The cultural turn in gerontology

Authored by: Chris Gilleard , Paul Higgs

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Gerontology

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415631143
eBook ISBN: 9780203097090
Adobe ISBN: 9781136221033


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The aim of this chapter is to set cultural gerontology within the context of the broader ‘cultural turn’ in the social sciences. Although there were earlier precursors who wrote about the importance of cultural processes for the study of social signification and distinction, such as Clifford Geertz, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu, the cultural turn became more evident during the 1990s with the growing interest in the ideas of post-structuralism and post-modernism as sociological rather than aesthetic or literary phenomena. The work of Zygmunt Bauman, Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens became leading theoretical reference points for European sociology during this period (Outhwaite 2009). Their writings exemplified a new approach focusing on themes of contingency, individualization and reflexivity in social analysis. Despite areas of difference, these writers agreed that a fundamental change was taking place in the organization of modern society, a change that undermined the certainties of the modern nation-state. The outcomes generated by this change were to be found in increasing fluidity, indeterminacy and reflexivity in the formation and exercise of social identities and individual lifestyles. Identity became an important issue, but significantly it could no longer be seen to map unproblematically onto the distinct socio-economic categories established in the previous phase of modernity. All that once had seemed solid about the institutions of modernity was now in flux.

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