Gerontocracies of affect: how the "politics of austerity" have reshaped elder environmental radicalism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


Post 2007 austerity politics within the United Kingdom has generated a host of diverse responses within rural spaces, with one of the most emphatic being a renaissance of voluntary community participation shaped and lead by elders. These elders have embraced the retreat of the state by taking charge of local governance within parish and town councils, and through logistical activism within community campaigning groups across a range of sectors and interest groups. What are then created in these rural spaces are hybrid gerontocracies based on advocacy, activism and agency, defiantly overturning rigid preconceptions which depict rural elders as vulnerable and politically stagnant. Based on empirical work undertaken along the River Adur valley in West Sussex, UK, this paper argues that some of the most dynamic, radical voluntary initiatives develop from these unexpected participants - those who have retired from the world of income generation. Explored across a number of interlinking narratives, this paper argues that the genesis of this activism is a shared collective imagination, defined by life experiences, motivated by a desire to reassert agency within the process of ageing and driven to revivify the rural communities that they populate. The community stories which highlight these ‘agency in ageing’ experiences are orientated around protecting an array of local water environments, with the collective imaginations of the fieldwork participants part fictional, part memory as these elders are often retiree resettlers, using their voluntary contribution to revitalise their adopted community and embed themselves within it. The spatiality of the ‘now’ links directly with the spatiality of the ‘then’, as these elders use their recollection of their earlier, exogenus experiences of community life as the basis for contemporary engagements with environmental volunteerism and local politics. These varied endeavours support, microactivities conjoined through the physical presence and symbolism of the riverbank, have a foreshortened temporality, as the actors recognise the syncopated timeframes in which they operate. Ageing and place become the unifying point at which as Chris Carlsson suggests ‘redefining life’s purpose’, is finessed. Reflecting back, projecting forward, but operating in the continual ‘now’, these elders helps us to consider possible other sustainable futures for rural communities, outside of the strictures of neoliberalism, and the roles that they do, should and must play in redefining what it means to be an ecological activist.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Right to Nature
Subtitle of host publicationSocial Movements, Environmental Justice and Neoliberal Natures
EditorsElia Apostolopoulou, Jose Cortes-Vazquez
ISBN (Print)9781138385375
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Environmental Policy

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge/CRC Press in The Right to Nature: Social Movements, Environmental Justice and Neoliberal Natures on 12/12/2018, available online:


  • Environmental policy
  • water resources management
  • political ecology
  • affect


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