The social construction of violence in old age

Publication Date01 March 2007
Date01 March 2007
AuthorJosef Hörl
SubjectHealth & social care,Sociology
The Journal of Adult Protection Volume 9 Issue 1 • March 2007 ©Pavilion Publishing (Journals) Limited 33
key words
elder abuse
definition problems
social construction of reality
Varying definitions and
conceptualisations of violence in old
age exist within and between the
scientific community, medical and
social work professionals, family
carers and the elderly persons
themselves.In this paper it is argued
and illustrated by examples – that
each of the different actors or
observers in this field construct their
own social reality and hold selective
perceptions of what is meant by
violence in general, or elder
abuse in particular.
Any scientist, physician, social worker, or anybody else
who works in the field of elder maltreatment knows about
the confusion of concepts and definitions. What is meant
when we use words such as violence, abuse, aggression,
exploitation and neglect? And also the other way round:
how do we name certain aggressive or destructive
phenomena we are encountering in scientific investigations
or practical work?
This paper has been written on the basis of experiences,
with the contributions of scientists, politicians, professionals
and lobbyists to the subject of mistreatment of older people
in Austria. Experts arein agreement unanimously that the
problem exists but is largely hidden. However, because there
has been no empirical research based on representative
random samples in this country (neither in familial nor in
institutional contexts) thereis ample room for speculation
on the magnitude of the problem. Furthermore, many verbal
or written contributions to the discussion are characterised
by a distinct lack of conceptual discipline.
More often than not notions of violent acts or attitudes
are applied quite freely and sometimes even arbitrarily on a
case-by-case basis, not to mention the additional problem of
translation into foreign languages. This is very important for
cross-cultural comparative research – it is a challenging task to
translate specificconcepts from one language into another and
preserve the original meaning.
Even in one and the same linguistic community,however,
each different actor, or group of actors, or observers in this
eld constructs his or her own social reality and holds
selective perceptions of what is meant by violence in general,
or elder abuse in particular. This is not only a semantic
problem but has serious consequences in real life. Who are
the actors and interested parties in the field of violence against
The social construction of
violence in old age Josef Hörl
Institute for Sociology,Vienna University, Austria

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