In this book we have addressed the relative lack of attention given to ageing and later life within medical sociology. With respect to research in the ﬁelds of health inequality and chronic illness, old age has tended to be marginalised and ‘age’ has tended to be treated as a controlling variable. Social gerontologists meanwhile have begun to develop frameworks to address inequalities in later life based on concepts such as cumulative advantage and disadvantage, which provide some insights into the processes of stratiﬁcation and their impact on health outcomes in old age (Dannefer 2003). With respect to chronic illness the focus within gerontology has tended to be on rates of disability and dependency and quality of life in old age (Bond and Corner 2004) perhaps missing some of the insights that have emerged within medical sociology about understandings of and responses to chronic illness. But equally, medical sociology has tended to focus on chronic illness in younger groups at the expense of understanding the changing landscape of health and illness in later life. From within social gerontology itself there is a sense that it has been hampered by its ‘interdisciplinarity’ and as Phillipson and Baars point out, much research remains ‘largely a-theoretical in approach’ (Phillipson and Baars 2007: 83). In response to these concerns we outlined the ways in which wide ranging demographic, epidemiological and social changes have transformed the circumstances of, and context to, ageing and in pursuing this we developed an argument for studying later life through the prism of second modernity. We also examined the concerns of social gerontology and considered the extent to which its traditional focus may need to be reviewed in light of wider secular changes and how these particularly aﬀect later life. In the context of the rise of somatic society and second modernity, where individual
identities are reﬂexively and purposefully constructed, we traced research on the sociology of the body and considered diﬀerent critical approaches within medical sociology and social gerontology to the body in later life. Again we highlighted lacunae with respect to older people and outlined areas where further work needs to be developed. Turning to diﬀerent approaches within social gerontology towards global change and transitions in welfare provision as applied to later life, we developed arguments that focused on the changing circumstances of ageing and their implication for the construction of individual identities in old age. In this concluding chapter we return to the arguments relating to
second modernity, the reﬂexive self and old age and outline a prospective research agenda to address the key features of ageing that we have outlined in the main body of the book. In particular, the chapter will discuss the extent to which the main currents in medical sociology and social gerontology have ﬂowed around the ideas of lack and dependency on the one hand and successful ageing on the other. In this sense later life is described in reductionist terms. To avoid being trapped between the construction of welfare failures and the celebratory discourse of a transcendent anti-ageing medicine there is a need for a sociology of later life that is built on the material eﬀects of living later life in late modern societies.