Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Richard Walsh-Bowers

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This study explores the meanings of community, participation, activism and being old with eight older Jamaicans. The roles of culture and religion are examined in reference to the participants’ community and social aging experiences. The researcher used a culturally relevant research paradigm [Diasporic African] incorporating indigenous methods [testifying] grounded in the participants’ cultural and religious identifies and experiences as older Christian Jamaicans of African descent. The use of testimonies is described in Stanfield’s (1998) work on ethic modeling in qualitative research design. Demographic information and life histories focussing on community roles, sites for participation across the life span, and the meaning of community experiences in later years were derived from the participants’ testimonies. The participants, seven women interviewed in Jamaica and one man interviewed while he was on vacation in Canada, ranged in age from 70 to 102 years old. The average interview length was 45 minutes. The data analysis process involved an intuitive process of highlighting convergent and divergent experiences within the testimonies. Common words and phrases were coded as thematic categories. Memos, categorizing strategies and contextualizing strategies were also used as prescribed in Maxwell’s (1996) work on qualitative research design. Participants’ responses for the meanings of community and participation reflect the values of sharing, giving, and unity. The participants defined being old by making reference to the Biblical concept of “three-score and ten.” All of the participants identified themselves as old; however, they stated that “you are as old as you feel,” indicating that they perceived an attitudinal component to their identity as older persons. For the eight older persons in this study, activism was not a relevant term; however, a few individuals’ community involvements included activities that were more indicative of advocacy efforts. Overall the eight elders were involved in care-giving, income-generating, recreational, civic, and religious activities. “Sharing,” “giving,” and “being together” were the words participants used to describe community participation. Connectedness, relationship, and the concept of the collective are interpreted as extensions to the participants’ words. The findings are discussed in relation to cultural legacies and religious values found in Jamaican culture that is derived from the synthesis of African, Aboriginal and European elements. The author argues that the value for the collective [collectivism] is derived from the African cultural legacy within Jamaica. Jamaica is discussed as a sociocultural context embedded within the sociocultural contexts of the Caribbean and Latin America, the Americas, and the African diaspora. Descriptions of the traditional and changing roles of older persons within these sociocultural and geopolitical entities are presented to contextualize the participants’ experiences of community and growing older. Factors influencing the changing role of seniors in Jamaica are also discussed, as well as the opportunities that exist for capacity-building offers. Empowerment is inferred from the participants’ testimonies and the researcher’s observations. Arguments are presented supporting the relevance of the study’s findings to community psychology particularly where the experiences of older persons in the English-speaking Caribbean are unrepresented.

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