Thursday, October 9, 2014

On Retirement

by Virginia Sanchez

Chapala, Jalisco, MX
    Chapala is a small city situated along one of Mexico’s largest lakes. When I visited the town this past summer, my uncle, who acted as a tour guide, pointed out the large number of US citizens who find it to be a great retirement location. Due to a strict time constraint, I was only there about half of a day but quickly started imagining waking up in Chapala as a retiree. I could picture myself eating at the local markets, buying from artisans at the flea market, and taking pictures by the inactive volcano (a retirement feature I didn’t know I needed). Retirement is not a concept I think about frequently, and upon reflection I realized how odd it was that I had formed such a specific idea of what I wanted my retirement to look like.

    After interviewing 84 people regarding their perceptions about retirement, Smith and Dougherty (2012) concluded that their participant’s stories of retirement (or future retirement) lined up, forming a ‘master narrative.’ They also note the similarities between this narrative and the American Dream, pointing out how the two narratives define success as an individual pursuit. Defining success as solely individualistic has several negative implications including that it places blame on those who either don’t have the means to retire early or are unhappy in their retirement.The article asserts that for many older workers, this creates additional stress as those workers are “forced to live with the stigma of having brought this state of life on themselves” (p. 470).

    Having such a heavily individualistic focus, I wonder, what this master narrative would tell us about retirement if we were defining it based on collectivistic, rather than individualistic, pursuits. At a micro level, our individual narratives would likely change. Rather than daydreaming about future travels or my daily schedule in Chapala, my suddenly flexible schedule might cause me to focus on local community development.

    I would argue that at the very least, we would change our perception of those individuals who are forced to continue working well into old age. The master narrative would also point to a larger societal problem rather than placing the blame on financially unstable individuals who continue to live on an employer-mandated routine. My questions to anyone reading this: What do you think a collectivist master narrative would look like? Are there any downsides to a collectivist master narrative?

Smith, F. L., & Dougherty, D. S. (2012). Revealing a Master Narrative Discourses of Retirement Throughout the Working Life Cycle. Management Communication Quarterly, 26(3), 453-478.

1 comment:

  1. My dad still wants (in a way) to grow up (i.e., retire) and be a truck driver. That's my thought on the master narrative: we should always be growing up or coming of age over and over and over again.

    (Love the pic)