Aging, Embodiment, and the Somatic Turn


  • Chris Gilleard University College London
  • Paul Higgs University College London





This article addresses contemporary representations of bodily aging by calling attention to the difference between “corporeality” and “embodiment.” Drawing on Haraway’s distinction between the body as social actant and the body as a site of social agency, we argue for the need to distinguish between aging as corporeality—treating the aging body as a social actant—and aging as embodiment—treating the aging body as co-constructor of its own identity. Embodiment, or embodied habitus, is realized through embodied identities and the embodied practices associated with past and present identities. This distinction is important
in locating the new narratives and performances of later life emerging in the aftermath of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. The rise of somatic society, the growth of mass consumerism, and the new politics of identity initially targeted youth buthave since extended their infuence across the life course. These phenomena have helped realize variously embodied, valued identities through whose trajectories it has become possible to think the aging body differently. 

Author Biographies

Chris Gilleard, University College London

is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and visiting Research Fellow at the Division of Psychiatry, UCL, London. He has written extensively on contemporary and historical aspects of aging and old age and is the coauthor (with Paul Higgs) of a number of books, including Cultures of Ageing: Self, Citizen and the Body (Prentice Hall, 2000), Contexts of Ageing: Class, Cohort and Community (Polity, 2005), and Ageing, Corporeality and Embodiment (Anthem, 2013). Readers may write to Chris Gilleard at

Paul Higgs, University College London

is Professor of the Sociology of Ageing at UCL. He coauthored with Chris Gilleard Rethinking Old Age: Theorising the Fourth Age (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Professor Higgs is an editor of the journal Social Theory and Health and has published widely in social gerontology and medical sociology. He has also published Medical Sociology and Old Age (Routledge, 2008) with Ian Jones and coedited Social Class in Later Life (Policy, 2013) with Marvin Formosa. He is a Fellow of both the Academy of Social Sciences and the Gerontological Society of America. Readers may write to Paul Higgs at


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How to Cite

Gilleard, C., and P. Higgs. “Aging, Embodiment, and the Somatic Turn”. Age, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 2, Jan. 2015, pp. 17-33, doi:10.7146/ageculturehumanities.v2i.130485.