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Temporality, narrative, and the ageing self

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Cathrine Degnen


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Older people are often stereotyped by younger people as ‘lost’ or ‘living’ in the past. Such labelling is one that employs differing temporal relations as one measure of ‘oldness’. Social perceptions of incorrect temporal reckoning are powerfully stigmatising. When linked to old age, they also contribute to the multi-layered process of otherizing of older people as no longer ‘fully adult’, a process with significant implications for one’s sense of self. Temporal positioning however does appear to shift as people age. The ageing self exists in a time universe which differs from younger and middle-aged adults not just in terms of frames of reference, which determine how people position themselves, but also the extent to which the past informs the present, and a certain insouciance about the future. This presents insight onto a temporal positioning of the self that may be unique to this part of the life-course. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the north of England, this paper explores the dynamics of these differing temporal relationships and their implications for the construction and maintenance of the ageing self. In particular, I examine the different characteristics of narrative style used by the older people I came to know during the course of fieldwork.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Degnen C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Cambridge Anthropology

Year: 2005

Volume: 25

Issue: 2

Pages: 50-63

ISSN (print): 0305-7674