The life course metaphor: Implications for biography and interpretive research

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4 Scopus citations


This paper reviews qualitative research in the United States, highlighting the ways research has changed in the era of the third age. With growing attention to positive and uplifting aspects of aging, qualitative research has played a critical role in the exploration of the ways in which older adults are engaging in meaningful ways with others. We describe two key methodological approaches that have been important to examining positive aspects of aging and exploring the extent to which a growing number of years of healthy retirement are redefining the aging experience: ethnographic research and grounded theory research. We also review key topics associated with qualitative research in the era of the third age. These topics fit within two dominant frameworks-research exploring meaning-making in later life and research exploring meaningful engagement in later life. These frameworks were critically important to raising attention to meaningful experiences and interactions with others, and we propose that the agenda for future qualitative research in the United States should continue contributing to these frameworks. However, we note that a third framework should also be developed which examines what it means to be a third age through use of a phenomenological approach, which will assist in the important task of theory building about the third age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-15
Number of pages12
JournalQualitative Sociology Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2010


  • Meaning making
  • Meaningful engagement
  • Qualitative gerontology
  • Third age

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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