“Ageing contested”. Exploring anti-ageing bio-hacking and repair practices in later life

Jun 28 – Jun 30, 2023 

Pan­el at the STS Italia Con­fer­ence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bologna

Orga­niz­ers: Francesco Miele (1); Michela Coz­za (2)
1: Uni­ver­si­ty of Tri­este, Italy; 2: Mälardalen Uni­ver­si­ty, Sweden

Top­ics: Every­day life and design of the mun­dane; Algo­rith­mic knowl­edge, media ecolo­gies and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence; Inno­va­tion imag­i­nar­ies, prac­tices and poli­cies; The val­ue of sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, inno­va­tion and research prac­tices; Het­ero­ge­neous assem­blages in bio­med­ical research

Key­words: Anti-age­ing, bio-hack­ing, geron­tech­nolo­gies, socio-mate­r­i­al practices.

Over the last decades, the nexus between bio­log­i­cal age­ing and func­tion­al decline has been more and more ‘con­test­ed’ (Vin­cent, 2006), espe­cial­ly by crit­i­cal schol­ars – among them, also STS schol­ars – com­mit­ted to eman­ci­pat­ing from bio­log­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal nat­u­ral­i­sa­tions of age cat­e­gories. The rela­tion­ship between age­ing and techno­sci­en­tif­ic inno­va­tion can be analysed by focus­ing on the con­stel­la­tions of socio-mate­r­i­al prac­tices through which the rela­tion­ship itself is per­formed. Our pan­el aims at explor­ing mate­r­i­al-dis­cur­sive tex­tures asso­ci­at­ed with age­ing, by focus­ing on two inter­re­lat­ed macro-topics.

The first top­ic refers to the so-called bio-hack­ing, defined as the use of “sci­ence-based tools and short­cuts for opti­miz­ing your own bio­log­i­cal poten­tial” (Lee, 2015: 8) and for max­imis­ing longevi­ty. In line with process­es of bio­med­ical­i­sa­tion of the body (Coz­za et al., 2022), dis­cours­es and ini­tia­tives relat­ed to bio-hack­ing pop­u­late online com­mu­ni­ties and social move­ments, which gen­er­ate, share, and repro­duce techno­sci­en­tif­ic prac­tices to coun­ter­act and reverse age­ing (e.g., the quan­ti­fied-self move­ment). Sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ties and mar­kets are also involved in extreme anti-age­ing prac­tices to extend lifes­pan (e.g., gene edit­ing). The phe­nom­e­non of bio-hack­ing relies on neolib­er­al prin­ci­ples which, in turn, dic­tate the ulti­mate goal of enhanc­ing the human body through tech­nolo­gies that ‘improve’ its oth­er­wise dete­ri­o­rat­ing func­tion­al­i­ties well beyond what is actu­al­ly nec­es­sary to sus­tain or repair the body itself.

From the first top­ic descends the sec­ond focus relat­ed to a process that we would call repair­ing age­ing. In this case, we bring atten­tion to the main­te­nance of aged human bod­ies, rather than to deep manip­u­la­tive inter­ven­tions upon them. We may refer to the soft­est forms of anti-age­ing med­i­cine to cure dis­eases asso­ci­at­ed with old age and to extend life expectan­cy as much as pos­si­ble (Vin­cent, 2006). The under­ly­ing eth­ic of care induces patients, fam­i­lies, and clin­i­cians to refrain from say­ing “no” to med­ical solu­tions as embody­ing a promise of bet­ter age­ing (Kauf­man, 2004). In par­al­lel, also most of assis­tive geron­tech­nolo­gies aim at repair­ing the effects of age­ing process­es on the human body, match­ing with an imag­i­nary of old­er peo­ple as ‘in need’ of being helped, in accor­dance with the ideals of ‘inde­pen­dent liv­ing’ in lat­er life.

Hav­ing this frame­work as our start­ing point,here is a not exhaus­tive list of indica­tive top­ics that might be considered:

- Enhance­ment tech­nolo­gies for aged human bodies.

- Hack­ing age.

- Repair­ing prac­tices in lat­er life.

- Algo­rith­mic elder­ly care.

- Age­ing and self-quantification.

- Assis­tive tech­nolo­gies and emerg­ing care practices.

- Age­ing and neo-liberalism.

- Ageism in design practices.

- Clin­i­cal inter­ven­tions and life-extensions.

- Eth­i­cal dilem­mas relat­ed to bio-med­ical anti-age­ing interventions.


Coz­za, M., Kirsten L. E., and Katz S. (2022). Hack­ing age. Soci­ol­o­gy Com­pass, 16(10), e13034.

Kauf­man, S. R., Shim, J. K., and Russ, A. J. (2004). Revis­it­ing the bio­med­ical­iza­tion of aging: Clin­i­cal trends and eth­i­cal chal­lenges. The Geron­tol­o­gist, 44(6), 731–738.

Lee, J. (2015). The bio­hack­ing man­i­festo: The sci­en­tif­ic blue­print for a long, healthy and hap­py life using cut­ting edge anti-aging and neu­ro­science based hacks. Cre­ate­Space Inde­pen­dent Pub­lish­ing Platform.

Vin­cent, J. A. (2006). Age­ing con­test­ed: Anti-age­ing sci­ence and the cul­tur­al con­struc­tion of old age. Soci­ol­o­gy, 40(4), 681–698.