Act Your Age1

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Abstract

With the aim of contributing to a sociology of age, this essay develops a framework for understanding age as accomplished, i.e., as something that is both a process and the outcome of ongoing interactional work. The common expression “act your age” provides the useful metaphor of performance. We perform our own age constantly, but we also give meaning to other ages and to age more generally in our actions and interactions, our beliefs and words and feelings, our social policies. This essay offers two routes to the conclusion that age is accomplished. The first involves drawing parallels between the study of age and the study of gender. The second route uses existing scholarship, which recognizes that age is far more social than chronological. I draw on work in the social constructionist, symbolic interactionist, and life course traditions to develop the framework of age-as-accomplished and to show its potential to organize much of what we already have learned about age and aging.

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