Unmasking Age: The significance of age for social research

Social Research

Bill Bytheway Policy Press 2011

 

When the history of social gerontology is written, the chapter devoted to the contribution of individual researchers to the field, will certainly feature Bill Bytheway. This book is a brilliant overview of age. It is readable, stimulating and also challenging to the reader as it demands that we engage with our own views of age, older people and the ageing process. Bytheway also demonstrates the art of being able to present complex material in an accessible form. The book is carefully organised with a comprehensive biography and index.

Key to the distinctive quality of this narrative is the use of the authors own reflections on his experience of growing older. The lived experience of ageing lies at the heart of the book. The author draws upon interviews, diaries, letters and novels as the meanings of age are discussed.

The book is divided into ten chapters. In chapter one age is introduced, concepts and definitions discussed and the rationale of the book set out. Chapter two informs the reader of research methods and opens up a critical question for social gerontology ‘How old are you?’ chapter three illuminates the relationship between age and time. Chapter four examines representations of age through words and images and pictures. Chapter five and six explore the diversity of experiences of growing and being older. These include looking at the body and ‘markers’ of age such as birthdays. All of these perceptions and experiences are placed within the context of family and the often complex set of interrelationships and disconnections that make up family life today. Chapter seven is a fascinating examination of ‘a great age’ (being a centurion) and shows the readers how some older people approach their 100th birthday. The remaining chapters offer us an overview of the main features of an ageing population and the role of gerontology today especially in supporting social change.

Throughout the text the author always opens up new questions and avenues of research. There are helpful figures and tables of statistics and summaries of information.

This book bridges that often wide gap between the theoretical and the practical, the academic and the popular. It is a sheer delight to read. It is a book for pondering on and using if we want to develop wisdom in our understanding of how we grow older.

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