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The natural, the normal and the normative: Contested terrains in ageing and old age


  • Jones, Ian Rees
  • Higgs, Paul F.


Improvements in health and longevity in countries such as the UK and USA have radically destabilised notions of ageing and old age. From the 19th century onwards the idea of a natural lifecourse following normatively understood stages ending in infirmity and death has been challenged by social and bio-medical developments. Breakthroughs in bio-gerontology and in bio-medicine have created the possibility of an increasingly differentiated idea of normal ageing. The potential to overcome or significantly reduce the age-associated effects of bodies growing older has led many social gerontologists to argue for a return to a more 'normatively' based conception of ageing and old age. This paper examines and outlines the tensions between these different discourses and points out that our understanding of the norm is also fast changing as it intersects with the somatic diversity inherent in contemporary consumer society. Drawing on the theoretical work of Ulrich Beck and Zygmunt Bauman, this paper argues that the normalization of diversity leads to a reworking of the idea of normativity which in turn is reflected in profound transformations at the level of institutional arrangements and legal systems. Such changes not only lead to more discussion of what is legally and socially acceptable but also potentially lead to greater calls for regulation concerning outcomes. In this paper we argue that we need to distinguish between the newly reconfigured domains of the natural, the normal and the normative now being utilised in the understanding of ageing if we are to understand this important field of health.

Suggested Citation

  • Jones, Ian Rees & Higgs, Paul F., 2010. "The natural, the normal and the normative: Contested terrains in ageing and old age," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(8), pages 1513-1519, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:71:y:2010:i:8:p:1513-1519

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hunter, David J., 2009. "The case against choice and competition," Health Economics, Policy and Law, Cambridge University Press, vol. 4(4), pages 489-501, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pickersgill, Martyn & Broer, Tineke & Cunningham-Burley, Sarah & Deary, Ian, 2017. "Prudence, pleasure, and cognitive ageing: Configurations of the uses and users of brain training games within UK media, 2005–2015," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 187(C), pages 93-100.
    2. Llewellyn, Henry & Low, Joe & Smith, Glenn & Hopkins, Katherine & Burns, Aine & Jones, Louise, 2014. "Narratives of continuity among older people with late stage chronic kidney disease who decline dialysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 49-56.
    3. Lowton, Karen & Hiley, Chris & Higgs, Paul, 2017. "Constructing embodied identity in a ‘new’ ageing population: A qualitative study of the pioneer cohort of childhood liver transplant recipients in the UK," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 172(C), pages 1-9.

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