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The Social Construction of Old Age

The examination of age in this series of research projects starts out from social constructionist foundations. Constructionist ageing studies assume that there is no "essence of age" that underlies the observation of age phenomena, but only the plausibility offered by the distinction between age and other things. We don't age because our minds our bodies want to, but because we explain changes in our thinking and physical processes with the category "age". One way of understanding such changes is to decipher them as signs of ageing. The first premise of constructionist ageing studies can therefore be said to be that age does not have an objective existence of its own.

From this follows the second premise of constructionist ageing studies: Age is "made" or "done" by people in their daily interactions with real or imagined others. It is not done alone, but within social constraints. The terms that make up one's age are outside oneself, in a society that has no single author. However, the relationship between social structure (e.g. age norms) and agency is reflexive: How people "do" their age is neither dictated by structure nor totally self-determined. On the one hand, people want to be acknowledged, want their actions to be accountable and therefore anticipate how others will understand and judge them. This is why people often conform to dominant norms, even if they personally question or reject them. On the other hand, it is only by doing age, that the social structures on which age is based are produced and reproduced.

This leads to the third premise of constructionist ageing studies: Age has tangible consequences for people's lives. That age is socially constructed does not mean that age is "not real" or that "you just have to think young to be young".

Selected publications