The Handbook of Sociology of the Aging: Overview of the Main Themes
The Handbook of Sociology of the Ageing: Overview of the Main Themes of Part 1
In Part 1 of this book, Richard and Jacqueline (2011) offer an overview of the scholarship of on the sociology of ageing. In particular, the authors provide a highlight of how the content of the field of the sociology of ageing has changed over the last thirty years. Further, the authors provide an in-depth illustration of how the various changes have impacted the field in general.
The first idea expressed in the book is the historical trends in the theories, trends, and topics of the sociology of the ageing. For instance, according to the authors, various trends have occurred in theories of sociology of ageing. Over the past years, the sociology of ageing has been based on the theories of figures like Max Weber and Karl Marx as these theories of founding fathers being treated as “holy trinity” (Angel & Richard, 2011). Moreover, the sociology of adding also borrowed from other ideas such as the theories dealing with social constructivism, social conflict and structural nationalism (Angel & Richard, 2011). Moreover, in the days past, the central starting points for the development of these traditional ideas were majorly derived from modernization, and disengagement theories. The classical theorists also argued that the social withdrawal of old people and the physical decline in old age is functional and inevitable for both the society and individuals.
Another important idea discussed which was a common characteristic of the traditional theories which guided the discussion on the sociology of ageing is their focus on individual’s behavior. However, while emphasizing on the behavior of a person, these ideas also paid particular attention to the greater social good and social expectations. According to the authors, these concepts greatly contrast the idea offered by the modernization theories. For instance, the latter focuses on the status of the aged across different cultures and the way in which social transformation linked with the modernization are causal to the underprivileged situation of the old people.
The authors write:
“These functional equilibrium theories focused on individual behaviour, but with an eye on social expectations and the greater social good. In contrast, [the] modernization theory was crucial in taking a purer societal view on ageing. It examined the status of the aged across cultures and identified how the societal changes associated with the modernization contribute to the disadvantaged position of the old people” (Angel & Richard, 2011).
Apart from the various transformations which have occurred in the theories of sociology of ageing, the field has also witnessed changes in the methodologies used over the past decades. As new ideas emerge creating new understanding, approaches in the field continue to shift (Angel & Richard, 2011). For example, while the traditional studies in the field of sociology of ageing placed emphasis on the basic descriptions, the focus of modern studies range from providing deep explanations to offering causality. On the other hand, the traditional studies heavily relied on the qualitative methods or other simple quantitative approaches. However, with new trends into play, the studies on the sociology of ageing began using more quantitative methods and multi-method studies (Angel & Richard, 2011). Additionally, the new trends have seen the applicable approaches taking a leap from traditional methods which relied on cross-sectional studies to the longitudinal data set. Other significant transitions in methodology have been expressed as:
“Fromm traditional studies based on small, original data set to a preponderance of publication based on analyses of large secondary data sets/designed for scientific community” (Angel & Richard, 2011).
The fourth important idea which Richard and Jacqueline discuss in the text is the trend which has occurred in the variety of topics and the terms linked to these topics of the sociology of ageing. These changes have been witnessed in the way the language structure has transformed to reflect the upcoming new realities (Angel & Richard, 2011). These changes in language have been meant to make the field more powerful to signal the current assumptions and intellectual preoccupations. As the structure of the language changes, topics also changes. According to the authors’ findings, some of the themes such as “interstate migration,” and “Snowbird” which were initially present are no longer existent. Others such have not only persisted but have also grown while some new topics have been introduced during the last three decades. On the other hand, terms like “the elderly,” the “old people,” or the “old age” which were common in the former studies have vanished although these terms are still commonly used by media and policy makers. Richard and Jacqueline write:
“It will surprise some readers to know that the term “successful ageing,” to our knowledge, was first used by Robert Havinghurst in a 1963 article that preceded our period, and again at the start of our period by Erdman Palmore in a 1979 article” (Angel & Richard, 2011).
The fifth lesson considerable as a core in the text addresses the idea of the institutionalization of the sociology of ageing. This institutionalization began by the contribution of some scholars like Leonard Breen and Harold Orbach during 1961. These scholars of sociology contributed to the organization of sociologist with particular focus to the ageing. Currently, a sociologist of ageing can secure homes in important sections of professional agencies which allow them to cultivate both sociology and ageing.
From the theme of the trend in theories of sociology of ageing, we come to understand the role of new trends in contributing to the emergence of other major theoretical frameworks in the field of sociology of ageing. Examples are the feminist ideas and the theories of cumulative advantage and disadvantage. Consequently, we come to understand how social theories of ageing experience significant swings from the ideas of the early age when research resulted to rich methods with poor supportive data. At the same time, the turn has been witnessed in giving rise to new theories in the school of the sociology of ageing which differs from the early ideas based on lots of information but poor in theoretical explanations.
Contrary to the traditional forms of a theoretical framework which were based on individual’s behavior, the modern trend in theories of sociology of ageing offers a better understanding of the field of sociology of ageing (Angel & Richard, 2011). With new theoretical approaches, modern sociologist comes to understand the sociology of ageing by taking into the influence of culture and cross-cultural activities in the sociology of ageing. Accordingly, the new trend enables a better understanding of how individual’s behavior changes in response to the role and impacts of cultural aspects on age without focusing only on the behavior of people.
On the other hand, the development of the new methodologies applicable in the sociology of ageing in important. The new trends in approaches enable for the better understanding of different concepts for by using advanced methods in developing modern theoretical frameworks (Angel & Richard, 2011). For instance, the reliance on qualitative research in developing concepts by current methods offers more elaborative ideas which provide a better understanding. Additionally, with new approaches, modern theories are based on more elaborative explanations compared to the traditional approaches. Consequently, it enables the development of concepts which are grounded on more practical data.
Finally, Richard and Jacqueline discovered a transformation on the topics, terms and concepts from the traditional theology to current school of thought. As noted by the authors, these changes in the content of sociology of ageing are significant. For example, as the role of technology comes into play, different sectors, contents such as the introduction of new terms are necessary to capture the future needs. At the same time, as the world changes, concepts do not remain static but are dynamic. In this regard, it is important that traditional topics which do not make sense in the modern world are automatically forgotten to give rise to new trends which can provide understanding which is consistent with changes in other fields as well.
The lessons in this chapter provided the significant understanding of sociology in different dimensions. For instance, it enabled me to develop an understanding of the impacts of theoretical shifts in the field of sociology of ageing such as from the old theories of Karl Marx to the new feminists’ ideas. Additionally, I learnt how the modern trends had impacted the content of sociology of ageing with the field witnessing different shifts ranging from the topics, terms, and concepts to make sociology of ageing more diverse.
Angel, J., Richard, A. (2011). Handbook of sociology of aging. Nueva York: Springer.
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