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Dale Dannefer

Opening the Social: Sociological Imagination in Life Course Studies

Dannefer, Dale; Kelley-Moore, Jessica; Huang, Wenxuan

In Handbook of the Life Course, Handbooks of Sociology, and Social Research, edited by M.J. Shanahan et al., 2016

 

The life course perspective originated with the recognition that an adequate understanding of “lives through time” requires attention to the importance of social context. Since those origins, extensive evidence of ways in which context shapes and organizes life course outcomes has been presented. Yet the problem of formulating an adequate theoretical understanding of context’s role in life course processes and outcomes persists, and remains unresolved. This paper suggests that life course scholarship, even while paying attention to context, has frequently relied on theoretical assumptions based in functionalism that restrict exploration of the full explanatory power of social forces. Contextual factors are “contained” through what we term a functional-developmental nexus. We illustrate this tension by examining three domains of life course inquiry: (1) a consideration of the place of agency in life course studies, (2) research on the early life influences on the life course and (3) the study of gene-environment interactions over the life course.


Right in Front of Us: Taking Everyday Life Seriously in the Study of Human Development

Dannefer, D.

Research in Human Development 12(3-4): 209-2016, 2016

 

The need to pay attention to context has been a prominent theme in research on human development. Nevertheless, the empirical reality of the immediate context within which individuals develop has been largely ignored in research on human development. Therefore, my “one wish” is that the field begin to take seriously the processes that operate in the everyday social world. Doing so will help clarify three key principles: advance understanding: 1) diversity in developmental outcomes is largely socially organized; 2) “bi-directional” individual-context interactions are generally asymmetrical; 3) individuals are producers not only of themselves but also of the social world. While it shapes the development of individuals, the social world is also a human creation. These insights can assist developmental research in efforts to broaden its concern to focus on issues of social justice and the analysis of science itself as part of the social world, with cultural, political and ideological dimensions.


 

Age and Sociological Explanation: Explaining Horizons in the Study of Aging and the Life Course
Dannefer, D.
Contemporary Sociology 42(6): 793-800, 2013

 

This article provides a review of the best books in the field of age and life course studies since the year 2000.  After beginning with a recognition of the promise brought by the growing awareness of the power of social forces to shape individual aging that began to be recognized half a century ago, the field has for some time avoided a serious intellectual confrontation with the implications of those early insights – such as cohort analysis and the implications of constructivism – for the sociology of aging and the life course.  Nevertheless, several books that do provide rays of intellectual hope in pointing the way forward are identified and reviewed.  Within this set of seven monographs, various layers of theoretical awareness and critique can be distinguished. 


 

Enriching the tapestry, Expanding the scope: Comment on Alwin’s treatment of life course concepts
Dannefer, D.
Journal of Gerontology Social Sciences 67b: 221-225, 2012

 

Although the treatment of the life course presented by Duane Alwin encompasses a remarkable array of terms drawn from North American perspectives on age and the life course, to it must be added a second major set of conceptions revolving around the idea of the life course as a social institution.  While an embryonic version of this idea is present in the early writings of the American scholars Cain and Riley, it has been mainly regarded as a European tradition, with its fullest and most forceful articulation in the writings of Martin Kohli.  The institutionalized life course represents a major paradigmatic axis for sociological analysis.  It opens up a broad and still-expanding set of questions about how individual lives are shaped by socially organized, age-related expectations, which are supported by an array of forces including legal-bureaucratic and organizational rules, media narratives and informal expectations.  Any adequate account of life-course concepts must include such a perspective.


 

Culture Change in Long-term Care: Participatory Action Research and the Role of the Resident
Shura, Robin; Siders, Rebecca Ann; Dannefer, Dale
The Gerontologist 51: 212-225, 2011

 

This volume reflects the emergence of ageing as a global concern, including chapters by international scholars from Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. The subject matter deals with one of the most challenging issues for societies in the 21st Century, namely, the social, economic and cultural changes associated with individual ageing and the rapidly growing reality of the human populations. It provides a comprehensive overview of key trends and issues in the field, drawing upon the full range of social science disciplines. The book is organized into five parts, each exploring different aspects of research into social aspects of ageing; disciplinary overviews, social relationships and social differences, individual characteristics and change in later life, comparative perspectives and cultural innovations, and policy issues. Essential reading for all students, researchers, and policy-makers concerned with the major issues influencing the lives of older people across the globe.

 


The SAGE Handbook of Social Gerontology
Dannefer, D. and Phillipson, C. (Editors)
Sage Publications Ltd, 2010

 

This volume reflects the emergence of ageing as a global concern, including chapters by international scholars from Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. The subject matter deals with one of the most challenging issues for societies in the 21st Century, namely, the social, economic and cultural changes associated with individual ageing and the rapidly growing reality of the human populations. It provides a comprehensive overview of key trends and issues in the field, drawing upon the full range of social science disciplines. The book is organized into five parts, each exploring different aspects of research into social aspects of ageing; disciplinary overviews, social relationships and social differences, individual characteristics and change in later life, comparative perspectives and cultural innovations, and policy issues. Essential reading for all students, researchers, and policy-makers concerned with the major issues influencing the lives of older people across the globe.

 


Theorizing the Life Course: New Twists in the Paths

Dannefer, D.
In Handbook of Theories of Aging (Second Edition), edited by Vern L. Bengston, Daphna Gans, Norella M. Putney, and Merril Silverstein, 2009


 
The Waters We Swim: Everyday Social Processes, Macrostructural Realities, and Human Aging
Dannefer, D.
In Social Structures and Aging Individuals- Continuing Challenges, edited by K. Warner Schaie and Ronald P. Abeles, 2008

 

Homo sapiens as a species is distinct in the degree to which individual development and aging are shaped by experience. This is accounted for by specific features of human physical and mental development, including exterogestation and neoteny. It is understandable that we are generally unaware of the profound dependency of human nature on social context, since each of us typically grows up in a local setting of taken-for-granted and largely unreflective routines. Processes of individual development and aging occur gradually over long sweeps of time, and rarely are experienced directly as change. It has been said that “we don’t know who discovered water, but we’re certain it wasn’t a fish.”. The everyday social relations that comprise the invisible and unnoticed “water we swim” shape human development and aging, but are also at the same time themselves constituted through human action. This dialectical interrelation raises the question of the relation of how to conceptualize the relation of individual human beings and the social institutions and practices. Two models for approaching this relationship are presented the accommodationist and constitutionalist models. In studies of aging, the systematic operation of social-structural processes have often been overlooked because of the tendency to link individual-level change and demographic analyses of population change, both of which omit analysis of the everyday operations of social-interactional dynamics and social institutions. 

 


 

The Missing Person: Some Limitations in the Contemporary Study of Cognitive Aging
Dannefer, D. (with Patterson, R.)
In Handbook of Cognitive Aging- Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by S. Hofer and D. Alwin, 2008

 

In this paper, we argue that the challenge posed by cohort analysis has yet to be fully engaged by much of the research on cognitive aging. The problems opened up by cohort analysis demonstrate the social basis for much of the age-related and intracohort variation in cognitive performance, and point to the need for a social-constitutive paradigm that would help identify the multiple levels and types of social influence on cognitive outcomes across the life course. While the discovery of cohort analysis implied a clear need for a paradigmatic change in the understanding of age, the dominant reaction of the field has been “damage control”, attempting to protect as much as possible the ontogenetic view of age-related change. We discuss two forms of damage control, containment and abandonment. We then show how the strong recent interest in the concept of ergodicity also implies the need for paradigm change. In the final section, we point out the lack of attention to distinctly human aspects of cognition (e.g., creativity, imagination, wisdom) in most studies of cognitive aging. Such dimensions of cognitive performance are obviously central important in understanding human aging and may, at least for considerable segment of the life course, have the potential systematically to increase with age. 

 


 

Reciprocal Co-optation: Reflections on the Interface Between Critical Theory and Social Gerontology
Dannefer, D.
In Aging, Globalization and Inequality: The New Critical Gerontology, edited by Baars, J., Dannefer, D., Phillipson, C. and Walker, A., 2006

 

The relationship between age and critical theory may be characterized as a relation of reciprocal co-optation. By co-optation I mean that an idea or principle is accepted, but is reframed to fit within the assumptions of one or more preexisting paradigms. Therefore, its power is diluted at the same time that it is heralded as a new contribution. When co-optation is reciprocal, it of course poses a double challenge. This chapter suggests that such a condition of reciprocal co-optation has characterized the relation between age and critical theory. The co-optation of critical theory by the wider discourse in social gerontology has occurred by reducing the scope and meaning of the term; the co-optation of social gerontology by critical theory has occurred by the focus on issues of political economy rather than the more vexing issues of alienation, meaning and mortality. 

 


 

Cumulative Advantage/Disadvantage and the Life Course: Cross-Fertilizing Age and Social Science Theory
Dannefer, D.
Journal of Gerontology 58b: S327-S337, 2003

 

Age and cumulative advantage/disadvantages theory have obvious logical, theoretical, and empirical connections, because both are inherently and irreducibly related to the passage of time. Over the past 15 years, these connections have resulted in the elaboration and application of the cumulative advantage-disadvantage perspective in social gerontology, especially in relation to issues of heterogeneity and inequality. However, its theoretical origins, connections, and implications are not widely understood. This articles reviews the genesis of the cumulative advantage/disadvantage perspective in studies of science, it initial articulation with structural-functionalism, and its expanding importance for gerontology. It discusses its intellectual relevance for several other established theoretical paradigms in sociology, psychology, and economics. On the basis of issues deriving from these perspectives and from the accumulating body of work on cumulative advantage and disadvantage, I identify several promising directions for further research in gerontology.



Toward a Global Geography of the Life Course: Challenges of Late Modernity to the Life Course Perspective 

Dannefer, D.
In Handbook of the Life Course, edited by J.T. Mortimer and M.Shanahan, 2003

The life course is a term that refers both to a phenomenon and to a theoretical perspective. As a phenomenon, the life course has often referred to the trajectories and transitions resulting that have come to be associated with the “three boxes of life”, or the institutionalized life course of late modernity. As the destructuring and deinstitutionalizing forces celebrated by postmodernism advance and as awareness of global diversity in life course patterns increases and as the rapid social change associated with globalization develops, the life course as phenomenon becomes increasingly challenging to describe in any unitary or coherent fashion. This circumstance also has implications for life course as a theory or strategy of explanation. A prototypical explanatory strategy of life-course work is the idea that early life experiences predict later life outcomes. Yet this idea has been demonstrated mainly in the context of the relatively stable and prosperous late-20th century economies of the USA and Europe. A global geography of the life course provides the foundation for a fuller examination the life course as phenomenon, as it can illuminate the extent to which the “institutionalization” hypothesis can account for the age-graded sequence of social roles. It also provides a fuller examination of the life course as a strategy of explanation, specifically of the basic hypothesis that early events predict later outcomes under a much wider range of social conditions in adulthood.

When social conditions during one’s adulthood years are less stable, predictable and orderly than has been the case in this relatively stable period, will early life experience continue to have a measurable effect on outcomes?


Page last modified: February 7, 2017