National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
To make ageing intelligible or inviting, gerontologists need to be able to discuss at least some positive meanings attached to older age. This paper starts by dissecting respects in which contemporary cultures occlude older people’s points of view and opinions, making it harder to appreciate and take them seriously. However, in the study of ageing, a number of types of positive meaning are attributed to later life, even if they are often approached obliquely. This paper divides such approaches into three groups: those concerned with connectedness of different kinds; those concerned with time and the life course; and those concerned more directly with ethics, the human condition, and wisdom. Each of these groups contains three further divisions. All demand attention to the ‘inter-human’ nature of social action if they are to be understood and analysed thoroughly, and thus have definite methodological implications. This paper spells out some of these implications in relation to the last category, wisdom, discussing how it can be traced in connection with older people and what benefits there might be from doing so. It puts forward a model of wisdom suitable for use in gerontology: one stressing the social transactions of both daily and public life, and the capacity of small-scale behaviour to contribute to humane deliberation: one that responds constructively to the turmoil of everyday lives. Openness to wisdom of this kind could concentrate attentiveness to what older people do and say, emphasising the potentially illuminating nature of the meanings they have to offer.