as a social constructionist model, this study examines the following questions: how “old age” is recognized and constructed by different groups of people in Anchorage, Alaska; how those constructions compare to constructions of age in national advertising media; and how those constructions are meaningful in the lives of older Alaskans.

The thesis is the result of a professional interest as well as an urge to make the study applicable to the work field. Through a convincing methodological framework, Velardi’s thesis looks into a relevant topic within the political economy of age inequality.

Jury: Anita Wohlmann (University of Southern Denmark), Lisa Hess (Goethe University Frankfurt) , Neal King (Virginia Tech), and Maricel Oró-Piqueras
(Univesitat de Lleida).

Anne Velardi’s MA thesis looks at how differential treatment due to age has contributed to the prolonged unemployment of adults over 40 years old.

Through the concept of “cultural age markers” as well as a social constructionist model, this study examines the following questions: how “old age” is recognized and constructed by different groups of people in Anchorage, Alaska; how those constructions compare to constructions of age in national advertising media; and how those constructions are meaningful in the lives of older Alaskans.

The thesis is the result of a professional interest as well as an urge to make the study applicable to the work field. Through a convincing methodological framework, Velardi’s thesis looks into a relevant topic within the political economy of age inequality.

ENAS Awards 2017

ENAS Award for Best PhD Thesis 2017

Becoming Who You Are: Aging, Self-realization and Cultural Narratives about Later Life (2016) by Hanne Laceulle (University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht)

In her dissertation, Becoming who you are. Aging, self-realization and cultural narratives about life, Hanne Laceulle addresses how dominant cultural narratives about aging and later life tend to identify aging with inevitable decline, whereas aging well is equated with staying young for as long as possible. Problematically, however, both decline- and age-defying cultural narratives about aging fall short of acknowledging the positive potentials of later life. Moreover, these dominant cultural narratives cannot provide us with the necessary resources to integrate confrontations with existential vulnerability in our lives in a meaningful way. Drawing on the rich philosophical tradition of thought about self-realization, critically exploring the value of constitutive ethical concepts like autonomy, authenticity, and virtue for the context of aging well, this book suggests contours for alternative cultural counter narratives about later life. Through these counter narratives, older individuals are supported in the search for a meaningful age identity, whereas society is evoked to recognize its older members as moral agents of their own lives, and stimulated to include them as valued participants.

The international jury praised the work for

  • its thorough engagement with philosophical as well as gerontological debates;
  • the humaneness and sensitivity that characterize Laceulle’s hermeneutical approach to self-realization and meaning in later life against the predominant paradigm of successful/healthy/positive aging;
  • the fact that her argumentation is beautifully crafted, open-minded, and persuasive.

Runner up: Queer Lines: Living and Ageing as an LGBTQ Person in a Heteronormative World (2016) by Anna Siverskog (Linköpings universitet)

This study is based on life-course interviews with 20 LGBTQ-identified people, born between 1922 and 1950, 62-88 years old at the time of the interviews. Older LGBTQ-identified people have experienced tremendous changes in how gender identities and sexualities have been re-negotiated during their lifetimes. Even though there is a small but growing field of LGBTQ aging studies, queer studies rarely problematizes age or aging. At the same time, the gerontological field often assumes heterosexuality and cis-gender experiences. This dissertation uses a life course perspective and focuses on queer lines, life courses that move beyond the heteronormative expectations of how one should live one’s life in relation to gender identity and/or sexuality. The overarching aim of the study is to explore experiences and meanings of living and aging as LGBTQ in a changing heteronormative world. Thematic analysis is used to analyze and interpret the empirical material. The theoretical framework in this study refers to critical gerontology, feminist theory and queer theory.

The analysis points to how experiences of gender identity and sexuality relate to historical and geographical contexts and change over time. It illustrates how gender, age, and sexuality intersect with heteronormative expectations of what a life is supposed to be like. To not live up to these expectations by not adjusting to binary gender norms or not getting married and having children may have large social as well as material consequences. These include having to hide one’s gender identity or sexuality, being socially repudiated and discriminated against or being subject to physical violence. Despite these conditions, the interviewees have oriented toward other lines – other ways of living where there is room for their gender identities and sexualities. The interviews point to the significance of social relations, networks, and LGBTQ communities. LGBTQ groups and meeting places that have been created over time have facilitated in finding these other lines. Most of the narratives on aging are similar to those of other people the same age, but there are also narratives that are specific to LGBTQ experiences. For some the aging body has ruled out the possibility of undergoing transgender-specific surgeries. Others are worried about encountering homophobic or transphobic treatment when in need of care.

The results point to the importance of including critical approaches of gender and sexuality within gerontology and life course studies, and to including materiality when theorizing the aging body. The dissertation also constitutes a theoretical bridge between gerontology, feminist theory, and queer theory and contributes to more complex understandings of intersections between age, gender; and sexuality to these fields.

The international jury praised the work for

  • its important contribution not just to LGBTQ understandings of aging but also to aging studies’ understandings of the life course;
  • its critical engagement with methodology and well-executed empirical research;
  • its accessible and pleasant writing style.

Jury: Aagje Swinnen (chair, Maastricht University), Emma Dominguez-Rué (University of Lleida), Ricca Edmondson (National University of Ireland, Galway), Ros Jennings (University of Gloucestershire), Rüdiger Kunow (University of Potsdam), Karin Lövgren (University of Gävle)


ENAS Award for Best MA Thesis 2017

This award was not granted.

Jury: Dagmar Gramshammer-Hohl (chair, University of Graz), Marija Geiger Zeman (VERN University of Applied Sciences, Zagreb), and Anita Wohlmann (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)