The Institute is supporting applied research that informs policy development and practice that makes a positive difference to people’s lives. Its initial focus is to bring together existing work in relation to targeted populations, such as older persons, children and families, and persons with disabilities as a baseline to expand.
The four broadly conceived thematic interests of the Institute are:
- Life Transitions & Human Flourishing
- Intergenerational Relations
- Social Health & Wellbeing
- Civic Engagement & Participation
Life Transitions & Human Flourishing
In terms of normative life, the transition from dependency at birth, through growing independence in adolescence, and an increasing focus on inter-dependence in adult life has been well tracked in research within the social sciences. How populations adapt to these changes and transitions can be more of a challenge for some, and within a context of disability, this may represent particular difficulties. Even where life is predictable, certain transitions can represent enormous challenges for people across generations and contexts. A challenge for policy-makers and academics alike is to understand how best these transitions can be understood and supported on the basis of self-determination and minimum interventions. Some more specific issues within life transitions, which are noteworthy in the context of the work of the emerging ILAS work programme include:
• Dependence, Independence and Inter-dependence
• Risk Management
• Independent Living
• Resilience and Coping
• Social Support.
Non-serendipitous life events further complicate the transition process. Tragic events can present major and long-term challenges to individuals, families and may have an influence on the wider community. Similarly, the influence of a disability, whether expected or sudden, can have major impacts, not just on the person themselves but also on others within the person’s social network. However, conditions often prevail, that enable individuals and families to overcome such challenges. The ILAS, through its programme of research, teaching and policy influence, is particularly interested in enabling others to be supportive and resilient.
The ILAS intends to examine and develop the relationship between initiatives for intergenerational connectivity in Irish and international contexts. Evidence suggests that local communities and wider civic society assume particular importance for both older people and children/adolescents and among populations living with, or affected by disability. We also know that children and youth at all levels of ability are concerned by the same kinds of issues as older adults, which include: safety, access to education and services, deterioration of their environment, lack of amenities or social outlets, income and long-term stability.
For everyone, interactions with others are important since the perceived break-up of traditional kin-based networks appear to impact negatively on citizens. Furthermore, there can be tensions and suspicions expressed between generations in terms of how local spaces are occupied. As a result, generations may exhibit negative attitudes towards the other, based on lack of contact and stereotypical images that are seldom challenged.
More specifically, areas of interest to the Institute within the domain of intergenerational relations include:
- Income and Wealth
- Care and Protection
- Family Support
- Intergenerational Practice
- Reciprocity and Obligations.
The need for greater connectivity between generations and vulnerable groups in communities to achieve their mutual benefit is fundamental. However, how best to enable this connection is less well-known, particularly where there are multiple issues for communities. Thus, the ILAS is particularly interested in how populations can be connected through participatory approaches to improve the chances of more meaningful intergenerational cohesion. In particular, the Institute wishes to learn more about how resilience of capacity to overcome adversity through social support can be enabled between children, youth, adults and elders, and in the context of disability.
Social Health & Wellbeing
This theme stems from the ILAS’s commitment to the maximum expression of human capabilities throughout the lifecourse and particularly to the formulation of public policy that enables this to happen. It is not predicated on any anachronistic theory of human deficits whereby the person is the ‘problem’ to be fixed. Rather, it is predicated on the much more positive challenge to establish the foundations for human flourishing and wellbeing across the lifecourse.
Health is a dynamic concept. It influences, and is influenced by perceived wellbeing. In itself, wellbeing is a universal concept in that it applies to all citizens across all generations, regardless of age and ability and has meaning within all cultures. Because wellbeing is subjective, it typically relates to a person’s perception across four domains: physical wellbeing, functional ability, emotional wellbeing, and social wellbeing. Most importantly one’s sense of wellbeing is correlated to one’s capacity to cope in life.
Within a lifecourse perspective, a sense of wellbeing is both transactional and reciprocal. It is transactional in that interfacing with others across generations and through home/school/work and community settings influences a person’s sense of wellbeing, whether positively or negatively. It also applies in terms of everyday living and in times of personal crisis. Wellbeing is reciprocal in the way that a person acts towards others, for example, through the provision and receipt of social support. The UN uses six dimensions to categorise wellbeing, all of which have strong resonance for the work of the Institute:
- Material Wellbeing
- Health and Safety
- Educational Wellbeing
- Family and Peer Relationships
- Behaviours and Risks
- Subjective Wellbeing.
Some of these dimensions (e.g. health and safety, behaviours and risks) have both positive and negative applications, and, if not applied in a positive manner, can limit the independence and choices of children, people with disabilities and older people. The ILAS aims to accentuate positive applications of these dimensions, ensuring that the notion of a ‘dignity of risk’ is introduced to allow people take charge of their own lives across the lifecourse. In terms of knowledge creation, policy and education, it could be argued that the pursuit of a positive presence of each and all of the above six dimensions of wellbeing are desirable. Whether in childhood, adolescence, adult and later life, and in the context of living with a disability, contributing to the understanding of and attainment of positive wellbeing in a supportive civic society is a fundamental aspiration for the work of the ILAS.
Civic Engagement and Participation
The role of civic engagement as an enabler of mastery, belonging, independence and altruism has been well-established within research. Importantly, the positive potential of civic action for coping in everyday living as well as its transferability across children and youth to older people has been developed. However, there remains a need for more extensive scrutiny and better understanding. Civic action has also been seen as an important aspect in enhancing wellbeing among people living with a physical and/or intellectual disability. There are a number of sub-themes which are being identified by the Institute, including:
- Assets and Deficits
- Power Relationships
- Cohesive Communities
- Active Citizenship
- National and International Fora
- Environmental Contexts.
However, rather than viewing civic action as a panacea that will guarantee more support and resilience among those populations of interest to the Institute, the ILAS recognises that at this point it represents untapped promise. In order to fulfil this potential, further knowledge needs to be generated on the interplay between the three concepts of civic engagement, participation and action.