Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at


1. Judith Wilt, 'The Imperial Mouth: Imperialism, the Gothic and Science Fiction', Journal of Popular Culture, 14(4), 1981, p. 628.

2. The notion that the process of aging may render old people useless for society is encountered cross-culturally, but the intervention of science to redefine the normal process of aging as a kind of disease constitutes an important disjunction between traditional and modern societies. As early as 1901, we come across this idea in the second annual report of the State Board of Insanity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This report was submitted to the State House, Boston, on 3 February 1901 and it stated:

'Formerly, distrust of institutions was so great that patients were committed because of necessity alone. Of late, however, public confidence and readiness to entrust dependents to their care have grown rapidly. A notable illustration is seen in the increasing disposition to commit old people whose infirmity follows senile degeneration changes. If the annual number of commitments as insane of persons aged seventy years or above is compared with the mean population of such persons, by five-year periods, since 1880, it is found that, whereas such old persons have increased in the twenty years 33.37 per cent, their commitments have increased 156.81 per cent, or 4.6 times as fast.'

Clearly the increase in life expectancy was accompanied with medicalization of the problems of old people. The slowing down of physical and mental processes of old age was characterized as a form of insanity and hence old people were committed to institutions for the insane. Incidentally, some criminals were also defined as insane and there was a curious amalgamation in the categories of the criminal, the old, and the insane. The account as to how these institutions came to be defined in a manner that either the labour of these people was available for production, road building, etc., or their bodies were available for medical research makes a fascinating reading; but we cannot go into that here. See, in this context, Second Annual Report of the State Board of Insanity, Boston, 1901.

3. A. Macintyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (London: Duckworth, 1981).

Contents - Previous - Next