Playing Age

Summary, contact information, membership list

Playing Age

Playing Age offers a humanistic exploration of aging, old age, and inter-generational relations. Seminal theorists of play, from Johan Huizinga to Roger Caillois, claimed that rule-bounded games and mimetic enactments create a “magic circle” in which conflicts within the self and the community can be negotiated at a safe remove. More recently, performance and game theorists have insisted that even playing within the bounded precincts of a stadium, a theatre, or a video game influences everyday conduct, particularly when we play with volatile topics like inter-cultural representations, social class, race and gender. This conference asks how aging and old age can be investigated through playing, specifically the playfulness of artistic representations, and whether aging is uniquely available for or resistant to imaginative inhabitations.

In preparation for a major international and interdisciplinary conference, working group members will engage with scholarly articles and aesthetic works (including materials from the keynote speakers and other presenters) that explore examples, theorizations, and analyses of theatre/performance, film, video games, graphic novels, and literature which raise the following questions about age, aging, and intergenerational relationships:

  • How do you pretend to be older than you are?  How do you instruct someone else to play at being older than they are? What are the benefits of playing age from the outside in or from the inside out?
  • When and why is simulating old age—as an actor, an author, a painter, a graphic novelist—evidence of virtuosity? Is “playing” an older person an act of self-effacement or of self-expansion?
  • How do you represent an older person to an older audience and how do you represent an older person to a younger audience? How do artistic programmers imagine the receptivity of differently aged demographics?
  • How do the different arts evoke aging minds and bodies differently? Which neglected visual, aural, or tactile experiences of aging can an artwork make available?
  • What were the conventions of representing old age in other periods? What arguments can be made for resuscitating those traditions?
  • What characterizes evocative artistic instances of youth imagining age, or age recalling youth? What kinds of fidelity to the experience of aging can intergenerational estrangement, displacement, or desire produce that empirical observation cannot?
  • What are the affects, exuberant and abject, of aging? Can art simulate, evoke, or even create affective experiences of aging? What are the erotics of aging, and how does art evade or call attention to the libidos of old age?
  • How do individual artworks represent aging as a kind of ability or disability, and how do they combat ableism as a frame for thinking of aging?
  • When and how are new technologies and new media made available to aging audiences? How do video game or social media designers create characters, stories, and interfaces that will appeal to older users?

Marlene Goldman, UTSC English
Lawrence Switsky, UTM English & Drama

ANNOUNCEMENT:  The JHI Working Group "Exploring Neuroculture" is delighted to welcome as our first invited speaker Dr. Jenell Johnson, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies - Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture, University of Wisconsin-Madison. On November 7, 2014 (12-2pm) Dr. Johnson will deliver a public lecture on her groundbreaking research​ ​American Lobotomy: A Rhetorical History (U Michigan P, forthcoming 2014), which explores how representations of lobotomy in US popular culture contributed to the development, decline, and resurgence of psychosurgery in US medicine. ​
       Dr Johnson's work explores the rhetorical traffic between science, medicine, and public culture. With Melissa Littlefield (UIUC), ​she has​ conducted research on the emergence of the neuro-disciplines (such as neuro-anthropology and neuro-aesthetics), which most recently culminated in The Neuroscientific Turn, an edited collection of critical essays by humanists, social scientists, and neuroscientists. ​For more information, see

Veronika Amros, Slavic Languages & Literatures
Andrea Charise, UTSC Health Studies
Linda Hutcheon, English
Michael Hutcheon, Medicine
Pia Kontos, Public Health
Alice Maurice, UTSC English
Lynn McDonald, Social Work
Nikki Cesare-Schotzko, Drama, Theatre & Performance Studies
Matthew Sergi, English
Tamara Trojanowska, Slavic Languages & Literatures

Sally Chivers, Sociology, Trent University
Amelia DeFalco, English, McMaster University
StephenKatz, Sociology, Trent University
Kim Sawchuk, Communication Studies, Concordia University

Gillian Bright, English
Liza Futerman, Comparative Literature and Jewish Studies
Julia Gray, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Rona MacDonald, Rehabilitation Science
Aynsley Moorhouse, Social Work
Katie Mullins, English
Angelo Murreda, English
Elena Stoica, French
Isabel Stowell Kaplan, Drama, Theatre & Performance Studies

Tiffany Chow, Baycrest Hospital
David Conn, Psychiatry, Baycrest Hospital
Michael Gordon, Palliative Care, Baycrest Hospital
Amanda Grenier, Director, Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging, McMaster University
Ginger Lerner, Geriatric health care worker and therapeutic clown
Mark Rapoport, Geriatric Psychiatry, Sunnybrook Hospital
Peter Whithouse, Neurology, Baycrest Hospital