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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Research Projects

Publication details

Moreira, T. (2015). Unsettling Standards: the biological age controversy. The Sociological Quarterly 56(1): 18-39.

Author(s) from Durham


One key debate within the sociology of aging and the life course over the past decade has been focused on understanding the extent to which there has been a shift from a reliance on chronological age to segment the life course and ascertain age-specific norms, values, and expectations toward a destandardized life course in advanced economies. In this, little attention has been devoted to the infrastructural processes that would support such a transition: the technologies, standards, and conventions that would, in practice, equip a personalized, individualized management of the life course. This article focuses on one of such standards, “biological age” (BA), and the 40-year controversy around the method and purpose of its measurement. Drawing on published research and archival and interview data collected in Europe and North America, the article suggests that the persistent uncertainty surrounding BA measurements is structured by differing interlocking relationships between normative ideals of the life course and methodological approaches to knowledge making to understand and manage the relationship among aging, health, and illness. Understanding this controversy and the configuration of normative and epistemic conventions that underpin its dynamic provides a unique lens on the complex interweaving relationship between expertise, scientific and technological standards, and social, normatively embedded age identities in contemporary societies.

Department of Sociology