The Fabrication of Centenarians:
New Forms of Age Differentiation in Autobiographies
in the US
This project explores the cultural fabrication of a new age category by looking at centenarians as a case in point. Centenarians‘ autobiographies are strongly on the rise on the American book market. Our project looks at these and other life-writing documents as a medium of social differentiation and individual identity formation. Looking at a time-frame from the 1960s to the present day, we analyze selected centenarians’ autobiographies with regard to biographical narratives as well as paratexts. Analyzing discursive strategies, we explore to what extent these autobiographical narratives redefine extreme old age not in terms of physical decay but individual achievement. Moving beyond the narrative level we also investigate the conditions under which these autobiographical narratives are being produced in the framework of an “age industry”: How are the protagonists of these narratives being “recruited” and what roles do co-authors and publishing houses play? Moreover, our project explores the social differentiation of age as it converges or coincides with other differences such as gender, ethnicity, class, and religion. One of our focal points in this context is the intersection between various differences and their effects on the emergence of “centenarianess” as a category in a process which can be understood as a form of fabrication.