Consideration of institutions as concretized and semi-permanent systems of knowledge production has by now sunk into the general parlance of anthropology, gerontology, and other social scientific fields of study. The rule of science, naturalizing objects of knowledge into universal fact, has transformed the policy environment in many modern nations. Scientific research, statistical projections, and public opinion polls can be conjured to do one’s bidding alongside some politically savvy punditry. Uncertainty abounds as to the certainty of facticity. But what does this mean for old age? The aged as a conceptual and ontological category of being are particularly susceptible to epistemo-political warfare, sitting on the border of, not only fiscal cliffs, but a number of institutions constantly in flux: healthcare policy, care-institutions, family structure, socio-economic class, demographics, and even biological systems.
Given the shifting grounds on which “old age” rests (aging baby boomers, aging societies, healthcare crisis, LTSS (LTC) insurance debates, identity politics, and the rise of consumer directed service), it is not surprising that a growing number of anthropologists and social gerontologists have turned their attention to the socio-historical and cultural construction of aging as an object of knowledge. Now that we have critical insight into the social production of old age, what’s next? How do we move beyond critical gerontology and the social study of aging? How do we convince those outside of scholarly circles of the critical import of our findings? This “now what” question is one that many disenchanted social scientists struggle with. How can the anthropological insight garnered from critical studies be positively translated into social action, policy change, and public engagement? Can aging studies scholars make value judgments and take a stand? How do we move on after critical anthropology/gerontology?
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