'Extreme Forms of Aging:' The Case of Sam Berns


  • Julia Velten Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz




Progeria, Age Studies, Disability Studies, Documentary Film, Cultural Constructions of Age, Extreme Aging


By discussing the aging disorder progeria as depicted in the HBO documentary Life According to Sam, “this paper argues that extraordinary forms of aging allow us to gain new insights into the cultural construction of age. The paper explores the ways in which age is culturally constructed through physical and behavioral aspects. The condition of progeria, puts individuals in between these categories, providing an angle to look at the way subcategories of age influence a person’s perception about age and aging in a given social context. Moreover, the essay connects methods from age studies as well as disability studies and suggests a dialogue between the two fields. Progeria, causing the body to age at a tremendously accelerated rate, serves as a suitable point of inquiry. On the one hand, it is an aging disorder at the junction between disability and age while, on the other, it challenges normative assumptions of age and aging by juxtaposing different subcategories of age within a single individual.

Author Biography

Julia Velten, Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz

Julia Velten received both, her B.Ed. in English, History, and Education and her M.A. in American Studies from Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz. She currently works at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies in Mainz as doctoral researcher within the DFG research group “Un/doing Differences: Praktiken der Humandifferenzierung” where she focusses on the fabrication of centenarians through auto/biography in the United States. Connected to this research, her dissertation deals with concepts of extreme forms of aging in American literature and culture, with a focus on life narratives of by centenarians and children with progeria. Her general research interests include life writing, aging studies, medical humanities, indigenous studies, and popular culture.




How to Cite

Velten, Julia. “’Extreme Forms of Aging:’ The Case of Sam Berns”. Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, July 2017, doi:10.5283/copas.278.