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Who theorizes age? The “Socio-Demographic Variables” device and age-period-cohort analysis in the rhetoric of survey research

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journal contribution
posted on 25.09.2015 by Cosima Rughinis, Bogdana Huma
In this paper we argue that quantitative survey-based social research essentializes age, through specific rhetorical tools. We outline the device of ‘socio-demographic variables’ and we discuss its argumentative functions, looking at scientific survey-based analyses of adult scientific literacy, in the Public Understanding of Science research field. ‘Socio-demographics’ are virtually omnipresent in survey literature: they are, as a rule, used and discussed as bundles of independent variables, requiring little, if any, theoretical and measurement attention. ‘Socio-demographics’ are rhetorically effective through their common-sense richness of meaning and inferential power. We identify their main argumentation functions as ‘structure building’, ‘pacification’, and ‘purification’. Socio-demographics are used to uphold causal vocabularies, supporting the transmutation of the descriptive statistical jargon of ‘effects’ and ‘explained variance’ into ‘explanatory factors’. Age can also be studied statistically as a main variable of interest, through the Age-Period-Cohort (APC) disambiguation technique. While this approach has generated interesting findings, it did not mitigate the reductionism that appears when treating age as a socio-demographic variable. By working with age as a ‘socio-demographic variable’, quantitative researchers convert it (inadvertently) into a quasi-biological feature, symmetrical, as regards analytical treatment, with pathogens in epidemiological research.

Funding

ANCS/UEFISCDI [grant no. PN-II-RU-TE-2011-3-0143, contract no. 14/ 28.10.2011]

History

School

  • Social Sciences

Department

  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies

Published in

Journal of Aging Studies

Volume

35

Issue

December

Pages

144 - 159

Citation

RUGHINIS, C. and HUMA, B., 2015.Who theorizes age? The “Socio-Demographic Variables” device and age-period-cohort analysis in the rhetoric of survey research. Journal of Aging Studies, 35 (December), pp. 144 - 159.

Publisher

© Elsevier Inc.

Version

AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date

2015

Notes

This paper was accepted for publication in Journal of Aging Studies and the definitive published version is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2015.07.005.

ISSN

1879-193X

Language

en

Exports