Social Theory, Social Policy and Ageing

Social Theory, Social Policy and Ageing

Social Theory, Social Policy and Ageing

Social Theory, Social Policy and Ageing


In this important new book, three leading social theorists of old age present a critical review of key theoretical developments and issues influencing the study of adult ageing. The authors explore contemporary trends in social policy drawing on the experience of ageing in the USA, Europe and an increasingly global environment.

Particular attention is given to feminist perspectives on ageing, ethics and bio-medicine, successful and productive ageing, globalization and migration and the politics of ageing. Consideration is given in each case to the interaction between structural influences on social ageing and the experience of age and identity. The work ends with a manifesto for social theory, social policy and social change.

Social Theory, Social Policy and Ageing will be valuable reading for advanced students and practitioners taking courses in social theory, the sociology of old age and social gerontology.


In this book we attempt to cover the main issues facing the study of ageing in the first decades of the twenty-first century. As such, it should provide the reader with an overview of issues and challenges presented by demographic change for social theory, social policy and the social sciences. We present this challenge from an unashamedly critical perspective.

James Birren (Birren and Bengston 1988) makes the point that the study of ageing, or gerontology as it is called, is 'data rich and theory poor'. What he means by this is that while a significant amount of data has been generated over the years (notably around issues such as health and social needs in old age) this has not been paralleled by an equivalent understanding of the meaning and place of ageing within the structure of contemporary society. One of the influential remedies suggested for gerontology has been presented by Robert Butler (in Moody 1993) in terms of 'a union of science and advocacy'. In other words, progress in the expansion of a knowledge base, largely consisting of physical ageing and its bio-technical remedies, accompanied by a political desire to promote the interests of older adults and combat ageism, will prove to be the best way forward for gerontology and for older people themselves. Butler's proposal draws attention to an important feature of the study of ageing, namely, its multidisciplinary and applied character. In consequence, the relationship between theory and policy has been especially close and can be seen in the different strands within sociology, economics, anthropology, psychology and other disciplines.

Policy and theory are both interpretive. Both go beyond data and 'common-sense' definitions, to formulate answers to the 'why' as well as the 'what' of contemporary ageing. They are affected by and exert an influence upon the politics of ageing and in so doing encounter powerful interests. Both can be seen as attempts to shape perspectives on ageing, drawing attention to certain aspects and ignoring or suppressing others. Policy and theory are not, in this respect, value-neutral.

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