Founding Project

Live to Be a Hundred: Cultural Narratives of Longevity (CGD, Maastricht University)

The term longevity refers to lives that last significantly longer than is expected. Sometimes it is equated with the increase of the life expectancy of humans. As such, longevity has been the focus of political criticism and policy-making in the West (whose population increasingly grows older), and the object of study in many academic disciplines, ranging from biotechnology and health sciences to cultural history and the philosophy of ideas. Literature and art theorists as well as specialists in media and film studies, however, have been relatively silent on the topic. When representations of old age are studied, attention is mostly drawn to the stage of third age, or the group of healthy, active elderly. Fourth age, or the lives of the oldest elderly, has attracted limited research interest. Therefore, this project, for the first time, brought leading literature, art, media, and film scholars from Western Europe and North America together to study cultural narratives of longevity. Their collaboration facilitated the further establishment of the field of aging studies from a humanities’ perspective, based on a methodology developed from comparative cultural studies, narrative theory, and critical gerontology.

This project did not start from the master narrative of decline that the last stage of life is often identified with, but from the fascination that (super)centenarians bring about. As opposed to the fear of growing old and being old, living to be a hundred or even older is generally considered to be a landmark to register and celebrate. Specific themes of research have been defined along three lines, which are imagining, remembering and mediating longevity. First, the project studied how narratives about exceptional and improbable human longevity (the so-called genre of longevity stories) are told and retold at different times and in different media. Second, the project contributed to the understanding of how the encounter with (super)centenarians as living witnesses of the past century inspires contemporary artists to creative practices of commemoration. Third, the project aimed to critically adjust concepts of late style by means of the analysis of the work of (super)centenarian artists.

This project secured funding from NWO (Program: Internationalization in the Humanities)


European Partners

Center for Gender and Diversity (NL)

The Center for Gender and Diversity (CGD) develops and offers tuition (e.g., Minor Crucial Differences) and engages in and develops research into the field of Gender and Diversity Studies (e.g., Aagje Swinnen’s Veni project “The Study of the Literary Imagination of Reminiscence in the Reifungs- and Vollendungsroman from a Genre and Gender Perspective” – NWO). The Center has built valuable expertise in the study of cultural representations (e.g., Maaike Meijer’s Kritiek van representatie, 1996) and theories of intersectionality, or the interplay of prominent identity markers such as age, gender and disability (e.g., the project “Beyond Autonomy and Language: Towards a Disability Studies  Perspective on Dementia” – ZonMw). In 2009, the CGD organized the conference “Points of Exit: (Un)Conventional Representations of Age, Parenting, and Sexuality” to celebrate its 10th anniversary (March 29-30, 2009). CGD is one of the founding members of the European Network in Aging Studies for which Aagje Swinnen secured funding in the NWO program Internationalization in the Humanities. Within the framework of the project “Live to Be a Hundred: Cultural Narratives of Longevity,” the CGD hosted the inaugural ENAS conference “Theorizing Age: Challenging the Disciplines,” October 6-9, 2011.

Participating members: Ruud Hendriks (Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy), Ike Kamphof (Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy), Aagje Swinnen (Assistant Professor, CGD), Annette Hendrikx (Researcher, CGD) and Elena Fronk (PhD candidate, Department of Literature and Art)

WAM Research Group (UK)

The Women, Ageing and Media Research Group (WAM) secured Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding in order to study the relationship between older women as consumers, producers and subjects of media with a special focus on proliferating print and screen representations of older women. The group aims to position emerging research on older women in media and cultural studies alongside established research in healthcare policy, gerontology, economics, social care and sociology that dominates existing knowledge. This resulted among others in the international WAM conference in Cheltenham (December 5th 2008) and a series of workshops, namely “Emotional Affect” (2 July 2008), “Visibility/Invisibility” (10 September 2008), “Scary Bodies” (24 October 2008) and “Consumerism and Commodification” (12 November 2008).WAM have also given the following panel presentations: ‘Women, Ageing, Media’ at MECCSA Conference 2007 and ‘Screen Performance and Age ‘at Screen Conference 2010.

Participating members of WAM come from the Faculty of Arts, Culture, Education, University of the West of England: Josephine Dolan (Associate Professor in Film Studies), Sherryl Wilson (Associate Professor in Media and Cultural Studies), Estella Tincknell (Reader in Media and Cultural Studies); Kristyn Gorton (Assistant Professor, Department of Theatre, Film & Television), University of York:); from University of Gloucestershire Joanne Garde-Hansen (Associate Professor in Media, Communication and Culture), Abigail Gardner (Associate Professor in Media, Communication and Culture), and Ros Jennings (Reader in Cultural Studies, Director of WAM and Head of Postgraduate Research, University of Gloucestershire), Eva Krainitzki ( PhD candidate) and Kate Latham (PhD candidate). 

Grup Dedal-Lit, University of Lleida (ES)

Grup Dedal-Lit is currently conducting research into aging as represented in literature written in English. The group has undertaken and completed several research projects, such as “Perceptions of Ageing in Contemporary English Literature,” a project financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology. In 2002, Grup Dedal-Lit organized “The Art of Ageing: An International, Interdisciplinary Conference on Textualising the Phases of Life” (November 6th – 8th). In 2008 it set up the “6th International Symposium on Cultural Gerontology: Extending Time, Emerging Realities, Imagining Response” (16-18 October). Both conferences were funded mainly by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. Since 2002, Grup Dedal-Lit publications have focused specifically on aging. The Dedal-Lit series includes The Aesthetics of Ageing: Critical Approaches to Literary Representations of the Ageing Process (Eds. Maria O’Neill and Carmen Zamorano-Llena, 2002), The Polemics of Ageing as Reflected in Literatures in English (Eds. Maria Vidal-Grau and Núria Casado-Gual, 2004), Women Ageing Through Literature and Experience (Ed. Brian J. Worsfold, 2005), The Art of Ageing: Textualising the Phases of Life (Ed. Brian J. Worsfold, 2005), and Anthology of Cultural Ageing: Testimonies from Catalonia and England (Eds. Maricel Oró-Piqueras and Marta Miquel-Baldellou). Acculturating Age: Approaches to Cultural Gerontology (Ed. Brian J. Worsfold) was published in Spring 2011.

Participating members: Brian J. Worsfold (Full Professor, UdL), Núria Casado-Gual (Assistant Professor, UdL), Emma Domínguez-Rué (Assistant Professor, UdL), Maria del Carmen Farré-Vidal (Assistant Professor, UdL), Billy Gray (Associate Professor, Högskolan Dalarna, Falun, SE), Marta Miquel-Baldellou (PhD candidate, UdL), Maricel Oró-Piqueras (Assistant Professor, UdL), Maria Vidal-Grau (Associate Professor, UdL), and Carmen Zamorano-Llena (Assistant Professor, Högskolan Dalarna, Falun, SE).

NISAL, Linköping University (SE)

At the National Institute for the Study of Ageing and Later Life (NISAL), the interplay between the cultural, social, technical, and health aspects of aging in modern societies is studied. Research is conducted through major and minor projects within three broad fields: (1) Socio-cultural, political and historical contexts; (2) Care and welfare; (3) Aging in time and space: home, housing and technological landscapes. The researchers within the first field have a distinct humanities’ profile. They focus on how people “do” old age, how age is used and negotiated in various social contexts and historical times, and how the aging body is constructed in various social and cultural discourses. The group has special expertise in research on how older people, as a category, are understood and described in public discourses. NISAL has a graduate school and publishes the peer-reviewed International Journal of Ageing and Later Life (IJAL).

Participating members: Lars Andersson (Full Professor, NISAL), Eva Jeppson-Grassman (Full Professor, NISAL), Sandra Torres (Full Professor, NISAL), Jan-Erik Hagberg (Associate Professor, NISAL), Catharina Nord (Associate Professor, NISAL), and Peter Öberg (Associate Professor, Gävle University)

Research Group “Aging Studies” at the Center for Inter-American Studies (C.IAS), Graz (AT)

The researchers at C.IAS at the University of Graz focus on the cultural and literary representations the matrix of time and experience, forming the primary research group in cultural gerontology in Austria. Its scholars were the driving force for the establishment of the European Network in Aging Studies. Roberta Maierhofer, the Center’s director and a pioneer in the field of Aging Studies has been working on the cultural representation of age and aging since the 1990s and coined the term “anocriticism” (Salty Old Women, 2003). She is also the academic director of the University Course (MA) in Interdisciplinary Gerontology at the University of Graz. Prof. Maierhofer further set up the peer-reviewed book series Aging Studies (transcript Verlag) in 2009 (with Heike Hartung and Ulla Kriebernegg). The book series has since then been dedicated to the ENAS network and the publications can be found in the publications section. Recent research includes Roberta Maierhofer’s project “Cultural Narratives, Processes and Strategies in Urban and Regional Representations of Age and Aging” (together with Oana Ursulesku and Barbara Ratzenboeck), which aimed to provide on the one hand a systematic approach to representations of age and aging through offering a theoretical guide for the investigation of cultural narratives of aging and on the other hand tried to establish a text corpus through qualitative interviews for insights into life course narratives within the Austrian context. A further project is Ulla Kriebernegg’s recently finished habilitation project “Locating Life: Intersections of Age and Space”, in which she investigated contemporary Canadian and US American cultural representations of old age with a special focus on retirement- and nursing homes.

Participating members: Roberta Maierhofer (Professor and Director), Ulla Kriebernegg (Professor), Barbara Ratzenboeck (Research Assistant and PhD candidate), Oana Ursulesku (Research Assistant and PhD candidate) & Eva-Maria Trinkaus (PhD Candidate).

German Aging Studies Group (DE)

The German Aging Studies group is an informal network of scholars from Germany who share a research interest in the representation of aging and old age in literature and culture.

As part of ENAS, the European Network of Aging Studies, it intends to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue on the aging process as a (trans-)personal, transnational and transcultural phenomenon. In privileging a cultural studies approach our aim is to generate new critical tools for understanding the aging process. One focus is therefore the development of transdisciplinary research methods for a better understanding of the diverse forms of knowledge about age and aging.

By highlighting the dynamic aspects of aging across the life course, we wish to determine the shifting roles and meanings of age. A humanist focus on gerontology will make the potential for development in aging societies visible. By interrogating critical concepts in gerontology, it will also help to analyse the limits of this development.

The group stimulates exchange between its members, as well as other groups within the ENAS network, by means of the organization of international workshops, conferences and lecture series such as the conference “Aging Stories: Narrative Constructions of Age and Gender” (Greifswald 2006), the lecture series “Social Constructions of Aging. Demographic Change from a Cultural Studies perspective” (Luxembourg/Cologne 2006), the lecture series “Under construction. Aging in an Aging Society” (Cologne 2006/2007), the workshop “Methods of Aging Studies from a Cultural Studies Perspective” (Vienna/Cologne 2007), the transdisciplinary conference “Growing Older – New Beginnings. Configuring Aging in Japan and Germany” (Cologne 2008), the workshop “Aging Studies & the Futures of Cultural Studies” (Potsdam 2009), the symposium “Over the Hill. Locations of Age between Utopia and Heterotopia” (Braunschweig 2009), the annual conference of the National University Network of Senior’s Studies, Germany (BAG WiWA): “Research Activities of Senior Students” (Cologne 2009), the lecture series “Demographic Change: Challenges in Aging Societies” (Cologne 2010), the workshop “Rewriting Ambivalence: The Concept of Ambivalence in Aging (and Generational) Studies” (Cologne/Luxembourg 2011).

Participating Members: Rüdiger Kunow (Full Professor, Chair of American Studies, Department of English and American Studies, University of Potsdam), Andrea von Hülsen Esch (Full Professor, Department of Philosophy, Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf), Heike Hartung (Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of English and American Studies, University of Potsdam), Miriam Haller (Senior Scientist, Center for Aging Studies (CEfAS), University of Cologne),Thomas Küpper (Acting Professor for Media Studies, Goethe-University, Frankfurt), Hartmut Meyer-Wolters (Associate Professor, Head of the Center for Aging Studies (CefAS), University of Cologne), Sabine Kampmann (Assistant Professor, Insitut für Kunstwissenschaften, Braunschweig University of Arts) 


Associated US Partners

NWSA Aging and Ageism Caucus (USA)

Established in 1977, the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) leads the field of American women’s studies and gender studies in educational and social transformation. The NWSA has more than 2,000 members worldwide, and its U.S.-based annual conference regularly draws more than 1,500 attendees. The Aging and Ageism Caucus (AAS) of the NWSA has been sponsoring regular panels and other plenary sessions at the NWSA Annual Conference for more than a decade. The Caucus represents a diverse group of scholars and activists committed to resisting ageism within and without the organization, educating people about ageism, and furthering the field of Aging Studies and Age Studies as an area of academic inquiry.

Participating members: Erin Gentry Lamb (Assistant Professor of Biomedical Humanities, Hiram College, current caucus co-chair), Pamela Gravagne (PhD candidate in American Studies, University of New Mexico, current caucus co-chair), Leni Marshall (Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Stout), Peg Cruikshank (Assistant Professor in Women’s Studies, University of Southern Maine) and Margaret Morganroth Gullette (Resident Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University)

MLA Age Studies Discussion Group (USA)

Founded in 1883, the Modern Language Association (MLA) is an international professional organization for researchers and teachers of literature and languages, with more than 30,000 members in over 100 countries. The mission of the MLA’s Age Studies Discussion Group (ASDG) is to benefit the association and serve as a valuable resource for researchers and educators in the field of age studies. To achieve this goal, researchers explore the implications of differences of age across the lifespan and the intersections of age with other categories of identity in literature, media, and culture, particularly focusing on considerations of aging and old age. Educators incorporate age studies concepts into pedagogies of literature, language, and writing. We encourage scholars to explore the impact of their own and others’ age-based stereotypes, the benefits and frustration of aging, and the potential inherent in aging and old age beyond the boundaries of essentialist, reductive valuations. The ASDG supports examinations of cultural assumptions and research about age and age-based discriminations, including responses and resistance.

Participating members: Ted Anton (Full Professor, English Department, DePaul University), Elizabeth Gregory (Full Professor of English, and Director of Women’s Studies, University of Houston), E. Ann Kaplan (Full Professor of English, and Director of the Humanities Institute, State University of New York – Stony Brook), Devoney Looser (Full Professor of English, University of Missouri), Kathleen Woodward (Full Professor and Director of the Simpson Center for the Humanities, University of Washington), Michelle Massé (Full Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, and English, Louisiana State University), Teresa Mangum (Associate Professor, English, International Studies, University of Iowa), Leni Marshall (Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Stout), Cynthia Port (Assistant Professor of English, Carolina Costal University) and Valerie Lipscomb (Instructor of English, Director of the Writing Resource Center, University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee)