Ageing, Meaning and Social Structure

Connecting critical and humanistic gerontology


Ageing, meaning and social structure is a unique book advancing critical discourse in gerontology and makes a major contribution to understanding key social and ethical dilemmas facing ageing societies. It confronts and integrates approaches that have been relatively isolated from each other, and interrelates two major streams of thought within critical gerontology: analyses of structural issues in the context of political economy and humanistic perspectives on issues of existential meaning. The chapters, from a wide range of contributors, focus on major issues in ageing such as autonomy, agency, frailty, lifestyle, social isolation, dementia and professional challenges in social work and participatory research. This volume should be valuable reading for scholars and graduate students in gerontology and humanistic studies, as well as for policy-makers and practitioners working in the field of ageing.

“A much-needed integration of two relatively new but flourishing areas of ageing studies, which have developed separately up to now. I gained fresh insights from each and every chapter.”  
— Peter G. Coleman, Professor of Psychogerontology, University of Southampton

This book will stay on my shelf for a long time, reminding me that reflection on our disciplinary and theoretical frames, as well as respectful disagreement, are tools to advance critical discussions.
— Susan Braedley, Carleton University (in the Canadian Journal on Aging)


  • Introduction ~ Jan Baars and Chris Phillipson
  • Connecting meaning with social structure: Theoretical foundations ~ Jan Baars and Chris Philipson
  • My own life. Ethics, ageing and lifestyle ~Joseph Dohmen
  • Rethinking agency in late life: structural and interpretive approaches ~ Amanda Grenier and Chris Phillipson
  • Dementia: Beyond structures of medicalization and cultural neglect ~ Margreet Th.Bruens
  • Self-realization and ageing: a spiritual perspective ~ Hanne Laceulle
  • Social ability or social frailty? The balance between autonomy and connectedness in the lives of older people ~ Anja Machielse and Roelof Hortulanus
  • Critical perspectives on social work with older people ~ Mo Ray
  • Community-based participatory action research: opportunities and challenges for critical gerontology ~ Friederike Ziegler and Thomas Scharf
  • Commentary: Contingent Ageing, Naturalization and Some Rays of Intellectual Hope ~ Dale Dannefer and Jielu Lin.

Available at 20% discount from

How to order this book →