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Christian Carls: Das neue Altersbild

Einführung Illustrationen Interpretationen Kritik Fazit Literatur Abstract

Christian Carls
The 'new view of the elderly'.
Interpretations of the staging:
'scientific enlightment in a society shrouded in ageism and age discriminateion'.


"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'.
Armed with the 'scientific view of the elderly' the attack is launched with the spirit of enlightenment on fictive opponents who are supposed to be guilty of wrongly stereotyping 'age' and 'old people'."

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 the elderly'.
The persistence with which 'society' supposedly clings to the 'negative view of the elderly' fits in with the conviction of those gerontologists and scientific writers who are concerned to 'enlighten' that this 'view' is a stereotype or a conglomerate of stereotypes. These are by definition extremely resistant to change:

"'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.





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