Researcher in Focus: Professor Susan Pickard

Posted on: 17 February 2023 by Susan Pickard in 2023 Posts

Professor Susan Pickard

This month’s researcher in focus is Professor Susan Pickard, Professor of Sociology and Head of Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology. Learn more about her work exploring ideas around health, age, gender and ethnicity.

You can also listen to a podcast version of this blog and get a deeper insight into Susan's work here:

I am Professor of Sociology and Head of Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology.

My research lies at the interface between age, health and gender, and latterly ethnicity. As Director of the new Centre for Ageing and the Life Course, I am bringing together researchers from many disciplines within the University and externally as well as partner organisations in order to build teams and networks best placed to address questions of importance to older people and their institutional and third sector allies.

My research has two streams, theoretical and empirical. As a theorist, I am particularly drawn to the many lacunae that the phenomena of ageing and old age reveal in mainstream sociological theory and which require addressing in order to make possible both a more nuanced understanding of ageing and a more temporally-informed social theory.

Examples include: how ‘age’ (all ages) constitutes a key but overlooked element of social structure; how gender theory has been constructed almost entirely from the perspective of youthful bodies; how post-modern theories of embodiment founder on the reality of ageing, finite bodies.

These questions provided the motivation for several recent books. In Age Studies (2016) I discuss how the age system works with class and gender across the life course to naturalise and normalise a range of social inequalities. In Age, Gender and Sexuality through the life course, (2018) I argue that the increased opportunity young women have experienced are for many underpinned (and undermined) by the increasing disadvantages and inequalities associated with ageing. My edited collection (Ageing, the Body and the Gender Regime (2019)) explores gendered inequalities across the life course through the lens of health and illness, pondering what this lens can illuminate about gender inequalities, and also how gender inequalities inform the changing experience of illness and shape the clinical gaze.

Finally, I am currently completing a monograph that draws on Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy with the aim of making gender theory more dynamic, seeing femininity as something that is constructed and reconstructed throughout a woman’s life. Ahead of this I have published papers on the double standard of ageing, the comparison of ageism with racism and sexism and Simone de Beauvoir’s own experience of ageing, among others.

Secondly, I enjoy both leading and conducting empirical research. Before coming to Liverpool in 2010, I was a researcher at a health services research unit in Manchester University and I continue to be fascinated by the way that medicine and the ever-expanding processes of medicalization, such as the rise of new diagnostic categories and technologies, impact on the experience of old age as well as social and cultural approaches to ageing and old age.  

I am currently PI of a £1.1m ESRC-funded interdisciplinary research project looking at the experience of frailty among diverse ethnic groups. A cornerstone project for the Centre for Ageing and the Life Course, this brings together both theory and empirical research.

We chose Leicester for our fieldwork site as it is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the UK, with no majority ethnicity. With colleagues from medicine, public health, sociology and philosophy we are exploring the different ways in which people grow old and the sources of resilience as well as frailty associated with cultural, social and biological factors.

We are committed to making a substantive difference to professional practice and the lives of older people by, among other things, developing cultural competence tools for clinicians and by shaping undergraduate and post-graduate medical education in the medicine of old age.

Read more about Susan on her staff page.

Keywords: Researcher in Focus.