Ageing and Gerontology after 1945: Situating the Soviet Case

December 05-06, 2019

Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool

Moot Room, John Foster Building, L3 5UZ

Workshop Report

On 5-6 December 2019 we hosted our first workshop: “Ageing and Gerontology after 1945: Situating the Soviet Case.” The event brought together scholars working on ageing in Russia and the Soviet Union as well as in the UK, Germany and Czechoslovakia in order to reflect on the place of the Soviet Union in the wider global constellation of ageing and gerontology, paying particular attention to key issues in the topic such as mental health of older people or ageing and gender.

The first day of the conference was dedicated to discussion of key issues in gerontology and international comparisons. In the opening keynote Professor Susan Pickard set the scene for the later conversations by exploring some of the leading topics and theories in contemporary gerontology. Some of the themes that emerged from her paper, such as the life course framework or the polarity between active ageing and frailty, were to come back throughout the conference.

The keynote was followed by the papers by Professor Pat Thane, who spoke about the development of gerontology and attitudes towards ageing in twentieth century Britain, and by Dr James Chappel, who compared the approaches to old age and retirement in post-war East and West Germany. The next panel focused on the Soviet case. Dr Susan Grant talked about the geriatric services for Soviet older citizens and Dr Isaac Scarborough traced the development of Soviet gerontology and geriatrics, placing it in international context. Both panels sparked discussion on the suitability of comparing the Soviet Union to East Germany or Britain, on relationships between approaches to ageing and related policies adopted by different countries and on whether the Soviet case should be perceived as exceptional or consistent with the international trends. The theme of active ageing was also prominent in the conversation and discussed in the context of various countries, with a particular attention paid to the issue of continued employment in old age.

The second day of the workshop was opened by Dr Botakoz Kassymbekova and Dr Alissa Klots, who both spoke about the experiences of older women living in Soviet Russia. Discussions in this panel raised interesting questions about subjectivities, sources, and what it meant to be an older “Soviet” citizen, and woman, in late socialist Russia. This was followed by a panel on mental health and ageing with three presenters – Dr Aleksandra Brokman, Dr Claire Hilton, and Andrea Belehradova – providing stimulating comparative discussion on approaches to older people’s mental health in the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and Czechoslovakia. Some of the main issues touched on in discussions included institutional structures, metaphors and the language used to describe ageing, developments in defining old age-illnesses (for example, dementia), active ageing, and sexuality and gender.

Drawing the event to a close, Professor Stephen Lovell, Professor Elena Zdravomyslova, Dr Susan Grant, and Professor Donald Filtzer outlined some of the major themes and findings of the workshop. These were wide ranging and included questions about what was distinct or unique about the Soviet or socialist case, the role of modernisation, the life course, gender, active citizenship, and the impact of the Second World War. Overall, the workshop was thought-provoking and productive, and showed that the subject of ageing is one that sparks much debate among scholars across disciplines. As the first project event, the workshop’s lively and in-depth discussions provided much food for thought for the “Growing Old” team. We are very grateful to all who contributed to its success. We now look forward to the second event, organized by Dr Isaac McKean Scarborough and taking place in May 2020.


Aleksandra Brokman and Susan Grant

This event is generously supported by the Wellcome Trust, BASEES and LJMU.