Guide to the vibrant and

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American Secretary of State Colin Powell, have

come out in favor of such policies despite political

pressures not to do so. DARIN WEINBERG

affirmative action affirmative action


affluent society

The Affluent Society is the title of an influential book

originally published by the American economist,

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908–2006) in 1958 (there

have been numerous subsequent editions). As a

work of political economy, it begins with a critique

of classical political economists (such as

Adam Smith [1723–90] and David Ricardo [1771–

1823]) who had emphasized above all the primacy

of increasing production and the requirement for

a minimum of public consumption (that is, low

taxes) if this was to be achieved. This he labeled as

“conventional wisdom,” better adapted to historic

conditions than to the realities of the contemporary

United States, which had become, after World

War II, an “affluent society,” one whose productive

capacities could easily meet the needs of its citizens.

Indeed, under conditions of affluence, production

could be increased only through the

creation of new desires and needs via advertising

and marketing, which succeeds because of the development

of a “culture of emulation.” Moreover,

the lack of investment in public goods (schools,

parks, roads and refuse disposal) had created a

world of “private affluence and public squalor,”

in which, for example, increasingly elaborate private

cars clog increasingly inadequate public

roads. Galbraith argues for increased expenditure

on public goods, and that the “social balance” between

the allocation of resources to private and

public goods must be created by political organizations.

He also identifies the emergence of a new

class (see social class) of educated labor, for whom

work itself is considered to be a source of recreation,

and for whom the maximization of income

is not a primary goal. The expansion of this class

will also contribute to an improved social balance.


affluent worker

The argument that sections of the working class

had experienced embourgeoisement became popular

in the 1950s and 1960s, to explain changing

values and political allegiances among manual

workers. Increasing affluence was seen to underpin

a move from working-class to middle-class

lifestyles and values, so that such workers became

middle-class. This argument was challenged, both

theoretically and empirically, by J. Goldthorpe

and colleagues, in The Affluent Worker in the

Class Structure (1969). They agreed that important

changes had occurred in the market and work

experience of affluent manual workers, but argued

that related changes in lifestyles (privatism) and

political attitudes (instrumentalism) remained

distinctively working-class. Partial convergence

with white-collar workers should not be conflated

with assimilation to the middle class.

This neo-Weberian analysis challenged presumptions

about the necessary decline of trade

unions and the United Kingdom Labour Party,

just as union membership was growing and the

Labour Party regained electoral success. Instead,

these authors portrayed a movement from a “traditional

solidarity” working class to an increasingly

“instrumental collectivist” working class. In turn,

however, the adequacy of this contrast and projection

was widely challenged, as shifts in forms of

working-class class consciousness and organization

were found to be more varied, uncertain,

and contested, for example by F. Devine in Affluent

Workers Revisited (1992). This encouraged more

complex accounts of the relationships between

working-class experience, forms of consciousness,

and politics, undermining strong claims for links

between specific class locations and forms of consciousness

and action, which had been shared by

many currents in British studies of social class.


African-American studies

This field of interdisciplinary studies charts the

experiences of people of African descent in black

Atlantic societies including the United States, the

Caribbean, and Latin America. It studies the social

structures and cultures that African people in the

diaspora have created. More specifically, it studies

the social, cultural, and political processes that

have shaped the experience of people of African

ancestry. There are a large number of study

centers and research institutes providing interdisciplinary

programs in higher education in the

United States. Many of these centers, such as the

University of California Los Angeles Center for

African American Studies (1969), date from the

1960s. The National Association of African American

Studies was founded by Dr. Lemuel Berry Jr. at

the Virginia State University at Ettrick, Virginia,

in 1992 and it held its first annual conference in

1993. African-American studies draws some of its

intellectual inspiration from the work of black

American intellectuals such as W. E. B. Du Bois,

and the Institute for Afro-American Studies at

Harvard University (1975) is named after him.

There are several academic journals that cater

to this interdisciplinary field, including the Journal

of Black Studies (1970), The Black Scholar (1969), the

Western Journal of Black Studies (1977), and Womanist

Theory and Research (1994) from the Womanist

Studies Consortium at the University of Georgia.

affluent society African-American studies


African-American studies is part of a significant

expansion of interdisciplinary studies since the

1960s dealing with justice issues, such as Latino

studies and women’s studies.

While African-American studies is not confined

to sociology, sociologists have made important

contributions to the field, including Paul Gilroy

whose Black Atlantic (1993) has been influential.

African-American studies has not had a significant

impact on the study of race and ethnicity and

racism in the United Kingdom or Europe. In sociology,

the study of “race relations” in the United

Kingdom has been critically discussed by scholars

influenced by feminism or Marxism for its failure

to analyze politics and power. African-American

studies has not flourished in the United Kingdom

for the obvious reason that black British citizens

are also from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, as

well as the Caribbean and Africa. For similar

reasons, critical race theory has not been a dominant

paradigm in British sociology. British radical

sociologists have been influenced more by Franz

Fanon than by DuBois, more by Stuart Hall and

Paul Gilroy than by African-American academics,

and have in recent years drawn more from Pierre

Bourdieu’s studies of Algeria, migration, and

poverty in The Algerians (1958) [trans. 1962] and

The Weight of the World (1993) [trans. 2000] than

from American social science. While racism is a

common problem in the United States and Europe,

the sociological study of race has taken rather

different directions. BRYAN S. TURNER


The study of age in sociology covers influences

affecting individuals across all phases of the lifecourse,

as well as the specific period known as old

age. In practice, although findings on the longterm

impact of changes in early and middle

age have begun to emerge, most research focuses

still on “older” or “elderly” people. Matilda White

Riley, an influential figure in American sociological

research, refers to the interdependence of

aging on the one side and society on the other.

She argues in On the Significance of Age in Society

(1987) that, in studying age, we not only bring

people back into society, but recognize that both

people and society undergo process and change:

“The aim is to understand each of the two dynamisms:

(1) the aging of people in successive cohorts

who grow up, grow old, die, and are replaced by

other people; and (2) the changes in society as people

of different ages pass through the social institutions

that are organized by age.”

Sociological perspectives on age adopt a contrasting

approach to other social science disciplines.

The sociologist starts from the view that

old age is interesting because – although it is an

enduring human phenomenon handled differently

by different societies – it is at the same

time changing and influencing human behavior.

The sociologist is concerned to explore the processes

involved and how they are being interpreted

by men and women, from different social

classes, ethnic groups, and cultural settings. This

approach contrasts with social policy and government

interests in old age. In these contexts, old

age is often regarded as a problem (for the economy

or the health service, to take two examples),

hence the need for some analysis and collection of

data. This approach has its own validity and justification

but may lead to a distorted view of social

aging, together with a limited selection of topics

to be analyzed and discussed.

The experience of aging has been influenced by

shifts in the patterning of the life-course over the

past 100 years. Changes in the demography of

aging and in patterns of work and retirement

have been especially important in shaping contemporary

aspects of later life. On the first of

these, improvements in life expectancy have

been crucial in creating “middle” and “old” age

as significant phases in the life-course. In 1901,

life expectancy at birth was around forty-five years

(for men) and forty-nine years (for women), with

many people (especially those from working-class

backgrounds) dying before they reached what

would now be recognized as old age. With life

expectancy at birth in the United Kingdom (in

2001) seventy-six years for men and eighty-one

years for women, survival past middle age is

normal, even if frequently accompanied by

heightened awareness of the aging process and

of future mortality.

Changes in the organization of work and employment

have also been consequential in reshaping

the life-course. In general terms, the

period from 1945 to the mid-1970s confirmed the

emergence of a “standardized” life-course built

around initial education, work, and leisure. This

period is associated with the creation of retirement

as a major social institution, with the

growth of entitlements to pensions and the gradual

acceptance of an extended period of leisure

following the ending of full-time work. In fact this

model of the life-course lasted a relatively short

span of time in historical terms, with the period

from 1945 to 1975 defining its outer limits.

age age


From the late 1970s a number of changes can be

identified, arising from the development of more

flexible patterns of work and the impact of high

levels of unemployment. These produced what

may be termed the reconstruction of middle and

old age, with the identification of a “third age” in

between the period of work and employment (“the

second age”) and a period of mental and physical

decline (“the fourth age”). An aspect of these new

features of social aging is the ambiguity and flexibility

of the boundaries of the third age, at both its

lower and upper ends. Both of these now involve

complex periods of transition, with the move

away from employment, and with the blurring of

dependence and independence in late old age.

Age is a marker of a number of changes affecting

older people – these reflecting a mix of physiological,

social, and biographical factors. First,

changes associated with poor health are highly

significant for many older people. For example, it

is estimated that, among those people aged eightyfive

and over, one in five will have dementia and

three in five a limiting longstanding illness such as

osteoarthritis or osteoporosis. Second, changes in

social relationships are also substantial, with the

loss of close friends and relations a striking feature

of later life. Third, age may exacerbate rather

than reduce inequalities experienced earlier in

the life-course. Social class remains a stronger

predictor of lifestyle than age, and older people

are likely to have more in common with younger

people of their own class than they will with older

people from other classes.

As well as social class, age is also affected by

social divisions associated with gender and race

and ethnicity. The gender imbalances of later life

are now well established. Because women outlive

men by an average of five years, there are around

50 percent more women than men among those

sixty-five and over. The gender imbalance is even

more marked in late old age: among those aged

eighty-five and over, women outnumber men by

three to one. Sara Arber and Jay Ginn in Connecting

Gender and Aging (1995) conclude that: “The fact

that over half of older women are widowed,

whereas three-quarters of older men are married,

has consequences for gender, identity, relationships,

and roles in later life.”

Race and ethnicity are another important division

running through age-based relationships.

In the early part of the twenty-first century, there

will be a significant aging of the black community

as the cohorts of migrants of the late 1950s

and 1960s reach retirement age. Older people

from minority ethnic groups are likely to have

distinctive experiences in old age, these including:

first, increased susceptibility to physical ill-health

because of past experiences, such as heavy manual

work and poor housing; second, great vulnerability

to mental health problems, a product of racism

and cultural pressures; third, acute financial

problems, with evidence of elderly Asians being

at a particular disadvantage. The problems faced

by ethnic elders have been defined as a form of

“triple jeopardy.” This refers to the fact that

ethnic elders not only face discrimination because

they are old; in addition, many of them live in

disadvantaged physical and economic circumstances;

finally, they may also face discrimination

because of their culture, language, skin color, or

religious affiliation.

The above divisions have led Joe Hendricks in

Structure and Identity (2003) to conclude that:

“People do not become more alike with age; in

fact the opposite may well be the case . . . Their

heterogeneity is entrenched in disparate master

status characteristics, including membership

groups and socioeconomic circumstances, race,

ethnicity, gender, subcultural, or structural conditions

on the one hand, and personal attributes on

the other.”

Research on social aspects of age focus on the

norms, values, and social roles associated with a

particular chronological age. Sociologists emphasize

the way in which ideas about different phases

in the life-course – such as childhood, mid-life,

and old age – change over time and across cultures.

John Vincent in Old Age (2003) suggests that

even if the experience of a life-cycle in which an

individual feels a sense of loss when they have

passed their “prime” is a universal, it says nothing

about the timing, meaning, and cultural content

of the social category of old age: “The variety of

ways of being ‘old’ are as different as the ways of

being in one’s ‘prime’. A re-evaluation of old age

in the West requires an appreciation of the variety

of ways it is possible to live one’s ‘old age’ and an

escape from culturally bound stereotypes.”

From a social perspective, age may be viewed as

constructed around various social practices and

institutions. It is associated in particular with the

regulation of movement through the life-course.

Western societies standardize many aspects of

public life on the basis of chronological age. Social

institutions control access and prescribe and proscribe

certain behaviors by age. In consequence,

birthdays have social as well as individual significance.

Legal rights and duties are commonly

associated with particular ages, with access to a

range of institutions moderated through age-based

age age


criteria. The various responsibilities associated

with citizenship are strongly associated with

age, notable examples including the right to

vote, military service, and duty to serve on a jury.

Age is also constructed through the phases associated

with pre-work, work, and post-work. Western

societies have come to define old age as

starting at sixty or sixty-five, ages associated with

receipt of a pension following retirement. This

development can be seen as a twentieth-century

invention, consolidated with the rise of the welfare

state. Other markers of old age are, however,

possible and increasingly likely, given further extensions

in life expectancy. With pressures to

extend working life, retirement at seventy would,

for example, present a new boundary at which

“old age” would begin.

Social relationships built around family and

friends remain crucial for understanding many

aspects of the lives of older people. Most older

people are connected to family-based networks,

which provide (and receive from the older person)

different types of support. Relationships with

peers, and friendship in particular, has also been

shown to be central to well-being in later life, with

research pointing to the value of a “special relationship”

or confidant in adjusting to the stresses

and strains of later life. Overall, the research evidence

would point to an increase in the importance

of friends in the lives of older people. In the

early phase of retirement, and even (or especially)

into late old age, friends will be significant in

maintaining morale and self-identity. For many

older people, faced with reduced income and

poor health, the loss of close friends may pose

acute problems of adjustment and threats to the

integrity of the self.

Processes and experiences associated with age

have been examined in a number of sociological

theories drawing on functionalist, symbolic interactionist,

and neo-Marxist perspectives. Functionalist

approaches to the study of age such as role

theory (formulated in the early 1950s) focused

on the impact of losing work-based ties – this producing,

it was argued, a crisis of adjustment

following retirement. Advocates of this view,

such as Ruth Cavan and Robert Havighurst, took

the position that morale in old age was enhanced

through involvement in new roles and activities,

notably in relation to work and leisure. “Disengagement

theory” (as developed by Elaine Cumming

and William Henry) was another functionalist perspective

(developed in the late 1950s) that took an

opposing view, suggesting that withdrawal from

mainstream social responsibilities was a natural

correlate of growing old. Old age was viewed as a

period in which the aging individual and society

both simultaneously engage in mutual separation,

with retirement in the case of men and widowhood

in respect of women.

Through the 1960s, and for a period in the

1970s, activity and disengagement theory set the

parameters of debates within social gerontology.

“Activity theory” stimulated the development of

several social psychological theories of aging, including

“continuity theory” (by Robert Atchley)

and theories of “successful aging” (by Rowe and

Kahn). Drawn from “developmental” or “life-cycle

theory,” continuity theory asserts that aging

persons have the need and the tendency to maintain

the same personalities, habits, and perspectives

that they developed over their life-course.

An individual who is successfully aging maintains

a mature integrated personality, which also is

the basis of life satisfaction. As such, decreases

in activity or social interaction are viewed as related

more to changes in health and physical

function than to an inherent need for a shift in

or relinquishment of previous roles.

Increasingly, however, through the 1970s, concern

came to be expressed about the individuallevel

focus of theories of aging and their failure to

address the impact of social and economic factors

on the lives of older people. Riley’s “age stratification

theory” was an early example, exploring the

role and influence of social structures on the process

of individual aging and the stratification of

age in society. One dimension of this theory is the

concept of “structural lag,” which denotes that

social structures (for example policies of retirement

at age sixty-five) do not keep pace with

changes in population dynamic and individual

lives (such as increasing life expectancy). The implications

of the theory are that human resources in

the oldest – and also the youngest – age strata are

underutilized, and that excess burdens of care and

other responsibilities are placed upon groups in

the middle years.

Another important approach which moved

beyond individual adjustment to aging, and

which was also influenced by the age stratification

model, has been the life-course approach (as initially

developed by Glen Elder). Here, aging individuals

and cohorts are examined as one phase of

the entire lifetime and seen as shaped by historical,

social, economic, and environmental factors

that occur at earlier ages. Life-course theory

bridges macro–micro levels of analysis by considering

the relationships among social structure,

social processes, and social psychological states.

age age


Passuth and Bengston in Sociological Theories of

Aging (1996) suggest that the key elements of the

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