28. Juni – 30. Juni 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.