Historicizing the ageing self: Literature, medicine, psychology, law
A late life festival

Last Chapter: A Late Life Festival

Last Chapter is a two-day cultural festival running Friday 19th June, at the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design (Møllendalsveien 61, Bergen), and Saturday 20th June 2020, at the Bergen Museum of Natural History and its botanical garden.

Bergen Nasjonale Opera

Last Chapter: A Late Life Festival

19th- 20th June 2020


Last Chapter is a two-day cultural festival running Friday 19th June, at the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, and Saturday 20th June 2020, at the Bergen Museum of Natural History and its botanical garden. The festival is a celebration of later life which aims to challenge stereotypical perceptions of old age and contribute to a less age-segregated society.  The festival brings together a unique blend of Norwegian and international art, culture and heritage offering an exciting range of events, presentations, debates and encounters with artists, writers, researchers, health care professionals and policy makers. Admission is free and open to the public.  


Why Last Chapter? 

Contemporary societies have difficulty relating to the fact that every story has a final chapter. Ageing may be an inevitable part of life, yet the promotion and valuing of youthfulness increasingly makes the process of growing older something to be feared, delayed or denied.  Ageing and later life specifically have become synonymous with questions of vulnerability, dependency, illness and death.  Such associations and anxieties have a range of consequences for the social status, health and well-being of those in later life, and contribute significantly to their marginalization, creating a society which is not shaped by their participation.  

The Last Chapter festival seeks to engage and explore how the end of a story is often the most important part; a lot can happen in the last chapters that make the rest of the life story appear in a new light. Acknowledging this fact can be a prerequisite for younger people’s awareness of their own vitality and vulnerability and may help foster solidarity across generations. Bringing together artists and intellectuals, academics, politicians and public service providers, the Last Chapter festival postulates the need for a joint reflection on what it means to participate both in late life and in general, as citizens, professionals and as the first person of one’s own life story.


The Last Chapter festival aims to:

  • highlight different aspects of late life participation (and non-participation) across a wide range of artistic, scholarly and practitioner perspectives
  • help bridge the gaps between different areas of knowledge and practice regarding late life
  • promote the arts as an avenue for participation in one's own life, in society and across generations, regardless of age
  • promote literature and the arts as a critical complement to scientific and political discourses, in society in general and in the health field in particular
  • contribute to reframe current debates about the elderly by engaging with elders
  • question restrictive assumptions about what makes a good life in older age
  • encourage the development of new practices in health care


Context and Key Issues:

Population ageing is defined by the UN as a global issue, “poised to become one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century, with implications for nearly all sectors of society”.[1] The way we face this challenge on a personal and societal level has consequences for all and reflects dominant cultural values. As Steven Katz reminds us, “understanding problems of aging involves probing and tracing the concepts and discourses with which such problems are addressed and become sources of truth”.[2]

A key issue for the festival is to go beyond the current prescriptive models of “successful ageing”, “positive ageing”, “healthy ageing” and “active ageing”. In a world of huge economic differences, is it sustainable or even ethical to posit individual “success” as a measure of a good life? Warnings have been raised against the growing influence of lifestyle and wellness industries on private lives and governmental policies. When decline is reduced to a question of attitude, exercise and self-discipline, we pave the way for injustice and a “tyranny of positivity”.[3] Barbara Ehrenreich argues that the emphasis in rich societies on fitness and health has become unhealthy, especially for the elders.[4] Our obsessions with well-being and happiness are causing misery.[5] Furthermore, a late side-effect of our ethos of autonomy and self-realization may be loneliness, increasingly treated as an epidemic in our “therapeutic culture”. Maybe our stress-ridden, hyperactive society has something to learn from the slower pace of our elders. Maybe we also have something to learn about intergenerational dependency. Drawing on lessons from past and present, practical experience, research and the arts, the festival will stimulate reflection on what makes late life worth living, in order to inspire a more resourceful and nuanced attitude to old age.


Last Chapter Seminar, 19th June, at the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design:

The first day of the festival will be a colloquy designed to attract researchers, scholars and practitioners - anyone working with, or concerned about questions of ageing. It will prioritize contributions that draw on the usefulness of literature and the arts as tools for understanding ageing. 


We invite artists and scholars from the Humanities and the Arts, from the Social Sciences, Medicine, Psychology and Law to contribute to the festival seminar.

Proposals (200 words + a short biographical note) are welcome until March 1, 2020.

Topics may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Participation, belonging and social justice 
  • Citizenship in the third and fourth age 
  • Literary, artistic, philosophical expressions of what it means to participate in late life
  • Psychological and neurological aspects of participation/non-participation
  • Cultural historical perspectives on autonomy, dependency in late life
  • Social isolation, loneliness and the art of solitude
  • Ageing in therapeutic culture
  • Medicalization of late life and dying/ownership to one’s life and death
  • Socially engaged art, thinking and practice in health care
  • Elder care and cross-institutional collaboration 
  • Creative and critical approaches to care
  • Intergenerational conflicts and collaboration
  • Body politics of ageing 
  • Impacts of neo-liberal directives of personal responsibility and self-reliance on the cultural practices of ageing.
  • Elder care and private sector management.
  • Ideologies of ageing


About the Festival Venues: The Bergen University Museum - the origin of the University itself - opens its historic premises to the festival, and staff in the museum garden will assist with organized guided tours to suit both children and elders. Lectures, artistic performances and dance to live music will take place in the Museum's refurbished localities. Different kinds of activities, workshops, and meetings with decision makers will also take place in the public areas of the museum and in the garden.

The Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design will host the festival seminar in its new building, which was designed by the Snøhetta architects and opened in 2017 on the lake Lungegårdsvannet.


Last Chapter Partners:

University of BergenBergen MunicipalityBergen National Opera ; KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes.


The festival project has three main institutional partners: The University of Bergen, Bergen National Opera and Bergen Municipality, and will also include collaboration with KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes. Bergen National Opera with its partners will give the audience the opportunity to not only experience but also participate in national and international cultural heritage. The University of Bergen - Department of Foreign Languages ​​(Historicizing Aging) and the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, (Social Acoustics) and their international network of researchers will contribute with artistic and interdisciplinary perspectives on ageing. Bergen Municipality, at the City Council's Department of Health and Care, will focus on involving residents and decision-makers in making Bergen and Norway a more age-friendly society.



The festival is generously funded by the Norwegian Research Council, Hordaland County Council, Arts Council Norway, the Kavli Trust.




[1] https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/ageing/index.html

[2] Stephen Katz, « Active and Successful Aging. Lifestyle as a Gerontological Idea », Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques. http://journals.openedition.org/rsa/910 ; DOI : 10.4000/rsa.910

[3] Edgar Cabanas and Eva Illouz, Manufacturing Happy Citizens: How the Science and Industry of Happiness Control our Lives, Polity, 2019.

[4] Barbara Ehrenreich, Natural Causes: Life, Death and the Illusion of Control. Granta, 2018.

[5] Lynne Segal, Radical happiness: Moments of Collective Joy. Verso, 2018.