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  • Writer's picturegabriellehalpern

Let us hybridize retirement homes!

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

Do you know how to say "retirement" in Spanish? Jubilacion"... A word whose Latin etymology tells us that it is a "song of joy". It has nothing to do with our French word "retraite", which fierce Latin etymology associates with the action of "withdrawing". A language is always also a world view...

But how can we accept that this should be the term that expresses our vision of the role and place of a growing proportion of our population? This idea of withdrawal is terrible; the expression "retirement homes" is so appalling that it's crazy that we had the idea of calling them that. The cold, impersonal acronym "EHPAD" does not help. Why do we "remove" these generations from our society? Why do we talk all day long about inclusion, social mix, - when very often, unfortunately, what is done in this respect is more a matter of "social juxtaposition", i.e. individuals coexisting but not meeting? And why do we find it so difficult to embrace the elderly in our society? When will we finally take seriously the great challenge of generational hybridity [1] ?

Urban planning, public services, products, real estate, leisure activities, mobility and even uses: everything must be redesigned, everything must be reinvented, because the demographic transition [2] and the ageing of the population that it entails will seriously upset our society. Public decision-makers must stop considering the elderly as a "box" in their political programme or action plan; in the same way, they must stop considering the "silver economy" as a specific sector of activity, because this is the best way to create divides and a society in silos. By constantly categorising populations, public and private decision-makers are preventing themselves from thinking about and building a true generational hybridisation.

What if retirement homes were also start-up incubators, crèches, museums and sports halls, would this really lead to a confusion of things? Why do we always need to put people, things, ideas, cultures, products, services or uses into boxes? Don't we see that these labels that we find reassuring and that we spend our lives sticking on others and on things, make us completely miss the reality of the world? Do we not understand that they lead us, in spite of ourselves, to hurt this reality, by cutting it into pieces? We approach the world with a brain shaped like a cupboard with drawers. We are subject to a 'homogeneity impulse' [3] which systematically puts things or people who are similar into the same box: we put startups with startups, old people with old people, and so on! As a result of centuries of worshiping identity - the identical - we've forgotten that the world is fundamentally hybrid, i.e. heterogeneous, mixed, contradictory, and that in a hybrid world... we have to learn to get hybridised and to hybridise [4] !

Let's hybridise retirement homes with museums, restaurants, sports halls, crèches, start-up incubators and theatres, so that they welcome other publics, so that they are places of life, learning grounds, catalysts for encounters and crossovers. It's not just a matter of juxtaposing spaces, audiences and uses, but of creating the necessary conditions for meetings between all these people, all these uses, all these activities, despite their differences, despite - sometimes - the contradictions, so that there is a metamorphosis of each one through contact with the other. So that the elderly no longer have to withdraw from the world, we will have to innovate so that they stay, so that they come back, so that they metamorphose and so that they also help us to metamorphose. And these retirement homes will become "houses of jubilation"! Generational hybridity is not only a duty, it should be a fundamental human right!

[1] Gabrielle Halpern, Let's all be centaurs! A Celebration of Hybridisation, Le Pommier, 2020.


[3] Gabrielle Halpern, Thinking the Hybrid, PhD Thesis in Philosophy, 2019.

[4] Gabrielle Halpern, Let's all be centaurs! A Celebration of Hybridisation, Le Pommier, 2020.


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