Researchers gather in Switzerland to discuss the contested concept of frailty

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A group photo of Centre for Ageing and the Life Course members.

University of Liverpool’s Centre for Ageing and the Life Course (CALC) organised a three-day symposium in Brocher Foundation, Switzerland, 14 - 16 November 2023, which brought together scholars in ageing from a number of disciplinary perspectives, including medicine, social science, arts and humanities, to discuss the contested concept of frailty.

Titled 'Clinical, sociological and cultural dimensions of frailty: a dialogue', this novel initiative brought experts in the methodologies and perspectives of sociology, psychology, philosophy, social anthropology, and literary gerontology, as well as those with lived experience as carers, together to challenge the conventional biomedical approach to frailty in older individuals. The aim was to enhance clinical interactions and provide clinicians with a more profound comprehension of both the lived experiences of older people and the societal structures contributing to frailty.  

The interdisciplinary event sought to bridge the gap between various disciplines and foster a closer dialogue between theory and practice in this area. The overarching goal was to cultivate a more nuanced and multi-faceted understand of frailty by posing questions and exploring answers collaboratively.

Organised around four key themes, the symposium sparked focussed cross-disciplinary discussion. These themes included: 1) examining ‘frailty’ as a concept and technology; 2) exploring unequal ageing, power dynamics, and their connection to frailty; 3) delving into social and philosophical concepts and methodologies; and 4) scrutinising representations and alternative imaginaries of frailty and deep old age.

To facilitate these in-depth discussions, the structure comprised of presentations, followed by group discussions. Additionally, participants engaged in a collective film viewing, using the film as a springboard for further thematic exploration and analysis.

By fostering collaboration and encouraging the exchange of ideas, the symposium uncovered fresh perspectives on frailty, ultimately contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of the complexities associated with ageing.

Professor Susan Pickard, Head of the Department of Sociology, Social Policy, and Criminology, and the Director of the Centre for Ageing and the Life Course, shared:

"The symposium proved to be an unequivocal success, fostering rich interdisciplinary dialogue, sparking innovative insights, and creating a vibrant space for the exchange of knowledge and ideas across the research community. Many thanks to all that joined us for a thought provoking event."

Professor Susan Pickard has shared insights from the symposium covering each theme in the latest School of Law and Social Justice blog, accessible on our webpages.

The symposium was organised by Professor Susan Pickard (Centre for Ageing and the Life Course, University of Liverpool) and Dr Victoria Cluley (University of Nottingham and Centre for Ageing and the Life Course), and included: Professor Jay Banerjee (University of Leicester); Professor Bev Clack (Oxford Brookes University); Dr Jason Danely (Oxford Brookes University); Dr Chao Fang (Centre for Ageing and the Life Course, University of Liverpool); Professor Paul Higgs (University College, London); Professor Carol Holland (University of Lancaster); Professor Ulla Kriebernegg (University of Graz); Professor Tiago Moreira (University of Durham); Professor Des O’Neill (Trinity College, Dublin); Dr Shibley Rahman (University College London); Dr Louise Tomkow (University of Manchester).