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  • The Gerontological Imagination: An Integrative Paradigm of Aging by K. Ferraro
  • Jarmin Christine Yeh
The Gerontological Imagination: An Integrative Paradigm of Aging
By K. Ferraro
New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018. 224 pages.

Kenneth F. Ferraro's book, The Gerontological Imagination: An Integrative Paradigm of Aging, is inspired by C. Wright Mills' (1959) book, The Sociological Imagination. Ferraro lifts from Mills' work the notion that in order to think beyond one's discipline and form new ideas requires "playfulness of mind" (Mills 1959, 211). Ferraro's project is to identify an intellectual common ground among different disciplines studying aging. He draws from research on a range of animal species and from biological, behavioral, and social sciences to find commonality in the pursuit of optimal aging. Ferraro (2018) argues that gerontology is a unique field of inquiry because it incorporates theoretical and empirical generalizations from a variety of disciplines; however, because gerontology's status is so loosely defined, he is pursuing to identify "what is distinctive about how gerontologists think" (5).

As expansive and inclusive as Ferraro wants to be, he sculpts what is distinctive about how gerontologist think into six axioms. He is deliberate in using the word "axiom" to connote principles that are generally accepted and starting points for further reasoning. Ferraro (2018) identifies and enumerates these axioms as "a logical way to engage in meaningful dialogue" (136). The book is organized into six core chapters, each focused on one gerontological imagination axiom, bookended by introductory and concluding chapters.

With the first axiom, causality, Ferraro (2018) argues that because aging is a universal experience, too often it becomes a "convenient whipping boy. . . [and] target of blame" (31) for biological changes that are deemed undesirable (e.g., wrinkles). The demonization of aging is further reinforced by ageist social/cultural practices (e.g., black balloons on birthdays). He urges gerontologists to reject deterministic views of aging that are biologically reductive because they obscure the true causal agents of health and well-being.

Life course analysis is the second axiom. Ferraro contends that a study of aging is incomplete without considering the overarching historical, intergenerational, and environmental factors and multiple transitions, events, and exposures that shape a person's life, from embryo to death. Ferraro (2018) prefers a "long view of aging" (35), with attention to various temporal vantage points from which aging can be studied prospectively and retrospectively. His life course analysis is a lens to spot risk factors that threaten optimal aging and to ameliorate them before they escalate.

With multifaceted change, the third axiom, Ferraro urges readers to appreciate the influences occurring between and across micro-macro levels, at differing rates of change, that enable gerontologists to look deeply at the antecedents to optimal or suboptimal aging. He draws from gene-environment studies to show how social forces exert influence on the expression of genetic material, with telomere length as a biomarker to indicate how the intensity of exposures to environmental stress get "under the skin" and accelerate biological aging. Likewise, he provokes readers to consider how biological forces shape social behavior or psychological functioning by pointing to empirical examples on the genetic predisposition of diseases and the preventative initiatives promoting healthy behaviors and lifestyles.

Ferraro's fourth axiom is heterogeneity, arguing that differences must be examined among and across groups to identify the many pathways to modify the aging experience for optimal health and well-being. Accumulation processes is the fifth axiom. Ferraro urges readers to consider how the accumulation of desired or undesired objects, experiences, and exposures occur in varied ways, at varied paces, and has varied influences from person to person. His urges readers to move away from chronologizing aging to enhancing methods that inform interventions that neutralize or compensate for accumulation processes that compromise optimal aging.

The sixth axiom is ageism. Ferraro (2018) highlights the irony that while population aging is a public health success, aging is still viewed by many as a "problem" (132). He describes how ageist beliefs, norms, and values are internalized and embodied, manifested in social interactions, and institutionalized in social structures. He laments...


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