“To write my autobiography and get myself in focus genetically”: G. Stanley Hall’s Senescence (1922)

Gemma Carney*, Leonie Hannan

*Corresponding author for this work

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In this paper we analyse G. Stanley Hall’s Senescence: the last half of life (1922) as a personal narrative and scientific account of aging in the long nineteenth century which still has resonance for twenty-first research on aging as decline. Our analysis is contextualised by an historical perspective on Hall’s academic career, his views on women and his social Darwinism his commitment to Darwin’s evolutionary theory. We focus on three main narratives – embodied aging and delaying decline; old age as personal experience and a category for social analysis and the emergence of retirement as a socio-economic institution. In doing so, we contextualise Hall’s work by attending to the social and intellectual currents of in light of social history of the this time. We observe the enduring influence of narratives of aging in the nineteenth century, particularly the underlying assumption of Senescence – that aging equals decline and loss, which still holds sway in mainstream gerontology research today. We argue that Senescence offers the reader a complex and often meandering narrative which reveals offers insights into the experience of male aging in the long nineteenth century as well as scientific thinking on aging at the time. We conclude that Hall shows us that old age (and death) are part of life, and that as much can be learned from the experience of living through old age as can be gleaned from academic studies of social statistics or physiological decline.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
JournalAge, Culture, Humanities: an interdisciplinary journal
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2021


  • gerontology
  • senescence
  • ageing
  • Hall
  • decline
  • history of psychology


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