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Session Overview
RN01_03a_IC: Theoretical Concepts and Discussions
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
6:00pm - 7:30pm

Session Chair: Sandra Torres, Uppsala University
Location: Intercontinental - Ypsilon III
Athenaeum Intercontinental Hotel Syngrou Avenue 89-93 Athens, Greece Floor: Level 1

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Anti-reductionist sociology as a basis for dementia studies

Edward James Tolhurst

Staffordshire University, United Kingdom

Conceptualisations of the experience of dementia have been strongly influenced by the work of Tom Kitwood. While Kitwood’s work valuably promoted the personhood of the person with dementia, it has been critiqued for offering a narrow perspective of experience. The requirement to expand this orientation is an enduring concern for dementia studies: drawing upon concepts from sociological theory, this paper seeks a richer theoretical contextualisation of the experience of dementia. This approach is aligned with an anti-reductionist sociology that rejects modes of theorising which reduce phenomena to a single explanatory basis. Anti-reductionist sociology must therefore account for the various domains that comprise the social fabric. Within the domain of psychobiography it is vital to acknowledge the intrinsic value of an individual person, which is not decentred by either neurodegeneration or social influences. While recognising this individuality, a cogent relational approach must also grasp the complex interplay between the person with dementia and others, such as family members, who feature in the domain of situated activity. Moreover, interaction can only be fully grasped by recognising the wider influence of social settings and contextual resources. This paper asserts that this is not a rarefied conceptual debate. Enhanced theoretical resources can help to advance a balanced and credible research agenda for dementia studies, which can reconcile the respective influences of biology, psychobiography, relationships and social contexts.

The Structured Independency of Old People: A novel theory of old age policy

Jutta Pulkki1,2, Jari Pirhonen1,2

1University of Tampere, Finland; 2Gerontology Research Center, GEREC

In this paper contemporary old age policy is critically analysed. This is done by re-examing ‘structured dependency’ theory by Peter Townsend. By elaborating the Townsends’ theory, a novel theory is composed. Theory formulation is based on the findings from the current theoretical and empirical literature, policy documents, and ‘grey’ literature such as the reports and newspaper articles.

The point of departure of ‘structured dependency’ theory is that certain kind of social policy, for example institutional long-term care generate dependent and passive old people. Today, active old age and freedom of choice are emphasised and independency of old people has been tried to maintain by for example replacing institutions with home care. This new old age policy has, however, as fundamental although different consequences as the former one, which we aim to identify.

We suggest that the new old age policy is based on neoliberal ideas and as such may result in situations where true need of old people is not recognised. This kind of policy is not responding to the dependency evident at old age, and consequently makes independency not genuine but forced. Thus, it could be argued that we are heading to ‘structured independency’ where old people in need are left to cope alone, independently, but socially and physically isolated.

We conclude that the new old age policy may produce ‘structured independency’ where independency is rather forced than a natural or a dignified state. Instead of emphasising independency, freedom of choice and activity, old age policies should be based on true recognition of the nature of old age.

„Successful = Healthy = Good?“ – Gerontological Concepts of “Successful Aging” in Germany and their Normative Implications

Larissa Pfaller1, Mark Schweda2

1Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), Germany; 2University Medical Center Göttingen

Gerontological concepts of „successful aging“ not just constitute a leading academic paradigm in contemporary aging research. They also exert a critical influence on political programs in aging societies. Thus, they become a significant element of policies for the elderly and social images of aging. In particular, successful aging is frequently understood as “active” and therefore “healthy aging”, for example in the WHO’s “Global strategy and action plan on ageing and health” aimed at developing strategic international actions for the “Decade of Healthy Ageing” starting in 2020.

Against this backdrop, our contribution explores how concepts of “successful aging” are intertwined with notions of health and healthy living and analyzes the social and ethical implications of such images of age and aging. Our project „Successful = Healthy = Good Aging?“ focuses on contemporary discourses on “successful aging” in Germany. By means of qualitative social research (content- and metaphor-analysis of expert interviews, focus groups, and policy statements), we examine the concept of “successful aging” in recent German gerontology, social policy discourses, and the broader public. In doing so, we identify values and norms grounding contemporary gerontological discourses and examine how they are related to questions of health and illness. We discuss the normative premises and implications of gerontological and social understandings of “successful aging” and point out the need for further research and critical reflection.

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