Bevan Grant, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Sport and Leisure Studies at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. Since the early 1990s, he has taught and researched gerontology with a particular emphasis on the role and meaning of physical activity and leisure in later life. He studies the qualitative paradigm of how older people interpret and make sense out of their day-to-day experiences and considers the way policy, socio-cultural forces, and community initiatives influence lifestyle. Grant is involved with a number of organizations, including Age Concern, Retirement Village Association, Regional Sports Trusts, Masters Games, and New Zealand Gerontology Association. Active Aging Community Center editors interviewed Grant in August 2009.
Why did you select a career in gerontology?
My interest in gerontology began in the early 1980s. In the first instance, it was influenced by publicity about finding ways to combat a sedentary lifestyle. I remember pondering why adults (in midlife and beyond) sought advice to help them to be physically active - or "fit" as we referred to it then. As a younger over-active person, I thought being involved in a range of physically playful activities was "normal" behaviour! The naivety of my belief became all too evident in the mid-1980s when I started working with adults over 55 years. They taught me a great deal about the complexity of and what it means to "be older" - and being physically active was more of a memory than reality. The richness of their stories aroused my curiosity, and I wanted to know more, and this led to me delving into the gerontology literature. Much of what I read 25-plus years ago was tainted with messages from a deficit paradigm. Why wasn’t later life portrayed in a celebratory way? There had to be another side to the story, so I set out on a journey in gerontology - searching for the other, more positive tales.
What are your favorite classes to teach at University of Waikato, and why?
My favourite class is titled Ageing and Society, a graduate-level paper. The excitement comes from seeing the students (mostly in their 30 and 40s) examine documents, review research, critique policies, analyse images, and interview older people to try and make sense out of how political, environmental, economic, and social-cultural factors influence life in the later years. The most enthralling part, however, is when the students present their ideas about a "better future" to an older persons forum.
Which of your past research projects are you most proud of, and why?
A few years ago I conducted a phenomenological study with men and women over 70 years who were competing in sport. The information derived from in-depth interviews provided an alternative but enriched insight into being older, engaging in a physically active lifestyle, and playing sport in one’s later years. This and a more recent study on the meanings people over 70 years gave to their experiences when endeavouring to be more physically active have taken me inside the way older people view this lifestyle behaviour. In both studies I stepped aside from the dominant discourse (positivist research) in an attempt to incorporate new voices into the story on ageing and physical activity. Although the scholarly value of this research is determined by others, the findings have been of immense value to me in supporting community leaders with their publicity, programme design, understanding of older adults, and strategies to empower older adults regarding their physical activity endeavours.
What research are you conducting now?
There is an abundance of survey data telling us that with age, the levels of engagement in physical activity declines. Meanwhile little attention (in New Zealand at least) is given to reversing this trend. But a group of people from the public sector and community organisations in a New Zealand city of 55,000 have decided to give more credence to physical activity for the over-65-year cohort. This inspired an ethnographic study titled Active Ageing: Making it Happen where I am following what transpires over a couple of years. The project includes considering policy, development of programmes and events, environmental matters, roles and types of collaboration between local government and not-for-profit organisations, publicity, allocation of resources, views of older individuals on what could/should happen, the intent of those driving various agendas and so on. As the researcher, my role is to create a story from the many observations, analysing documents, attending meetings, as well as seeking the views of individuals and representatives from groups and organisations.
Why are you conducting this research? What are you hoping to accomplish?
The reason for conducting the project is to try and understand something about the challenges associated with such an undertaking. As I’ve already discovered, there is no shortage of rhetoric (mostly from "experts" in midlife management roles) about what to do. I’m optimistic that what emerges from the project will be useful in supporting other communities who undertake a similar initiative. As an aside, in an interview with a 72-year-old resident, she stated, "Unless you’re in need [i.e., poor health], then older people are pretty much left to their own devices. Little resource goes into this end-of-life compared to what they [public sector] do for the youth when trying to make them active. ... Why can’t I get free learn-to-swim lessons? ... This tells you something about the mind set of the bureaucrats."
What has been the most rewarding experience in your career, and why?
Being appointed to the University of Waikato in 1993 to establish an undergraduate and graduate programme in sport and leisure studies. From the outset, it was agreed to develop a curriculum that puts much greater emphasis on the social sciences rather than physical sciences - uncommon in our field. But sixteen years on, the programmes continue to flourish, staff are dynamic as well as productive researchers, and our graduates are welcomed by the ever-expanding sport and leisure sector.
Based on your experience, what is the most significant advancement in your field? Why?
Because advancements occur in varying ways and are often positioned against the past I’m opting to note several. 1. The launching of Journal of Aging and Physical Activity (JAPA) helped give credibility to an emerging field. 2. The number of people in other disciplines who are now researching in the field and disseminating their work in a range of journals. 3. An increase in the advocacy for and action by some scholars to translate the "knowing" into the "doing" of physical activity at the community level. 4. The insightfulness and generous support of Human Kinetics to create a virtual community allowing people with an interest in ageing and physical activity to more easily connect and remain informed.