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Åldrandet och språket : en språkhistorisk analys av hög ålder och åldrande i Sverige cirka 1875–1975

  • Anna Rosengren
Publiceringsår: 2011
Språk: Svenska
Sidor: 234
Publikation/Tidskrift/Serie: Studia Historica Lundensia
Volym: 16
Dokumenttyp: Doktorsavhandling
Förlag: Södertörns högskola


This thesis analyses how old age and ageing were manifested and understood in Sweden from approximately 1875 to 1975. It thus aims to provide historical background to current debate about for instance the retirement age and how to best care for the elderly.
Encyclopaedia entries from both the beginning and the end of this period describe ageing as a medical process of physical decline. Since much current research also uses such a medical perspective on ageing, it is tempting to conclude that ageing always was (and is) seen as a medico-biological phenomenon of physical decline. But has this medical perspective always dominated? The three sources studied in this thesis show that this was not always the case. The sources were birthday notices for women and men aged sixty or more, application letters to private old-age homes and, lastly, legislative material related to reforms for elderly people.
Rather than establishing certain a priori criteria before conducting the empirical analyses – methods often used in previous historical research – I approached old age and ageing indirectly by examining related expressions. The theoretical perspective of the thesis builds on the work of, among others, German historian Reinhart Koselleck and British historian Quentin Skinner. The approach relies on the assumption of a mutual relationship between language and reality, and on the agency of individuals. I call this perspective “linguistic-historical research” (“språkhistorisk forskning”) to underline its reliance on both language and historical context.
The analyses show that old age and ageing tended to be linked to the body and to chronology, alternating and combining the two, with no apparent evolution in a specific direction. By contrast, it is possible to discern a trend from societal to more individual manifestations of old age and ageing. Furthermore, the sources more than once exhibit a correspondence between the manifestations of old age and ageing, and contemporary ideas and events. This thesis therefore suggests that old age and ageing have not had a single well-defined essence at any point in time. Rather, their understanding and manifestations have changed with time, situation and person.
Returning to my initial question, the thesis shows that medical perspectives on ageing were clearly distinguishable only towards the 1950s. Finally, the sources shed light on two common hypotheses: that women were perceived to age earlier than men, and that retirement could be seen as a form of “social ageing”. The three sources do not support either hypothesis.


Sal MB416, Södertörns högskola, Alfred Nobels allé 7, Huddinge
  • Håkan Jönson (Docent)


  • History
  • Ageing
  • cultural ageing
  • elderly
  • history of concepts
  • conceptual history
  • life-writing
  • auto/biography
  • retirement
  • elderly care
  • welfare studies
  • Sweden
  • 19th century
  • 20th century.


  • David Gaunt (Professor)
  • ISSN: 1652-7399
  • ISSN: 1650-755X
  • ISBN: 978-91-86069-36-0

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