Poland: No Country for Old Men? Or: on social construction of old age
Sociology Jagiellonian University Krakow, Poland
"Social life and individual action
are grounded in meaning: yet meaning
is always and everywhere a cultural construct"
Age, next to sex and race, is one of the social characteristics of human species, which is instantly identifiable in the process of social interaction. Although, we are not immediately able to guess the age of the partner, we are capable of discerning whether he or she is young, old, or middle age. At the same time cognitive "typifications" , such as "poor old lady", "young fellow" or "young greenhorn", which influence the course of interaction are being used.
Next to the interactionist perspective an institutional approach should be considered, since the chronological age is one of the social characteristics permanently used in various databases, such as those in health care system, insurance companies, banks, schools, associations etc. The omnipresent bureaucratic system is largely contributing to creation of age-related society, where being 30 or 55 years old precisely delineates the position of an individual in the society, and the types of activities she or he can carry out within the normative social order.
The paper attempts to answer the following research questions: What does it mean to be old in Polish society? In what way is old age being constructed in the course of social interactions? What are the major areas where old age is being constructed? What are the main social institutions involved in the process of constructing the age?
The paper will provide the reader with theoretical background to the research questions, but more importantly, it will present some empirical evidence . "Gazeta Wyborcza", Polish daily newspaper, started a series of articles concerned with old age, which was in passionately commented by net surfers. This vast amount of ad hoc empirical material was later analyzed and constituted for empirical evidence for this paper. Being aware that this sort of empirical research would not satisfy stringent methodologists, I nevertheless decided to incorporate it into the text as it embraces the practicalities of the problem in question, and not only the theoretical peregrinations.