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Science and imagery in the ‘war on old age’

  • JOHN A. VINCENT (a1)


Several professional groups present themselves as ‘waging war’ on old age. They construct old age as a naturalised, self-evidently negative, biological phenomenon, which must be attacked and defeated. These groups make different claims to technical expertise and their ability to control natural phenomena, and use different weapons to defeat ageing. There are those who focus on cosmetic interventions, that is, the control of the body and the removal or masking of the signs of ageing. There are those who equate old age with ill-health and identify themselves as warriors in a battle with disease, and others whose objective is to understand the fundamental intra-cellular processes of ageing and what controls the human life span, and then to extend its limits. A fourth group aims to make human immortality possible. Examination of the language and symbolic practices of these groups reveals that they share a dominant cultural view that devalues old age and older people. The use of military metaphors to describe the importance and difficulties of their task is most prolific among the first and fourth of these groups. The second and third groups disguise a contradiction in their aim of understanding the diseases and disorders of old age by advocating the goal of an extended ‘healthy life span’, which avoids having to confront the moral dilemmas of extending the lifespan for its own sake.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: John Vincent, Department of Sociology, Amory Building, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4RU, UK. E-mail:


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Science and imagery in the ‘war on old age’

  • JOHN A. VINCENT (a1)


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