Time, clinic technologies, and the making of reflexive longevity: the cultural work of time left in an ageing society


  • Sharon R. Kaufman

    1. Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine, University of California San Francisco, USA
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Address for correspondence: Sharon R. Kaufman, Institute for Health and Aging, Box 0646, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0646, USA


Developments in clinical intervention are having a profound impact on health and health behaviours in late life and on ideas about longevity and the appropriate time for death. The fact that the timing of death is even considered to be a controllable event is a relatively new cultural phenomenon. The activities that make up life extension, like other medical practices scrutinised by social scientists, constitute a site for the emergence of new forms of subjectivity. For older adults the clinical encounter forces a calculation about how much time left is wanted in relation to age. The twin dimensions of the transformation of time highlighted in this article – the control over the timing of death and the creation of time left– both contribute to and are a widespread effect of biomedicalisation in affluent sectors of society. Through three stories this paper begins to map the cultural work that the concept, time left, does, the socio-medical ways in which that notion is talked about, organised and calculated in the American clinic today. It asks, what kind of subject emerges when longevity, imbued with the technological, becomes a reflexive practice and an object of intervention and apparent choice?