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Social death and the moral identity of the fourth age

Gilleard, C; Higgs, P; (2015) Social death and the moral identity of the fourth age. Contemporary Social Science , 10 (3) pp. 262-271. 10.1080/21582041.2015.1075328. Green open access

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Abstract

The bleaker aspects of old age have been encapsulated in the concept of a fourth age which has been likened to a metaphorical ‘black hole’ where human agency is no longer visible. This paper explores what such a formulation might mean for the moral standing of mentally and physically infirm persons. Does the idea of a fourth age reinforce representations of dementia as a form of social death or does the status of those defined by the moral imperative of care benefit from the narratives and practices of their carers who keep socially alive such persons whatever their degree of dementia? This paper argues that those persons at risk of being enveloped by the fourth age are not inherently deprived of a social life even if it is a social life that their previous self would not have chosen. The moral imperative of care forms a key part element of the fourth age – for both good and ill. Recognising the role of carers in realising or rejecting the fourth age imaginary means also valuing their agency.

Type: Article
Title: Social death and the moral identity of the fourth age
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/21582041.2015.1075328
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21582041.2015.1075328
Language: English
Additional information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Contemporary Social Science on 22 October 2015, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/21582041.2015.1075328.
Keywords: fourth age, moral identity, dementia, social death
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Division of Psychiatry
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1508288
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