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Gerontological autism: terms of accountability in the cultural study of the category of the Fourth Age

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2011

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Tel Aviv University, Israel.
Address for correspondence: Haim Hazan, Sociology and Anthropology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel. E-mail:


This paper poses an epistemological challenge to students and researchers of old age. It argues that people in deep old age are a testimony to the failure to generate a language by which to comprehend extra-cultural phenomena, which aborts a meaningful dialogue between researchers and subjects. The arguments put forward are based on an analysis of the unique position of the very old as an ultimate, unconstructable ‘other’, as they appear in the relevant anthropological discourse, and maintains that cultural standing of that category is anchored in a symbolic and existential space that prevents communication with its inhabitants. The social processes that lead to this state of absent translation and a deadlock of interpretation are analysed by using examples a longitudinal study of the oldest old conducted by the Herczeg Institute on Aging in Israel. An alternative option for a new conceptual articulation of ways of understanding ageing is proposed; one that is free of conventional but ineffectual paradigms.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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