1st Edition

Age and the Reach of Sociological Imagination Power, Ideology and the Life Course

By Dale Dannefer Copyright 2021
    254 Pages 19 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    254 Pages 19 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The dominant narratives of both science and popular culture typically define aging and human development as self-contained individual matters, failing to recognize the degree to which they are shaped by experiential and contextual contingencies. Our understandings of age are thereby "boxed in" and constricted by assumptions of "normality" and naturalness that limit our capacities to explore possible alternative experiences of development and aging, and the conditions – both individual and social – that might foster such experiences.

    Combining foundational principles of critical social science with recent breakthroughs in research across disciplines ranging from biology to economics, this book offers a scientifically and humanly expanded landscape for apprehending the life course. Rejecting familiar but false dichotomies such as "nature vs. nurture" and "structure vs. agency", it clarifies the organismic fundamentals that make the actual content of experience so centrally important in age and development, and it also explores why attention to these fundamentals has been so resisted in studies of individuals and individual change, and in policy and practice as well.

    In presenting the basic principles and reviewing the current state of knowledge, Dale Dannefer introduces multi-levelled social processes that shape human development and aging over the life course and age as a cultural phenomenon – organizing his approach around three key frontiers of inquiry that each invite a vigorous exercise of sociological imagination: the Social-Structural Frontier, the Biosocial Frontier and the Critical-Reflexive Frontier.

    1. Sociological Imagination and Human Aging

    2. Sociomatics: The Social Structuring Of Human Development and Aging

    3. Agency, Intentionality and World-Construction

    4. The Social Organization of Human Development and Age, I: Historical And Cultural Variations

    5. The Social Organization of Development and Age, II: Intracohort Variability And Cumulative Dis/Advantage

    6.   Cumulative Dis/ Advantage as A Cohort Phenomenon:  Levels, Processes and Paradigmatic Alternatives

    7. Sociosomatics And the Life Course: The Social Organizaiton Of Human Physiology and Gene Regulation

    8. Situating Knowledge Production: The Sociology of Scientific Work in Studying Age and the Life Course

    9. Bringing Ideology Back In – Science as A Mechanism of Naturaliation

    10. Age, Sociological Imagination and Human Possibility


    Dale Dannefer is the Selah Chamberlain Professor of Sociology and Chair, Department of Sociology, Case Western Reserve University.

    "Dannefer's ground-breaking book places the life course at the heart of our understanding of ageing and old age, and boldly integrates social, biological and hermeneutic frameworks into an exciting new theoretical perspective. This compelling work combines an impressively wide range of analyses, from child development psychology to the political economy of old age, by way of the sociology of science, epigenetics and much more. It is rich in both historically grounded arguments and state of the art sociological ones. Building on this solid foundation Dannefer concludes with a sharp political message focusing on the continuing cumulative growth of advantage and disadvantage, which underpins increasing intracohort inequalities, and the huge life course risks associated with rampant individualism."

    Alan Walker, University of Sheffield

    "In this insightful and comprehensive book, the prominent social gerontologist, Dale Dannefer, draws upon research from the social and behavioral sciences as well as biology, history and economics to debunk myths about aging and highlight key debates in research on aging. Age and the Reach of Sociological Imagination is beautifully written, rich in theory, comprehensive in coverage and replete with lively anecdotes. Among the topics Dannefer covers are the ways the organization of age has changed over time and the persistence of ageism, and his discussion of the factors leading to cumulative disadvantage over the life course is especially helpful. This book should be required reading in every graduate and advanced undergraduate course in gerontology."

    Jill Quadagno, Author of Aging and the Life Course

    "As told by one of the field’s most original social theorists, Age and the Reach of Sociological Imagination is a brilliant intellectual history of thinking on age, aging, and the aged. Drawing on compelling insights ranging from NASCAR aerodynamics to feral children to skills learned on the 19th Century shop floor, Dannefer directs our attention away from the developmental paradigms that homogenize human experience and toward the social structures that account simultaneously for its standardization and diversity."

    Judith Treas, University of California, Irvine

    "In this wide-ranging and ambitious book, Dale Dannefer takes us through the paradigmatic approaches and arguments of aging research, throwing light on the shortcomings of the functionalist-developmental nexus and using his sociological imagination to delineate more fruitful alternatives. A thoughtful statement by an eminent sociologist of aging."

    Martin Kohli, European University Institute

    "A major contribution to the study of ageing from one of the leading theorists in the field. The book is unusual in combining work across a range of social science disciplines, as well as being historically grounded in the development of ageing societies. The unique strength of the book is its sophisticated grasp of the nature of human development, drawing on a detailed reading of life course and related literature. The importance for the reader is the critical perspective which is brought to the analysis, notably in relation to the problem of reductionism, and the failure to address the full range of social structural issues influencing the life course."

    Christopher Phillipson, Manchester University