Critical turns of aging, narrative and time

As human aging is basically living (in) time, time is a fundamental, but also uncomfortably uprooting concept for aging studies. However, time is usually reduced to chronometric time; a mere measurement that has been emptied of the narratives that were traditionally part of it. This abstract and instrumental character implies that to become meaningful, chronometric time still depends on narratives. Not only are narratives needed to relate chronometric time to the world, they are also crucial to interrelate the dimensions of lived time: the past, the present and the future. As late modern aging takes place in multiform life worlds and in confrontation with a diversity of social systems, political and cultural macro-narratives play an important role in shaping situations and destinies of aging people. However, because of the prestigious exactness of chronometric time and the role it plays in calculations and statistics, narratives tend to creep in and remain hidden behind chronometric exactness. It is argued that micro-narratives remain important for empirical studies of aging as they articulate human experiences, but that narratives also play an increasingly important role in the interrelation between systemic worlds and life worlds. Therefore, narrative studies should seek more cooperation and critical discussion with disciplines that study macro developments such as sociology, economics or political science to clarify the role of macro-narratives in policies on aging. The article ends with a contemporary example of new systemic (debt)clocks which have a major impact on the lives of many citizens, especially the aged. Although these clocks remain dependent on specific macro-narratives their ominous ticking tends to hide them and to implode the debate about them.

(from International Journal of Ageing and Later Life, 2012)

Download article