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Sociology of normal ageing 

Sociology of normal ageing
Chapter:
Sociology of normal ageing
Author(s):

Sarah Harper

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199696758.003.0194
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date: 20 April 2019

Research on the sociology of normal ageing has focused on understanding the paradigms of ‘successful ageing’. In an apparent reaction to ‘disengagement theory’ which proposed that to withdraw from roles and relationships in old age was normal, a new conceptual framework was developed in the late 1960s and 1970s which attempted to explain how individuals adapted to the constraints of ageing and old age. This has been variously measured in terms of good health, high levels of physical and mental functioning, and active engagement with one's social and physical environment. While post-modernism and critical gerontology have attempted to refocus the debate, the emphasis of most research and writing has remained within the framework of understanding, explaining, and even facilitating, ‘success’ in old age. There is also a body of research which recognizes the importance of the life course perspective, and that throughout an individual's life, he or she is faced with continuities and discontinuities which have to be negotiated and resolved. Old age is but part of this life-long process. Changes which occur in later life, such as retirement and widowhood, will lead to discontinuities in roles and relationships, other aspects of our lives will undergo little change allowing continuity. Alongside this, perspectives from anthropology, history and the social constructionist school of thought have also been recently influential. This chapter will discuss concepts of age, generation, and cohort. It will consider the contribution of the life course approach to understanding ageing, and the manner in which other perspectives, such as social constructionism, narrative psychology and anthropology, have contributed to the sociology of normal ageing.

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