Sociological theories of ageing

It is impossible to give a full description of theories in this section so references are provided for interested readers to explore further. Theories of ageing in the social sciences demonstrate considerable overlap between sociology nd psychology. However, two main categories of theory can be identified: (a) structuralism, which focuses on organizational structures (e.g. society, institutions such as the family) and the individual within them, and (b) symbolic interactionism, which focuses on interactions between people and between the individual and the society or group. Structuralist approaches predate interactionist approaches but both still have their followers.

Within structuralism there are two main perspectives. The functionalist perspective stresses harmony, complementarity of roles and actions, homeostasis, and stability. The two best known functionalist theories of ageing are disengagement theory ^ and activity theory.*2) Disengagement theory suggests that gradual withdrawal from participation in roles and activities is a natural, inevitable, and functional consequence of advancing age. Conversely, activity theory suggests that by maintaining middle-aged levels of activity into old age, the individual is happier and better adjusted. Later theories of ageing on this model include age stratification theory(3) and intergenerational linkage theory,(4) which have been followed by an emphasis on a life course perspective.

The other main structuralist strand is the conflict perspective, which stresses friction, instability, power struggles between groups, and the exploitation of the weak. Several general sociological theories can be to applied to ageing—for example, Marxist dialectic, modernization theory, social problem theory, and minority group theory. The main conflict theory of ageing is the political economy of old age theory, (5) which sees the position of older people in society as structural dependency resulting from discrimination by economic and social policies. Later theories in this mode include feminist and social conflict theories of ageing.

Symbolic interactionism grew out of hermaneutics and is not associated with any specific theory of ageing. However, the following general theories have been applied to the ageing process: labelling theory,(6) exchange theory,(7) and subculture theory.(8) The interactionist theories are closely affiliated with phenomenology and ethnomethodology. These theories focus on the use of language to describe everyday life and see the foundations of social life as a commonly lived world of experience expressed through language. They are concerned with how members view the social group and the meanings assigned to action/experience. This perspective takes issue with the validity of positivist research based on what are seen as imposed categories. Later theories in this genre include social exchange theory and various critical theories of gerontology.

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Break Free From Passive Aggression

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