Kritische Gerontologie im Internet
"The lament over the negative view of the elderly in society is
one of the commonest legends in pedagogic, psychological and
socio-pedagogic literature on gerontology. It forms a foil for
the new, positive view of the elderly, which is put forward as
the result of 'assured scientific knowledge'.
The "neue Altersbild" (the 'new view of the elderly') is the most successful offer for a 'Corporate Identity' in social work with the aged in Germany. It regards itself as an anti-concept
to 'ageism', i.e. negative attitudes towards and stereotypes of
the aged, which gerontologists say are dominant in Western
societies. With astonishing unanimity, German gerontologists
have been claiming for 30 years that the general public regard
'old people' as 'fragile, frail, absent-minded, passive,
intolerant, conservative, embittered and isolated' (Hohmeier, 1978, 14 *). Here, the tendency can be
seen to outdo the present 'scientific position' with even more
colourful and drastic representations of the 'negative view of
"'To be old' means to go against social ideals. (...) The resultant socially conditioned stereotypes are highly generalized and form a closed system of irreversible and static judgements and prescriptions." (Bartel, 1990, 21 *)
It would appear that these stereotypes crop up everywhere: in the general public, the media generally, advertising, television, school textbooks, picture-books, etc. It is claimed that they are so dangerous because they culminate in an terrible self-fulfilling prophecy:
"The idea that elderly people are almost always in need of help is a clear distortion of a highly-differentiated reality. (...) This negative sticker is internalized by the elderly. They begin to regard themselves as incompetent, which of course then leads to a loss af the abilities they still have. The result is that elderly people generally see themselves as incapable..." (Munnichs, 1989, 309 *)
Gerontology and social work with the aged in Germany - and probably not just there - readily takes from these findings its mission, self assurance and importance: after all, the assumed dramatic difference in rationality between enlightened science and a society steeped in prejudice forms the ideal background against which gerontologists can show off their expertise. The elderly - who are flattered as being so competent - come to feel this at the very latest in senior education courses when they learn that their former ideas of aging are wholly inadaequate and long since disproven by science...
The book shows that the supposedly irreconcilable conflict between different views of the elderly is a show (with, it must be said, many consequences) supported by the methodlogical inadequacies of appropriate studies and by misconceptions that are continually handed down without being examined.
It thereby becomes clear that scientific rationality is by no
means always and principally superior to everyday practical
knowledge. The conclusion of the book is that gerontological
expertise which rests on a degradation of the layman's knowledge
of old age is meaningless as the basis of professional identity
in social work with the aged.