The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Colloquium Archive

Lauren Marshall Bowen

Name: Lauren Marshall Bowen, English Department.

Presentation Title: "The Literate Lives of Elders"

Date: April 21, 2011

Abstract

Too often, old age has been narrowly perceived as a biological problem in the West. This perception not only reduces elders to bodies in need of repair, but it also reduces technologies—including digital literacies—as part of this repair. If aging is primarily configured as a period of physical decline, what motivates older adults to learn as literacy technologies and values continue to shift? Are aging bodies simply obstacles to literacy development? In this talk, I present findings from in-depth qualitative research on the literate lives of older adults born between 1925 and 1945, whose recent forays into digital literacy practices are best understood within the context of lifelong embodied histories. Ultimately, I argue that the aging body is more than a declining impediment in later life: learned movements and affective experiences can, over time, support literacy development by providing enduring embodied identities associated with feelings of competence, desire, or friendship that draw learners in and keep them motivated over the life course.