Self-Directedness: Cause and Effects throughout the Life Course

By Judith Rodin; Carmi Schooler et al. | Go to book overview

Foreword: The Life Course and
the Crisis in Social Science

Matilda White Riley
National Institute on Aging

This book, the third in a series on the life course sponsored by Pennsylvania State University, has strategic symbolic significance in today's world of research, professional practice, and public policy, for the set of books to date symbolizes the gradual reemergence of power of the social sciences. In recent decades, this power has often been lost. Within the secular swings of intellectual dominance of some disciplines over others, the "hard" sciences have been in the ascendant, while the social and psychological sciences have been approaching the nadir. Nowhere has this disciplinary crisis been more apparent than in studies of the life course; yet it is precisely in these studies that signs of resolution of the crisis seem particularly auspicious.

Even today, aging research still often appears as it has too often appeared in the recent past--as primarily the province of medical researchers, legislators, lobbyists, and vested pharmaceutical interests. In this world aging is stereotyped as "afflicted with Alzheimer's disease," "imprisoned in a nursing home," or dependent on medicine as the only means of preventing either disease or institutionalization. Yet, we social and behavioral scientists, as contributors to this volume and to the conference from which it sprang, know that aging research involves not only a biomedical concern with disease; perhaps more importantly, it also involves social, psychological, and economic concerns with human lives in families, in social institutions of all kinds, and in society as a whole. This social scientific focus takes full cognizance of the potency of the biomedical perspective; but it broadens the view by recognizing the complementary potency of the psychosocial perspective in probing the mys

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