The University of Wisconsin Press

Anthropology / American Studies / Psychology / Social Work


The Ageless Self
Sources of Meaning in Late Life
Sharon R. Kaufman

"I just saw some slides of myself and was quite taken aback. That couldn't be me. That's a nice looking woman, but it couldn't possibly be me.
Even though I look in the mirror all the time, I don't see myself as old."
—Martha, age 70

Among the many studies of aging and the aged, there is comparatively little material in which the aged speak for themselves. In this compelling study, Sharon Kaufman encourages just such expression, recording and presenting the voices of a number of old Americans. Her informants tell their life stories and relate their most personal feelings about becoming old. Each story is unique, and yet, presented together, they inevitable weave a clear pattern, one that clashes sharply with much current gerontological thought. With this book, Sharon Kaufman allows us to understand the experience of the aging by listening to the aged themselves.

Kaufman, while maintaining objectivity, is able to draw an intimate portrait of her subjects. We come to know these people as individuals and we become involved with their lives. Through their words, we find that the aging process is not merely a period of sensory, functional, economic, and social decline. Old people continue to participate in society, and—more important—continue to interpret their participation in the social world. Through themes constructed from these stories, we can see how the old not only cope with losses, but how they create new meaning as they reformulate and build viable selves. Creating identity, Kaufman stresses, is a lifelong process.

Sharon Kaufman's book will be of interest and value not only to students of gerontology and life span development, and to professionals in the field of aging, but to everyone who is concerned with the aging process itself. As Sharon Kaufman says, "If we can find the sources of meaning held by the elderly and see how individuals put it all together, we will go a long way toward appreciating the complexity of human aging and the ultimate reality of coming to terms with one's whole life."

Sharon R. Kaufman, Ph.D., is professor of medical anthropology in the Institute for Health & Aging, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She has lectured widely and taught an numerous workshops and seminars. Her work on aging has appeared in several journals, including Ethos and Aging and Human Development, and in other books. She is the author of The Healer's Tale, also published by the University of Wisconsin Press..

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Kaufman's book is blue with the author and title in yellow and white

Fall 1985
220 pp.  6 x 9

The cloth edition, ISBN 0-299-10860-0,
is out of print.

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ISBN 978-0-299-10864-3
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