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Unformatted text preview: Positioning age: focus group discussions about older people in TV advertising* VIRPI YLA NNE and ANGIE WILLIAMS Abstract As part of a larger research project on images of older people (the over six- ties) in UK advertising, this article reports findings from a focus group study in which participants discussed their views on seven TV advertise- ments depicting older people as central characters. These were selected from a sample of TV ads broadcast in the United Kingdom between 1999 and 2004, and included a range of positive, humorous, negative, and vulner- able depictions. A total of nine focus groups each comprised of three sub- groups: young, middle-aged, and older adults. In addition to the ads them- selves, our analysis centers on the participants reactions to the ads. Our focus is on the discursive positioning of the discussants vis-a `-vis the ads in terms of age stereotypes and age identity constructions for self and other. Participants not only comment on any perceived depictions of older age, they also position themselves, and others, age-wise, in relation to the depic- tions, and at times use their age identifications as discursive means to ac- count for their views. The focus on how viewers align with these types of ads can be seen as an important addition to previous research on images of aging in advertising, as well as on talk about age. In our analysis, we make use of the theoretical notions of discursive construction of age and position- ing theory. 1. Introduction: age identification Lifespan development is both a subjective and a social experience. Our lifespan identities, like other aspects of our identities, are subject to our own individual evaluations and (re)assessment in terms of how old we are (or feel) and what lifespan stage we inhabit. But as social identities, our age and generational / cohort group status are formed by social pro- cesses and inuenced by societal age-related expectations, some of which 01652516 / 09 / 02000171 Intl. J. Soc. Lang. 200 (2009), pp. 171187 6 Walter de Gruyter DOI 10.1515 / IJSL.2009.050 are available in the media. Furthermore, a simple binary opposition between individual and social identity is not sucient: our lifespan identi- ties can be viewed (at least to an extent) as discursive; indeed, ageing it- self is open to being defined interactionally (Coupland 1991: 101). Fur- thermore, social identity can be seen not as a thing but as a process, a becoming as well as a being (Hockey and James 2003: 13). Discourse analytic and sociolinguistic perspectives on aging can usefully illuminate such processes. In this article, we adopt a broadly social constructionist view which sees (age) identity as a socially constitutive process (Gergen 1985), involving identification work by participants through discourse and social interaction....
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