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Social Theories

Social Theories Of Aging Individuals, Social Theories Of Population Patterns, Age As A Cultural Construct And The Study Of Age As A Cultural Practice

A theory is defined, minimally, as a statement (or more typically a set of interrelated statements) that explain or account for a phenomenon of interest. In formal terms, such statements generally have two elements. The explanandum refers to the phenomenon or event of interest— the outcome to be explained. The explanans is the statement that provides the postulated explanation (Hempel, 2001). Often, the term theory is used quite informally to refer to broad and general paradigms of explanation (e.g., the big bang theory, behaviorism). Such paradigms are sometimes described in terms of paired opposition such as ‘‘nature/nurture’’ or ‘‘activity/ disengagement.’’

The object of the preposition in the phrase theory of x defines the explanandum, while an adjective modifying the word theory indicates the nature of the explanans—the general explanatory principle being proffered (Hempel, 2001). In the case of social theories of aging, both explanans and explanandum warrant further discussion.

Theories of aging is a deceptively expansive phrase, because the range of phenomena encompassed by the word aging is so broad, even if the scope is limited to human aging, as it is in this discussion. Although aging is generally assumed to be a property of individuals, some important age-related phenomena are essentially and irreducibly collective features of populations (such as mortality rates); and others are irreducibly social-structural (such as the usage of age as a legal criterion)—as in, ‘‘being old enough drive’’—or as a basis for social norms—‘‘she’s too old to be dating him.’’ Confusion can arise because, while age can thus be a feature of populations or of legal, normative, or other symbolic aspects of social systems, it is still ultimately anchored in the measurement and perception of individual age. The focus here will be on theories of age as a feature of individuals, populations, and structures.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4