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Unmasking age

Unmasking age: The significance of age for social research

Bill Bytheway
Copyright Date: 2011
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qgkqj
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  • Book Info
    Unmasking age
    Book Description:

    What is age? A simple question but not that easy to answer. 'Unmasking Age' addresses it using data from a series of research projects relating to later life. This is supplemented by material from a range of other sources including diaries and fiction. Drawing on a long career in social research, Bill Bytheway critically examines various methods and discusses ways of uncovering the realities of age.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-619-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of figures and tables
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. ONE Introducing age
    (pp. 1-22)

    Age is a simple word that really shouldn’t need any introduction or explanation. Consider the following. It is the entry for 31 October 1965 in the diary of the British comedian and writer, Kenneth Williams:

    Read the new Carry On, ‘Screaming’, & wrote to Peter Rogers that I didn’t want to play another ‘old’ character. If he offers to make the age younger, I’ll do it, not otherwise. I’d rather play my own age. (Davies, 1994, p 265)

    There is nothing exceptional about this extract; quite the opposite. I could have chosen any number of examples of people talking or writing...

  6. TWO Researching age
    (pp. 23-50)

    In this chapter, I consider ways of researching age. I start by discussing well-established strategies, before developing the case for alternatives. There are two key issues to bear in mind: how we as researchers collect or generate data that might cast light on age, and how we secure the necessary resources and then the relevant opportunities to achieve this. In particular, a critical question is how access is gained to older people, and the extent to which access may be biased towards particular categories. There is a constant risk that we end up (a) tackling questions set by funding agencies,...

  7. THREE Age and time
    (pp. 51-74)

    Clocks and calendars provide a scale against which temporal change can be plotted. However, Jan Baars (2007) warns that ‘a large part of the gerontology community’ is still under the ‘spell’ of predictions based upon chronological age (p 2). His concern is that gerontology should focus on the causes of ageing rather than the correlates of chronological age:

    While it is true that all causal relations arealsotemporal relations, or relations working ‘in time’, it would be wrong to identify causality with time or to reduce the process of aging to the causal effects of time. (Baars, 2007, p...

  8. FOUR Representations of age
    (pp. 75-90)

    While engaging with people in interviews or other participative activities is essential to gerontological research, this in itself is not sufficient. The analysis of language and image and how they are used to represent age in the wider cultural landscape, is just as important. So the issues I address in this chapter relate to roadside billboards, government documents and statistical samples – any attempt, in fact, to ‘represent’ age.

    Representation is a word with many associations (Hall, 1997). I use it here to cover the ways in which words, pictures and diagrams might be used in attempts to convey the...

  9. FIVE Growing older in an ageing body
    (pp. 91-116)

    We are all growing older and our bodies, slowly but surely, are constantly ageing. So we all have some first-hand experience of what this entails. But only up to a point: our understanding of what it is like to be older than we are currently is, necessarily, only second-hand knowledge gained through observing and listening to our elders. And what older people tell us about being the age they are is, of course, loaded with all sorts of emotions. ‘When you’re my age, then you’ll understand …’ is a classic put-down that reasserts the authority of personal experience.

    In Chapter...

  10. SIX Being older
    (pp. 117-136)

    Age is a relative phenomenon as well as an absolute one. What does it mean to say that A is older than B? What is the significance of age for the relationship between two people? If A is chronologically older than B, can B be older than A in other ways? Well, regarding that last question, I remember at the age of 21 being the proud owner of a second-hand Austin A30 and being taught to drive by my younger brother who, unlike me, had passed his driving test first time: an example of how the teacher-pupil relationship does not...

  11. SEVEN A great age
    (pp. 137-162)

    While I was drafting this chapter,The Guardianpublished an interview with Deborah Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (Moss, 2010). When asked about the postnatal deaths of her three children she commented:

    When you are very old, you accept what has happened. You cry over some things, but not a lot. It’s too distant. It’s as if part of you gets nearer to it yourself, and then you think the churchyard here is very handy …

    It is not often that people describe themselves as ‘very old’, but when they do it is often, as here, in the course...

  12. EIGHT The ageing population
    (pp. 163-186)

    The popular media often expresses its concern about ‘the ageing population’. How is the population ageing? To answer this basic question, it is necessary to consider first the concept of population and how demographers have studied it.

    Although demography, defined as the statistical study of human populations, has developed the tools for analysing any collection of people, much of its literature focuses on nation states and their constituent populations. This is driven by the politics of nationhood. It is in this context, for example, that universal suffrage has been promoted, and it follows directly from this that democracy depends upon...

  13. NINE Gerontologists and older people
    (pp. 187-206)

    In this penultimate chapter I want to discuss the relationship between gerontologists and older people. There is in this a classic example of ‘us and them’. As Margaret Simey commented a few years ago, when addressing the annual conference of the British Society of Gerontology:

    “For us, ‘we’ are older people and gerontologists are ‘them’.”

    To overcome this harsh divide, there have been moves to promote ‘participative research’ through projects in which older people are actively involved in ways other than just as research subjects. The RoAD project is a good example, and I have little doubt that the outcomes...

  14. TEN Getting real
    (pp. 207-216)

    In writing this book I have tried to focus on the concept of age and to examine critically how it is used in social research and gerontology. Is age real? Of course it is: it is clearly evident that our bodies age in fairly standard, predictable and visible ways. As Mike Hepworth has argued:

    … sociologists do not deny that ageing is a process of biological change; rather they wish to draw attention to the social and personal implications of the ways in which the meanings of biological change as ‘decline’ are culturally constructed and interpreted through discourse. (2003, p...

  15. Postscript
    (pp. 217-220)

    I never expected that the two people who would feature most prominently in this book would both become centenarians. In very different ways, the lives of May Nilewska and Frances Partridge have been highly revealing for me, and it has left me wondering why. The reason, in my opinion, is that the evidence demonstrates how the lived experience of growing older is one of slow but constant change, change that continues for as long as there is life. Undertaking research with centenarians is not easy and much of what exists has been largely epidemiological, aimed at discovering their ‘secrets’, the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 221-222)
  17. Appendix
    (pp. 223-226)
  18. References
    (pp. 227-238)
  19. Index
    (pp. 239-243)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 244-244)