As a critical social gerontologist, Sandra Torres – who holds both a Professorship in Sociology and the Chair in Social Gerontology at Uppsala University, Sweden – has conducted research that problematizes old age-related constructs; sheds critical light on commonly used methods in health and social care and deconstructs some of the taken for granted assumptions that guide old-age policy and practice. Her main contributions to the field of aging are based on studies that have aimed to expand the social gerontological imagination while being informed by the sociology of ethnicity/ migration, social work and the caring sciences.
Sandra – who served as President to the Swedish Gerontological Society (SGS) from 2009 to 2015 – co-leads the Working-Group on Civic Exclusion of the COST-Action on old age social exclusion (ROSENet) at present. She co-chairs the interest group on International Aging and Migration for the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), is an Officer at Large of the Board of the Research Committee on Aging (RC-11) of the Int’l. Sociological Association (ISA) and was elected into the (Swedish) Royal Society of Sciences in 2016. She has authored close to 90 publications and has made 120+ presentations at international conferences. Her latest books – published in 2016 – are edited collections for Routledge: Ageing in Contexts of Migration (co-edited with Ute Karl) and Older People and Migration: Challenges for Social Work (co-edited with Sue Lawrence). At present she is finalizing a book for Policy Press entitled Ethnicity & Old Age: Re-Imagining the Intersection.
What do you think are the most exciting present and future developments in your field of aging research?
As the title I have given my keynote address suggests, I think that the intersection between population aging and the globalization of international migration is the most exciting development that gerontological research, policy and practice are facing today. Obviously not all Nordic countries will face the challenges associated with these developments at the same pace (and probably not with the same intensity) but I do not believe that many countries around the world are exempted from these societal trends. Some countries are facing the numerous challenges that increased diversity amongst elderly care recipients entail, some are looking into migration as a way of solving the staff shortages that their elderly care sectors are facing and some are facing increased diversity at both ends (i.e. when it comes to both care provision and recipiency).
The fact that more and more people grow into advanced old age and need welfare services in countries to which they did not pay the largest portion of their tax contributions and that more and more people today have a migratory life-course as opposed to the continuity-based life-course that most gerontological theories take for granted are also two of the reasons why these societal trends offer an array of challenges, which the entire gerontological community (irrespective of whether we are thinking of scholars, policy makers or practitioners) are grappling with. But, although scholars within numerous disciplines have discussed the various challenges that these trends pose, I happen to be one of those that believes that both of these trends offer us not only new angles of investigation from which we can expand the gerontological imagination. This is why when I think of these trends, I think not only of all of the new research questions that they are generating (and the theoretically profuse sources of information about aging and old age that they are) but also the new opportunities for innovations to policy and practice that they can create.
24NKG is a multidisciplinary conference where the participants have the opportunity to broaden their perspective beyond the themes of their own immediate research areas. How would you like to motivate medical and biologists to attend your lecture?
Finding a way to motivate biologists to attend my lecture is not as easy for me as it is finding ways to motivate people engaged in different medical fields. I work namely closely with both nurses and medical doctors (and have also been involved with projects that have aimed to contribute to physiotherapy as well) and have therefore a fairly good idea of what may be of interest to them. Thus, although the topic of my keynote address may not (at first glance at least) seem interesting to people outside the field of social gerontology, there will be some aspects of my lecture which will hopefully resonate well with people in the medical field and/or involved in the provision of health care in more general terms. Thus, when planning the lecture, I hope to find ways to offer new insights to those that have not given much thought to the topics I will address. Being able to put some new questions in their own agendas would be ideal so that is something I intend to keep in mind when planning my lecture.
In your mind, how can the Nordic Congress contribute to aging research in general? What do you expect from 24NKG?
All congresses offer aging researchers (and the policy makers and practitioners that chose to attend them) an opportunity to get insight into the state of the art of research. The fact that the Nordic Congress is becoming known for offering a platform for high quality and cutting-edge research means, however, that more and more scholars from outside the Nordic region are coming to our congresses these days. This is excellent for all of us and I for one look forward to a highly international congress, which also has a distinct Nordic flavor.
In terms of expectations, there is really not much I can say other than they are fairly high since I take for granted that my colleagues in Norway (and the rest of the competent people behind the scenes in all Nordic societies who also contribute to putting together these congresses) will do an excellent job at coordinating an user-friendly congress that will showcase the very best that aging scholars in our part of the world have to offer and the very best of those who come from elsewhere and who we look very much forward to welcoming to beautiful Oslo; a city dear to my heart since I worked there for a few years. In short, I look very much forward to this Nordic Congress since I expect it will be the highlight of my academic year.