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Ageing, meaning and social structure

Ageing, meaning and social structure: Connecting critical and humanistic gerontology

Jan Baars
Joseph Dohmen
Amanda Grenier
Chris Phillipson
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    Ageing, meaning and social structure
    Book Description:

    Ageing, meaning and social structure is a unique book advancing critical discourse in gerontology and makes a major contribution to understanding key social and ethical dilemmas facing ageing societies. It confronts and integrates approaches that have been relatively isolated from each other, and interrelates two major streams of thought within critical gerontology: analyses of structural issues in the context of political economy and humanistic perspectives on issues of existential meaning. The chapters, from a wide range of contributors, focus on major issues in ageing such as autonomy, agency, frailty, lifestyle, social isolation, dementia and professional challenges in social work and participatory research. This volume should be valuable reading for scholars and graduate students in gerontology and humanistic studies, as well as for policy makers and practitioners working in the field of ageing.

    eISBN: 978-1-4473-0091-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Notes on contributors
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)
    Jan Baars and Chris Phillipson

    Demographic change in the 21st century – with the rise of ageing populations across the Global North and South – is setting moral as well as political and economic challenges for the range of countries involved. on the one side come complex issues about the distribution of resources between generations and groups, with pressures placed on the shoulders of individuals in determining how to manage life in old age. on the other side has come a strong sense of the possibilities of new areas of choice in later life, notably with debates around the rise of the so-called ‘third age’ and the...

  6. TWO Connecting meaning with social structure: theoretical foundations
    (pp. 11-30)
    Jan Baars and Chris Phillipson

    Although these words remind us of the vulnerability of human life and its meanings, we rarely live according to such aloof attempts at wisdom but instead try to find, support and change meaningful orientations that may help us through our lives. Within the broad context of basic narratives, experiences are interpreted in such a way that at least some basicorientationresults that helps in facingsituationsthat are seen as important for our lives. Meaningful orientations prevent the world in which somebody lives from being experienced as a chaotically unconnected succession of impressions.

    Connections play a fundamental role in...

  7. THREE My own life: ethics, ageing and lifestyle
    (pp. 31-54)
    Joseph Dohmen

    In recent decades there has been a shift from what may be termed a politics of emancipation to a politics of life. In a post-traditional society, late modern people, young and old, are individualised and forced to lead a life on the basis of a reflexive lifestyle. Key aims for older people include those associated with positive health and successful ageing. In this chapter I present a moral lifestyle for later life as an alternative to the dominant neoliberal concept of the choice biography. The first part discusses the transition to a politics of life as a daily struggle for...

  8. FOUR Rethinking agency in late life: structural and interpretive approaches
    (pp. 55-80)
    Amanda Grenier and Chris Phillipson

    Over the course of the 1990s and 2000s, debates in gerontology focused around the period of the ‘fourth age’ as a complex socio-cultural construct. These contributions have moved beyond the long-standing use of the ‘fourth age’ as an uncritical age-based criterion in research samples (for example, 80+) or simply as a marker of eligibility for services. At the same time, however, they have produced a new set of challenges for interpretations of the fourth age, and in particular, concerns about the extent to which agency may be said to operate within this period of the lifecourse. The assumption that agency...

  9. FIVE Dementia: beyond structures of medicalisation and cultural neglect
    (pp. 81-96)
    Margreet Th. Bruens

    The past few decades have seen major changes in scientific views about dementia (Ballenger, 2006). Dementia was first viewed as a sign of normal ageing accompanied by an inevitable deterioration of cognitive functions. Alongside this came its designation as a biomedical condition. Accompanying this was the collection of a large body of scientific knowledge and a substantial increase in research funding in Europe and North America, dedicated to understanding the causes of the disease. There were, however, negative consequences that arose from the scientific and medical interventions in the field of dementia. In particular, the person experiencing the disease became...

  10. SIX Self-realisation and ageing: a spiritual perspective
    (pp. 97-118)
    Hanne Laceulle

    This chapter looks at the relevance of perspectives on spirituality and ageing in relation to self-realisation in later life. First, it outlines individualisation processes, the corresponding rise of individual self-realisation as a cultural and moral ideal, and the implications of these developments for ageing individuals. Second, the ethical-philosophical concept of self-realisation and views about the nature of the self are discussed. Third, the chapter examines how perspectives on spirituality and ageing can contribute to our understanding of the subject of self-realisation in late modernity. The argument developed here holds that spiritual perspectives within gerontology, such as those advanced by Thomas...

  11. SEVEN Social ability or social frailty? The balance between autonomy and connectedness in the lives of older people
    (pp. 119-138)
    Anja Machielse and Roelof Hortulanus

    Social relationships constitute an important resource in daily life. For this reason people who are embedded in a network of meaningful personal relationships generally enjoy a higher level of wellbeing than those without such a network. This applies in particular to primary relationships with spouses and family, but social relationships in a broader sense also have a positive influence on feelings of wellbeing. Yet the ability to maintain such relationships may be affected by broader changes affecting society. These may drastically alter the structure of daily life, granting more freedom in some areas while at the same time increasing the...

  12. EIGHT Critical perspectives on social work with older people
    (pp. 139-156)
    Mo Ray

    Using social work with older people as a case study, this chapter argues that the marginalisation of social work with older people in the UK effectively holds a mirror to the wider exclusion of those within this age group who use social work and personal social care services – in effect, older people with high support needs. The chapter draws on a critical perspective to highlight the complexities that are involved in contemporary, professional social work practice with older people, and points to future directions in the development of a professional social work role into the future. It examines first challenges...

  13. NINE Community-based participatory action research: opportunities and challenges for critical gerontology
    (pp. 157-180)
    Friederike Ziegler and Thomas Scharf

    Critical gerontology has evolved from a commitment by researchers to challenge and ultimately change the ways in which Western societies construct ageing and shape the lives of older people (Phillipson and Walker, 1987). This value-based approach is founded on critical gerontologists’ ethical engagement with concerns of social justice and equity across the lifecourse and, particularly, as they relate to later life (Holstein and Minkler, 2003). In addition, researchers working within the critical tradition refer to the existence of a moral obligation to change the ways in which societies construct the cultural, economic and political parameters that frame the ageing of...

  14. TEN Commentary: contingent ageing, naturalisation and some rays of intellectual hope
    (pp. 181-196)
    Dale Dannefer and Jielu Lin

    We begin this commentary by underscoring the usefulness of the distinction made by Jan Baars and Chris Phillipson in Chapter Two, between contingent and existential ageing. As they define these terms,contingentageing refers to ‘… limitations that are neither inherent in human life nor inevitable in senescing …’, whileexistentialageing refers to ‘vulnerabilities that are inherent in human life and will manifest themselves inevitably as people live longer.’ This important distinction resurfaces in a number of complex ways throughout the chapters of this volume, and we employ it as one of two organising themes for this commentary chapter....

  15. Index
    (pp. 197-205)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 206-206)