Age and the Reach of Sociological Imagination
Power, Ideology and the Life Course
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Dominant cultural narratives tend to treat aging and human development as self-contained individual matters – bound by fixed biological processes that are imagined to be "natural", and largely independent of individual experience and social context. Our understandings of age are thus boxed in and constricted by assumptions of "normality" and naturalness that limit our capacities to recognize the diversity of life-course pathways, their intersection with other axes of differentiation and inequality, and also to envision innovative possibilities for the life course.
By applying the sociological imagination to examine 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. It explores the anthropological and organismic fundamentals that make the actual content of human experience so centrally important, and it also explores the mystery of why attention to these empirically established fundamentals has been so resisted in studies of individuals over the life course, and in policy and practice as well.
To address these puzzles and related issues, Dale Dannefer organizes his multi-leveled approach around three key frontiers of inquiry, each of which invite a vigorous exercise of sociological imagination: the social-structural frontier, the biosocial frontier and the critical-reflexive frontier.
To make clear the breadth and depth to which human development and aging are socially shaped throughout the life course, Section I lays the foundation by presenting a detailed review of distinctively human features of development. Given the remarkably flexible and "world-open" character of the human organism, why do human development and aging often follow orderly and seemingly rigid patterns of age-graded activities. If the organism is not internally programmed to follow a set sequence of stages like other species, what does account for its patterning?
Sections II and III address this question by clarifying how the dynamics of social processes provide spatial and temporal organization to individual’s experiences. A key part of the explanation lies in the often-unnoticed operation of social forces and processes (both in everyday life and in age-graded institutions) that organize generative human flexibility into ordered lives, and that impact human health and developmental possibilities over the life course. These processes are explored in Section II. Section III takes a reflexive turn, focusing especially on power, knowledge and ideology in squelching sociological imagination in science as well as in popular culture. On this basis, the final chapters explore the implications of a reflexive approach to a sociological re-imagining of life-course possibilities.
Table of Contents
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. Especially helpful is his discussion of the factors leading to cumulative disadvantage over the life course. 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