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Potentials of “young” and “old” old age. An interdisciplinary approach to social spaces of opportunity in different age groups.

In collaboration with the Institute of Psychology (Prof. Dr. Hans-Werner Wahl) and the Ecumenical Institute of Heidelberg University the Institute for Diaconal Studies Heidelberg will launch a project analysing the potentials of “young” and “old” old age in April. The project is financed by the Innovation Fund FRONTIER of the Excellence Initiative II, which was installed in the context of the institutional strategy of Heidelberg University.

In opposition to the prevailing deficit-oriented perspective on old age the project aims to outline a resource-based view by using an innovative interdisciplinary constellation over a period of nine months. Although more and more people become old nowadays and many of them maintain a good mental and physical fitness into old age, there is still a predominantly negative image of old age in society, which puts emphasis on deficits and aspects of decay. Sociological analyses of old age pointed out a structural lag between current forms of living or prevailing images of old age and the actual potentials of a „new“ dynamic and transformative old age (further rise of life expectancy, improved health, new skills and lifestyles) as early as the 1990s.
Since that time different kinds of old age have been distinguished (in particular „young“ versus „old“ old age or third and fourth age) while the assessment of old age in society has not changed significantly. On a concrete level the potentials of old age are to be analysed in terms of voluntary activities primarily in the context of care (diaconal perspective). Moreover, self-images of old people with respect to their social spaces of opportunity are to be examined empirically (psychological perspective). Finally, the perceptions of old age are to be analysed with regard to the growing significance of religiosity in old age considering the question of how this fact can be positively included in a discourse on new potentials in particular (theological-ecumenical perspective).
By using an innovative interdisciplinary approach to the study of old age the project aims to emphasise potentials of old age in a new way intending to reduce the structural gap between images of old age and its potentials and to stimulate social cohesion in an ageing society. The present project is to show in what way this is possible and what kind of opportunities, risks and pitfalls can spawn from an interdisciplinary framework.

The funding of the project is based on the guidelines of the Innovation Fund FRONTIER of the Excellence Initiative II, which „provides funding for small to medium-sized projects that are characterised by outstanding scientific quality and high innovative potential. The Innovation Fund focuses on high-risk, but promising research projects in new fields that have little or no chance of receiving funding through established institutions. Such research may consist of excellent projects within a subject, but also of interdisciplinary networks and collaborations with non-university research institutions. The Innovation Fund aims at advancing the funded projects to such a degree that they become eligible for continued funding through another programme.“ (

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Latest Revision: 2016-04-27
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