Being an Older Woman: A Study in the Social Production of Identity

By Isabella Paoletti | Go to book overview

6
Conclusion: Understanding Social Change

Studying the social production of identity has allowed me to look at the intricate intermingling of the personal, social, and institutional dimensions of everyday reality. This topic, more than others, is useful in exploring the complexity of the process of social change as well as the process of social reproduction and maintenance, whether at a personal, social, or institutional level.

Membership categories have been shown to be at the core of identity work. The stability of the categories, as shared social knowledge, contrasts with the variability of their actual use. In fact, a sense of idiosyncratic personal identity is achieved by members through both contrast and association with different membership categories. Categories are used as a background upon which specific personal relevancies may emerge. It appears that the stability of membership categories is compensated for by a high level of variability in their actual conversational use and therefore in the local management of specific personal identities. This study has shown various examples of women distancing and rejecting membership in the category "old" and its negative connotation.

Conforming to typified social knowledge as well as distancing from it are both available alternatives to members. What "being old" means is not something defined or definable once and for all, but it is constantly negotiated in the actual occurrence of concrete circumstances.

From this perspective, ageism, sexism, and racism can be seen as forms and degrees of adherence to social typifications, that is to membership categories, in relation to specific members' activities and discourses. What I have attempted to show here is how the use of categories is bound to specific settings and occasions. Also, such use is motivated by specific events and the interactional developments within each event. It is not something decided once and for all, in individual heads. It is contextual and interactional.

Social reproduction and/or change appear to be produced by members' constant negotiation of actual circumstances. In this regard, marginalization

-78-

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Being an Older Woman: A Study in the Social Production of Identity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Editors' Preface ix
  • Prologue xi
  • Ackowledgments xiv
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Membership Categories in Identity Work 14
  • 3 - When Is an Older Woman 30
  • 4 - Institutional Conflicts and Gender Identification 42
  • 5 - Members' Personal Identities and Institutions 60
  • 6 - Conclusion: Understanding Social Change 78
  • Appendix A: Transcript Notations 81
  • Appendix B: List of the Data Collected 82
  • References 83
  • Author Index 89
  • Subject Index 93
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