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- Author or Editor: Chris Gilleard x
How do we sustain agency and identity amidst the frailty of advanced old age? What role does care play in this process?
Pushing forward new sociological theory, this book explores the theoretical and practical issues raised by age and infirmity. It begins with a theoretical examination of the fourth age, interrogating notions of agency, identity and personhood, as well as the impact of frailty, abjection and ‘othering’. It then applies this analysis to issues of care.
Exploring our collective hopes and fears concerning old age and the ends of people’s lives, this is essential reading on one of the biggest social issues of our time.
As the population ages, this book reveals how divides that are apparent through childhood and working life change and are added to in later life.
Two internationally renowned experts in ageing look beyond longstanding factors like class, gender and ethnicity to explore new social divisions, including contrasting states of physical fitness and mental health. They show how differences in health and frailty are creating fresh inequalities in later life, with significant implications for the future of our ageing societies.
This accessible overview of social divisions is essential reading for those interested in the sociology of ageing and its differences, diversities and inequalities.
Our aim in this chapter is to sketch out an argument that links the material well-being of the retired population in western Europe and North America with issues of power and social class. In the course of doing this, we challenge the continuing representation of older people as members of a residual class dependent on the rest of society and defined by the processes of poverty (Collins et al, 2001). We argue, instead, that later life must be viewed as a fragmented and complex formation fully connected to the dominant economic and cultural processes of late modernity as well as to its contradictions. The history of poverty among older people in industrialised societies has tended to marginalise the importance of later life in framing key aspects of the modern world. It has led to the assumption that issues relating to class and power are reflections of previous class locations rather than present ones with their own dynamics. Later life is no longer defined by its vulnerable position within the lifecycle theory of poverty. It has become secure because of the post-war welfare state. This transformation is creating dilemmas of its own, as policy success is represented as demographic crisis. This crisis is no longer at the margins of social policy. Through the operation of pension fund capitalism, it reaches the very core of social organisation. In this chapter, we chart the changes in later life from its initial residualisation as poverty, through its decommodification by the welfare state, to its current recommodification within second modernity. Throughout, we demonstrate that later life has been shaped by processes of social class and the drive to expand contemporary capitalism.
Whether later life is represented through the lens of an apocalyptic demography or an over-entitled baby-boom generation, such differing representations point to the continuing dissolution of old age as a unitary social category. The division between the ‘third’ and ‘fourth’ ages is becoming an important feature of ageing societies. While the latter reflects an image of old age defined by dependency and vulnerability, the former projects an image of generational capture. This bifurcation has been present over the past 30 years and has recently become evident in responses to, and discourses about, the COVID-19 pandemic. By drawing attention to these disparate representations of ageing in the media, this chapter argues that public discourses of ageing articulate a fundamental incompatibility in the framing of later life, through the representational structures of the third and fourth ages in society.
This chapter outlines the fourth age paradigm. It argues that later life is increasingly losing its coherence as a unitary stage in the life course. Diversity in the discourses and practices surrounding later life abound. The discourses of active and healthy ageing in particular promote an optimistic ‘third age’ culture. This framing of later life as a time for autonomy, self-expression and pleasure creates the conditions for the shadowy background of a fourth age imaginary. It is within this imaginary sphere that all the fears and failures of ageing and agedness are deposited.
This chapter explores the question of agency and personhood as applied to old and infirm persons living under the shadows of the fourth age. It explores the metaphysical and moral conditions that have been claimed to support being a person and possessing personal agency. Personhood, it concludes, is more a place marker for rights than an ontological feature of humanity. By placing responsibility for ‘realising’ or ‘performing’ personhood on to the systems of care, it is argued, the expectation is created that the moral agency of carers can re-instate ‘personhood’ expressed as a set of metaphysical capacities. An alternative strategy based upon the moral imperative of care is proposed that makes no claims for or about ‘personhood’.
This chapter explores how terms like agency and personhood have been understood within the social sciences. It argues that there has long been a tradition of scepticism to the use of such terms and their status as ‘social realities’ rather than ‘social representations’. More recently, there has been renewed interest in concepts of ‘individualisation’ and ‘reflexivity’ as part of the cultural framework in late or ‘second’ modernity. This cultural turn toward demanding increased autonomy, choice and the necessary reflexivity to choose wisely, the chapter argues, has given the problem of dementia a more critical place in society. Addressing dementia as a particularly powerful threat to the lifelong realisation of individual life projects is a useful framework through which to explore care.
Frailty or infirmity is seen as a central element in the construction of the social imaginary of the fourth age. While the term is widely employed as a bio-medical condition that is capable of being defined and measured, this chapter argues that frailty serves as a marker – a signifier – of an almost intangible loss of capabilities, autonomy and status. The frail older person is represented as the older person who is at risk. While much research has been conducted to define that risk, little has emerged that demonstrates how such risks can be reliably reduced or eliminated. Whatever else frailty means, it serves to define the frail (or ‘frailed’) older person as ontologically at risk and thereby the object of other’s discourse – in short the inescapable subject of third person accounts.
This chapter describes the abjection that is associated with late life frailty. Abjection refers to the collective distaste and shame associated with any devalued condition, status or position within society. Drawing upon the history of the ‘old’ abject classes, for whom the poorhouse or the workhouse served as their symbolic institution, it is argued that the successful dismantling of those institutions and the near elimination of abject or extreme poverty has since seen a ‘new’ abject class emerge, made up of the frail and most dependent persons, largely very old and very infirm people. Unlike the abject classes of the past, today’s new class of abject persons is much less able either to challenge its marginalisation or to represent itself as a collective voice. Replacing the workhouse, the nursing home is its symbolic institution where abjection is inter-woven within the networks and relations of care. Those who care and those who are cared for are alike subject to the abjection of the fourth age and the potential for abuse that flows from it.
This chapter addresses the topic of care. Care is approached as a mandated, moral imperative. Societies (and families) should care about its members; the question is not whether to care but who cares, how they care and in what contexts. Three facets of care are explored, its ethos, its practices and the relationships within which it is socially realised. The ethos of care is explored as both morally right actions toward those in need of care and as a reflection of the virtues of the person doing the caring. Care practices involve both the tasks that are done to help someone who cannot look after themselves and the manner of performing those tasks. It is here where the ethics of care are highlighted. The relationships within which care is realised provide much of the context evoking the social imaginary of the fourth age. The less scope for the parties concerned to construct that relationship as one of reciprocal exchange and/or a reflection of mutuality, the more likely that the social imaginary will be drawn down upon the person being cared for.