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Research team on Aging Communication DATE:2014-11-19

Any research inevitably takes place in the context of people’s lives. At times in the early 21st Century, we encountered shocks that caused us to turn inward and left us unable to engage in effective, communicative discussion. Our research has hence discovered that the elderly weave “time” and “affect” together into rich life stories that utilize an episodic narrative aesthetic. It therefore follows that an absence of time and an absence of affect equate to an absence of life.

Formed in 1997, the team now has more than 20 members, including co-principal researchers Profs. Kou-Jen Tsang and Yean Tsai, and five coordinating researchers. Most of the team’s members work in the communication field, though some of its members hold different backgrounds such as theatre, history or Chinese literature. 

The team has made adjustments to its research foci over the last two decades. For example, in the period around 1999-2000, the group responded to the influence of natural and man-made disasters, including the Chichi Earthquake in Taiwan and the attack on the World Trade Center in the United States, by attempting to apply aesthetic concepts to an analysis of how disaster reportage sought to touch audiences in an effort to edify, clear away emotions, and encourage them to cherish life. 

Employing aesthetics to steer discussion of contemporary media phenomena represented a serious challenge that nearly turned on its head the researchers’ early academic training, which was weighted towards the social sciences. The new approach brought about a fundamental shift in their thinking about research, turning its object from the “empirical” to the “narrative”, from “verifiable” to “exploratory,” and from the “rational” to “affective.” It also affected the researchers’ worldviews, taking them in a more humanistic direction. 

Since 2005 the main research interest has been associated with “communication and gerontology” and applied it to the team’s title, focusing on life stories associated with narrative paradigm, continued to investigate the links between communication and the sentimental, the poetic, and the humanistic, with the objective of linking research (and education) to the lifespan. 

From February to June 2008, the team’s co-hosts taught the first “communication and gerontology” course offered by a Taiwanese university. Course topics included the history of gerontological research, language and communications phenomena of the elderly, media representations of the elderly, interactions between the elderly and the mass media, the elderly and life events, and the elderly and narrative (affect, emotion, and aesthetic appreciation). The course was well received by students. Since then the course has continuously offered in a pace of every other academic year, and the most recent one was done in Jan.-June, 2014.

In the last 10 years or so, the co-hosts have continuously attended the annual conferences sponsored by the Chinese Communication Society to read their research papers, and then published more than 10 articles in top tier Chinese academic journals such as the Chinese Journal of Communication Research and Mass Communication Research. In 2012 the two co-hosts published Aging and Communication: Theory, Research and Teaching Applications, a book accumulated their research results on the aging subject. So far it is the only such publication devoted to the aging communication research in the Chinese academic circle.

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