Category Archives: News

AAGE at #AAA2016! How to get involved in Minneapolis this November


The AAA meeting is massive. This year, thousands of anthropologists will descend on the “City of Lakes” for the four days of talks, meetings, workshops, and events, and once again, AAGE is there to help you find the most exciting panels on aging and the life course. The guide below contains links to the AAA program so that registered members can add them to the personal scheduler. There are also links to the AAGE/ Anthropology of Aging and the Life Course Interest Group meeting (Friday, 18 November 12:15PM-1:30PM) and  the AALIG special interlocutor session with Margaret Lock in conversation with Jay Sokolovsky and Athena McLean (Saturday 19 November 12:15PM-1:30PM). If we missed your panel/paper/poster or event, let us know. See you in Minneapolis!

*Please note that since the original post, room assignment are no longer listed on the online program and the rooms listed here may be incorrect. Best to check in closer to the conference!

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AAGE at #EASA2016

EASA 2016 was hosted by Univ. of Milano-Bicocca. (Photo: D'uomo, by Jason Danely)

The magnifient Duomo in central Milan. EASA 2016 was hosted by University of Milan, Bicocca

This was my first time attending the biennial meeting of the European Association of Social Anthropology, and with over 130 panels, laboratories, films screenings and events and some 1700 attendees from across Europe and the world, it didn’t fail to disappoint. It had all the breadth and excitement of the AAA meetings, but on a more modest scale that facilitated the kinds of interactions you get at smaller meetings of only a few hundred attendees. The meeting was hosted by the Department of Human Sciences and Education ‘Ricardo Massa’ and the Department of Sociology and Social Research at the University of Milano-Bicocca. Not as flashy as a convention centre or hotel (the book exhibit consisted of about ten tables set up in a corridor), but I have to say the organization and technical support was outstanding. Aside from a mostly comical issue with a live feed during the opening plenary with Didier Fassin, everything seemed to run well (see Allegra Lab’s blog for an interesting take on Fassin’s talk). Which is very good news indeed when you are dashing between sessions trying to catch all the panels that you can!

As with most anthropology conferences, I didn’t get to see half of the panels I wanted to, and if anyone else reading this blog had a favorite panel related to ageing that I don’t report on, my sincere apologies. Please leave a comment below and let us know about it! Continue reading

AAGE Member News June 2016

As this month’s member news attests, it is not only the senior members of AAGE who get all the accolades. All of the entries for this month’s news are students and early career (within 5 years of last degree) members who deserve tremendous praise for finding success in this highly competitive field.

For those of us who can no longer count ourselves among the ‘early career’ group, it is always nice to remember where we came from and how AAGE influenced where we are now. In what is also to be a regular feature of the news, scroll down to see a short reflective piece by one of our long-standing members, explaining why they continue to participate in AAGE and what it has meant for their career. You might think of this as member news on a different scale of time, but we also hope it encourages our current members to make the most of this association and to get to know their colleagues.

Now, to our members!

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The Importance of ‘Blood,’ Identity, and Intergenerational Relationships over the Life Course of Ugandan Children Orphaned by AIDS

Photograph by Kristen Cheney. Please do not reproduce without permission


“They are my daughter’s blood. I couldn’t watch my blood suffer,” an elderly grandmother in Uganda told me. She was referring to her daughter’s four orphaned children, explaining why she refused to allow the children to go live with their father’s clan – the clan that is traditionally responsible for the upbringing of orphaned children.

In my forthcoming ethnography, Crying for Our Elders: African Orphanhood in the Age of HIV/AIDS (Cheney 2017), an intergenerational, life-course approach helped me examine the way AIDS orphanhood has influenced child circulation and dynamic processes of kinship construction in Uganda.  I trace the sometimes-contradictory social, economic, and emotional effects of orphan circulation within and across family networks, highlighting orphaned children’s concerns with identity that prompt intra-family mobility as they grow into adulthood. In doing so, I show how orphan care in the age of HIV/AIDS is consequently transforming both fosterage practices and kin obligation, potentially jeopardizing children’s well-being and their ability to identify with the ‘blood ties’ that still form powerful tropes of relatedness for them – in spite of, and sometimes because of, AIDS’ tainting of ‘blood’. Continue reading

AAGE Member News, May 2016

AAGE members do exceptional things, and as part of a regular monthly feature of getting to know our members, this section will highlight their latest acheivements. If you’d like us to include your news in the next post, you can email them to us at, including “AAGE member news” in the subject line. Also, if you are interested in being part of the member news team, please let us know!


Annette Leibing (Universite de Montreal) has been a long-time member of AAGE and Editorial Advisory Board member of Anthropology & Aging. She has had several recent publications on various studies of aging and health, including two single authored pieces on dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease:

Leibing, A., Tournay V, Aisengart Menezes R et RF Zorzanelli – How to fix a broken heart: Cardiac disease and the ‘multiverse’ of stem cell research in Canada. BioSocieties, online pre-publiation, mars 2016.

Leibing, A, Guberman, N et J Wiles – Liminal homes: Older people, loss of capacities, and the present future of living spaces. Journal of Aging Studies, 37(April2016): 10-19,

Leibing, A. – Dementia in the making: Early detection and the body/brain in Alzheimer’s disease. In: Popularizing Dementia, Public Expressions and Representations of Forgetfulness, Aagje Swinnen and Mark Schweda (eds.). Bielefeld: Transkript, pp. 275-294, 2015.

Leibing, A. – Understanding Alzheimer’s disease. In : The Routledge Handbook of Medical Anthropology. Lenore Mandersen, Elizabeth Cartwright, and Anita Hardon (dir.)., Routledge,

Annette also presented “Recent changes in the conceptualization of dementia: Ethnographic notes from Brazil” at the Brocher Foundation workshop : “The redefinition of Alzheimer’s disease and its social and ethical consequences, » organized by Richard Milne (U Cambridge), Shirlene Badger (U Cambridge) and Jason Karlawish (U Pennsylvania); 14-15 April 2016, Geneva, Switzerland. Coming back to Canada, she gave a Keynote talk for CASCA (Canadian Anthropology Association, Halifax, 11-15 May, 2016) titled, “Ageing in times of Alzheimer’s: Tales of change, culture, and solidarities.”

Looking ahead, Annette will be travelling again to Europe (Zurich University, Switzerland this time) for the Cultures of Care Conference, 18 – 20 November, 2016. In anticipation of her contribution to a forthcoming book on “Successful Aging” (Edited by AAGE’s own Sarah Lamb), her paper is titled, “Successful Selves? Heroic tales of Alzheimer’s Disease and Personhood in Brazil.”


Casey Golomski (second from right) during his fieldwork at a racially mixed facility for people living with Alzheimer’s or frailty in South Africa

Some of the most excited news comes from some of our newest members, and what could be better than landing that coveted tenure-track appointment? Congratulation to  Casey Golomski, who has been recently appointed as Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Hampshire and as an Associate Editor with the African Journal of AIDS Research. He returns to New England after being a University Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in Social Anthropology and Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. There, along with Hylton White and Nolwazi Mkhwanazi, he co-initiated a research unit “Life Course, Obligation, and Dependency [LOAD]: Ethnographic Perspectives on Intergenerational Justice in Southern Africa.” As part of the unit and with funding from the Wenner Gren Foundation, he undertook four months of research at a racially mixed frailcare and Alzheimer’s facility in a small town. He recently workshopped his first manuscript based on this project, titled “Race and Joking Relations in a South African Alzheimer’s Home,” at the 2016 Northeast Workshop on Southern Africa for submission to a (fortunate) anthropology journal.

Janelle S. Taylor (Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington, Seattle), will step down from her current role as department chair in July, and looks forward to having more time and energy to devote to research about friendship and dementia. This is wonderful news to all of us who love Janelle’s writing and are eager to read more. A first publication from her new work, titled “Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot? Friendship in the Face of Dementia,” is slated to appear in the volume Successful Aging? Global Perspectives on a Contemporary Obsession (in press with Rutgers) edited by Sarah Lamb (see the news from Annette Leibing above).

The University of Washington’s Memory & Brain Wellness Center recently ran on its blog a short feature about this research: “Time to Redef

More congratulation to our Past-President of AAGE, Samantha Solimeo (University of Iowa) for her promotion to Director, Ethnographic Methods and Implementation Core (EMIC), Center for Comprehensive Access & Delivery Research and Evaluation (CADRE), Iowa City VA Health Care System. Samantha continues to be recognized as a leader not only in gerontology, but also to applied anthropology. She was recently elected board member of the Nominations Committee for the Society for Applied Anthropology.

Recent papers

Solimeo SL, Ono SS, Stewart KR, Rosenthal GE, Stewart GL. Clerical Workers in VA Primary Care Teams and the Organizational Invisibility of Patient-Centered Care. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. In press.

Solimeo SL, Stewart G, Rosenthal G. Critical Role of Clerks in the Patient Centered Medical Home. Annals of Family Medicine. In Press.

Edmonds, SW, Solimeo SL, Nguyen T, Wright NC, Roblin DW, Saag KG, Cram P.  Understanding preferences for osteoporosis information to develop an osteoporosis-patient education brochure Permanente Journal. Accepted 3.29.2016.



Jason Danely (Pres-Elect AAGE) and daughter Loïe

Finally, new President-Elect Jason Danely (Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, Oxford Brookes University, UK) was awarded a research grant from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation to study “Dynamics of the Aging Japanese Prison Population. He was also a co-applicant on a successful British Academy Conference bid for 2017 titled “Vulnerability and the Politics of Care.” My most recent article was published in the March 2016 issue of Contemporary Japan, titled “Hope in and Aging Japan: Transience and Transcendence“.

The busy summer traveling seems to have begun already, as in April I presented my current research on unpaid carers in Japan at the UK at Monash Centre, Prato, Italy. Over the rest of summer I will be giving a Keynote presentation at the University of Manchester, UK; Tokyo University, Japan; and the conference of the European Association of Social Anthropology in Milan, Italy. Last, but not least, in January we welcomed the birth of our third child, Loïe Amelia Danely! 

Still about a year away, but we are getting ready for the biennial AAGE Conference for 2017. We have secured some initial funds to hold the conference in Oxford, England and are hoping to get additional funds to help with student travel costs. Need an excuse to come to Europe next year? Stay tuned!

Thank you to everyone for their AAGE member news updates. Keep up the good work!

The Urban Future and the Aging Body

Photograph by author. Please do not reproduce without permission

Photograph by author. Please do not reproduce without permission

On Wednesday morning in February 2013, I rang the doorbell of Leena, a 77 years old woman who lived in the city center of Oulu in northern Finland. She had agreed to take me for a walk from her home to the health center. While we were in a lift, Leena expressed her concerns about her future living arrangements, since there was no room for a wheelchair in the lift. Leena had lived in her house since 1967, and hoped to live many more years.

In Finland, the public discourses on “the problem of aging” circles around how people could continue to live on their own as long as possible. Sometimes this tendency has led to situations where people with dementia have become prisoners in their own homes. The elderly in need of care might not have anyone nearby to look after them, and without sufficient public services, their futures as desired independent citizens doesn’t look very desirable.

Self-sufficient living should include not only the ability to stay at home, but also the ability to move between homes and the other important places in one’s life, like public services and the houses of family members and friends (see Gardner 2011; Penney 2013). In order to understand this part of  everyday life for people like Leena, I walked with Finnish seniors via their everyday routes on nine winter days. I have followed Tim Ingold’s (2011) notion that through the routes and movements, the pasts and futures are carried into the present.

While considering new plans and decisions, we should ask what kind of mobilities and practices do they enable and prevent. How can we ensure that our cities stay liveable to those seniors who wish to live on their own without making them feel like abandoned citizens?

While I walked with Leena, the streets were a bit slippery and there were piles of snow on the pavements, because snow ploughing is usually done first on the roads. The more able-bodied walkers can find detours for their ways, but for citizens like Leena who suffer from severe back problems and asthma, these barriers have long-term effects. To be able to stay as fit as possible, and thus to carry on independent living, she says she needs to walk every day.

There are also year-round material elements in the cities that can prevent or encourage seniors to move (see Freund 2001). In the spring 2013, Oulu was planning to replace the health center many seniors preferred to use with one outside the city center. Leena was “terrified” about this, because: “Then I’d have to take a taxi but I’d anyhow have to walk to get one, so what’s the point?” Being unable to walk to get medical services was perceived as a change that would affect seniors’ sense of independence. This sense might be constructed differently by different generations but what is common, is the need be able to affect one’s own future in a place (see Ylipulli 2015).

The possibility to keep on knowing the city through everyday embodied practices enhances seniors’ feelings of autonomy, and of being valued as competent citizens. Staying on the move is not just a question of keeping oneself fit as an aging citizen, but also a question of urban planning and management. While considering new plans and decisions, we should ask what kind of mobilities and practices do they enable and prevent. How can we ensure that our cities stay liveable to those seniors who wish to live on their own without making them feel like abandoned citizens?
Since in our study, city visits by solitary seniors were mainly about running errands; the urban planners and decision makers should consider how to secure seniors’ routes to health centers, libraries, pharmacists, and grocery stores in the future. For example, preserving the important historical places of the city as well as making places feel safe through sufficient lighting, supports the continuity of seniors’ everyday mobility.

Works cited:

Freund, Peter. 2001. ”Bodies, Disability and Spaces. The Social Model and Disabling Spatial Organisations.” Disability & Society 16:5: 689–706.

Gardner, Paula J. 2011. Natural neighborhood networks – Important social networks in the lives of older adults aging in place. Journal of Aging Studies 25: 263–271.

Ingold, Tim. 2011. Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. London: Routledge.

Penney, Lauren. 2013. The Uncertain Bodies and Spaces of Aging in Place. Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 34:3: 113–125.

Ylipulli, Johanna. 2015. A smart and ubiquitous urban future? Contrasting large-scale agendas and street-level dreams. Observation (OBS*) Journal, Media City: Spectacular, Ordinary and Contested Spaces: 85–110.

Tiina Suopajärvi holds a PhD in Cultural Anthropology and works as a University Lecturer of European Ethnology at the University of Helsinki in Finland. She has studied and published scientific articles on aging in “smart cities.” Her current research focuses on the co-design processes of public services aimed for senior citizens.

Read the companion to this post, Futures Past: Absent Kinships and the Japanese Child Welfare System, by Kathryn E. Goldfarb


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Futures Past: Absent Kinships and the Japanese Child Welfare System

Laundry hanging up to dry at a child welfare institution in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Photograph by Kathryn Goldfarb. Please do not reproduce without permission

Laundry hanging up to dry at a child welfare institution in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Photograph by Kathryn Goldfarb. Please do not reproduce without permission

Assigned to write about “futures” in the context of childhood, I find myself dwelling on the past. Although approaches to childhood often must grapple with how “the child” is seen to signify the future (of a family, of a town, of a nation, of humanity), within child welfare systems, which are the context of my research, my interlocutors’ considerations of the future are inevitably inflected by their understandings of what has come before.

I conduct research in Japan, where children who cannot be cared for in their family of origin are generally cared for in institutions, sometimes for many years. Activists working for child welfare reform in Japan cite international children’s rights discourses and the science of child development and neurology to argue that institutional care indelibly damages state wards. Specifically, they argue that institutional care for infants is tantamount to violence, that children who receive this sort of state care are harmed by the parental state, that children raised in institutions will not be able to form attachment relationships with others (for example, HRW 2014). These arguments circulate as international scientific and popular discourses and are certainly not specific to Japan. They hinge on the understanding that “the child is father of the man”: that within an adult lives the former child, whose body and brain is shaped by caregiver labor. These understandings of child science posit a particular burden of responsibility on caregivers: “‘our’ input literally materializes the child-brain’s neural connections,” a project haunted by the ever-present possibility of failure (Castañeda 2002: 76, 77; see also Rose and Abi-Rached 2013). Underlying reformers’ claims about the developmental harms of institutional care is the logic that children’s pasts shape their future potential, claims authorized by expertise in child development and neuroscience. Despite deeply sympathizing with these child welfare reform efforts, I remain troubled by the pathologizing, deterministic, and often highly normative language that seems to be the only way that activists can gain attention—the ways they must represent past damage as determining a person’s future, using scientific “evidence” to bolster their claims (Goldfarb 2015). Emotional narratives of experience—the experiences of people who received state care—never seem quite compelling enough to induce policy change. Nuance, the complex relationship between past, present, and future, is lost in the shuffle. The meanings of “the future” for former state wards seem prescribed by past deprivation.

In contemporary Japan, social recognition, legal rights, and subjective identity are deeply entangled in a way that complicates simple understandings of the past’s relation to a livable future.

The kōnotori no yurikago” (“cradle of storks”) in Kumamoto, Japan, 2010. Photograph by Kathryn Goldfarb. Please do not reproduce without permission

The kōnotori no yurikago” (“cradle of storks”) in Kumamoto, Japan, 2010. Photograph by Kathryn Goldfarb. Please do not reproduce without permission

The past shows up in considerations of the future in other contexts, as well—particularly, the question of whether knowledge of the past is an important condition for meaningful life. Ethnographic studies of adoption highlight how the idea of a person’s family or nation of origin often exerts undeniable pull on that person, prompting investigations and sometimes visits (for example Howell 2006, Kim 2010, Yngvesson 2010). In Japan, I have been intrigued by one case that epitomizes the culturally specific gravity of origin stories, and the ways attention to origins is institutionalized in the Japanese family registry. In 2007, the Catholic Jikei hospital in the southern city of Kumamoto, Japan implemented the “kōnotori no yurikago” (pictured left)—the “cradle of storks”—or what quickly became known (to the hospital’s chagrin) as the “akachan pōsuto” or “baby drop box.” The yurikago had been publicized as a place where an infant could be anonymously and safely deposited without legal ramifications for the infant’s parents; the infant would later be placed for adoption. The issue of anonymity rapidly became a flashpoint for child welfare scholars and practitioners. While hospital representatives emphasized that anonymity was a crucial way to encourage safe relinquishment rather than infanticide, critical voices argued that anonymity benefited the parents but harmed the child, who would lack the knowledge about his or her origins central to being an “ordinary” person in Japanese society. Thus, while the child would indeed be alive (the counterfactual was, of course, impossible to prove), a child lacking all knowledge of origin—concretely, a child existing outside of a normal family registry—would not be a socially recognized person in some of the ways that matter most in contemporary Japan. So while the proponents of this child welfare mechanism argued that it is life-saving and the very condition of a child’s future, its detractors claimed that this saved life is denied a fundamental form of social being. Notably, children themselves did not contribute to this conversation. To me, this case exemplifies the tensions between understandings of a person’s past—as documented in a family registry, or made invisible and unknowable in the case of anonymous abandonment—and perceptions of a livable present and an imaginable future in Japan. Japanese family registry is sometimes understood as a base for identity (Krogness 2008), and those without knowledge of their family of origin may feel they lack a foundation for moving forward in life.


Toothbrushes lined up at a child welfare institution in the Kansai area of Japan. Photograph by Kathryn Goldfarb. Please do not reproduce without permission

Toothbrushes lined up at a child welfare institution in the Kansai area of Japan. Photograph by Kathryn Goldfarb. Please do not reproduce without permission

In contemporary Japan, social recognition, legal rights, and subjective identity are deeply entangled in a way that complicates simple understandings of the past’s relation to a livable future. One of my interlocutors, now a man in his sixties, believed that he could not marry because he lacked knowledge of his origins; marriage, as he told his girlfriend, is between two households, and he did not belong to one. He had spent his entire childhood in a Japanese child welfare institution, and did not have a relationship with either his mother, who had lived in a psychiatric hospital, or his father, of whom he knew nothing. His girlfriend had scoffed at him, calling his thinking old-fashioned. “Marriage doesn’t have to be between two households these days,” she told him. “It is a contract between two people.” So the two decided to get married. My interlocutor, disconnected from a “genealogical grid” (Povinelli 2002), had never imagined himself as able to enter into a marriage precisely because of the lack of kinship network that would make a union of families possible. Unmoored from ancestors, he had been equally unmoored from future generations. However, his own ability to have a son, and foster another, allowed him to develop a new understanding of forward-oriented kinship ties that emerged from present-day intimacies. Self-reflexive attention to the future—the future family that might be made new out of nothing—animates the desires of many of my interlocutors who have decided to foster or adopt children in Japan (Goldfarb forthcoming). Their meditations on a future with children new to their family, children with their own past histories, illustrate how the past is not always a condition for future relational possibilities. For them, present-day investments and caregiving relationships are generative, transformative, and hopeful.


Works Cited:

Castañeda, Claudia. 2002. Figurations: Child, Bodies, Worlds. Durham: Duke University Press.

Goldfarb, Kathryn. 2015. “Developmental logics: Brain science, child welfare, and the ethics of engagement in Japan.” Social Science & Medicine 143:271-278.

Goldfarb, Kathryn. 2016. “‘Coming to look alike’: Materializing affinity in Japanese foster and adoptive care.” Social Analysis 60(2) (forthcoming).

Howell, Signe. 2006. The kinning of foreigners: Transnational adoption in a global perspective. New York: Berghahn Books.

Human Rights Watch. 2014. “Without Dreams: Children in Alternative Care in Japan.”

Kim, Eleana J. 2010. Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging. Durham: Duke University Press.

Krogness, Karl Jakob. 2008. The Koseki System and ‘Koseki Consciousness’: An Exploration of the Development and Functions of the Modern Japanese Household Registration System and How it Influences Social Life. PhD dissertation, University of Copenhagen.

Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2002. Notes on Gridlock: Genealogy, Intimacy, Sexuality. Public Culture 14(1): 215-238.

Rose, Nikolas and Joelle M. Abi-Rached. 2013. Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Yngvesson, Barbara. 2010. Belonging in an adopted world: Race, identity, and transnational adoption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.



Kathryn E. Goldfarb is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is working on a book manuscript, entitled Relational Futures: Material Ties in Japanese State Care. Her research brings together kinship, medical anthropology, and semiotics to explore the ways that social relationships shape bodily experience.


Read the AAGE companion to this post: Staying on the move: The urban future of the aging body, by Tiina Suopajärvi


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Who Wouldn’t Want to Retire in Vancouver?: #SfAA2016 Conference Report

Vancouver is a beautiful city, often topping the list of best cities in the world to live and retire in. It is not surprising that this year’s SfAA meeting was the most well-attended ever. Quite a few of us interested in the anthropology of aging and life course issues were there. While gazing at the gorgeous harbor views and walking in Stanley Park, we enjoyed having a chance to visit and discuss things going on in our field. Beyond the scenic outdoor settings and many cafes where we planted ourselves, we also attended relevant sessions at the conference venue.

AAGE President Iveris Martinez organized an excellent session co-sponsored by the SMA (Society for Medical Anthropology) and COPAA (Consortium on Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs).The title of this session was “The Value of Applied Anthropology in Gerontology: Imagining alternative career paths at the intersection of anthropology, health, and aging”. Panel participants included Jay Sokolovsky, Sherri Briller, Megan Stamey McAlvain, Nanami Suzuki (below left)and Peggy Perkinson (pictured above left). Session discussants were Jean Schensul & Jay Sokolovsky. This panel explored the intersection between anthropology and gerontology in applied settings. It brought together anthropologists (both senior and junior) who work in a variety of settings seeking to employ anthropology to provide innovative ways of helping health professionals view and respond to health issues in late life. Specific topics covered included graduate medical education in treating older adults at the end of life, Japanese care workers helping older adults after the Great East Japan Earthquake, training staff for a Chinese Continuing Care Retirement Community, anthropological experiences in training physicians and healthcare workers for working with older patients, anthropologically training medical students and physicians about health and late life in cultural context, and teaching at the intersections of anthropology and aging.
AAGEatSfAA3_suzukiSome aging related topics appeared in other sessions including: joint development of health interventions with older adults in senior housing (Schensul, Radda, Reisine & Foster-Bey), discriminatory service delivery and understanding elders in HIV prevention campaigns in South Africa (Darling), power, sexuality and aging (Maynard-Tucker), CBPR physical activity intervention for rural residents (Schoenberg, Hoogland, Bardach & Tarasenko), caring across cultures: Mexicanas shaping eldercare (Kniseley), animal assisted therapy and aging issues (Yonce), museum anthropology and aboriginal seniors (Krmpotich),and generativity and older adult museum volunteering in the US (Shay). A special shout-out to those who gave aging related posters in the student poster session: factors that influence older women’s long term care planning (Corthright) and cultural associations between self-reported well-being and diminished physical performance among older adults (Snodgrass).
On Saturday morning, we presented ourselves at the International Suite at the Westin Bayshore for our AAGE annual networking breakfast and roundtable event (left). Thanks to Maria Vesperi and Jay Sokolovsky who helped us reserve such a lovely space for our breakfast meeting and to Tom May for making it possible. Thanks to Iveris Martinez and Amy Paul-Ward who helped us forage for the breakfast offerings ahead – there is no shortage of nice things to eat in Vancouver! In this elegant suite, we decided to forego our plan for having separate roundtables and have a larger more free-wheeling group discussion instead. We introduced the topics we had planned for the individual roundtables: preparing and engaging in applied gerontology careers, addressing social and cultural barriers to aging services, building social and health interventions with older adults, teaching about anthropology of aging and the life course, aging in place in Japan, reaching non-academic audiences with news about aging. Going forward, full sessions on any of these topics would likely be welcome for our upcoming conferences.


We discovered that nearly half of those who attended the networking breakfast were new to AAGE – a very encouraging finding indeed! Hopefully, all of these folks will become interested in joining our organization and continuing to participate. The breakfast discussion was lively about future directions and opportunities in the field of anthropology of aging and life course studies. One especially exciting development was that several of the students who presented their emerging work at our AAGE health disparities workshop conference in Miami, FL in 2015 gave updates at SfAA on their projects (Stanley and Stamey McAlvain). We are looking forward to hearing more from them and others at the 2017 AAGE conference which Jason Danely is organizing in Oxford, UK.

From this brief report, you can see that lots was going on of interest for those who are interested in the anthropology of aging and the life course. We explored Vancouver and learned more about each other’s important work in the field of aging.  Some of us even had our first Malaysian food at the Banana leaf restaurant in the company of other gerontologists –delicious! In short, it was great to get together with our colleagues, hear about new developments in their work and the field as a whole – and have an excellent time exploring the treasure that is Vancouver.
See you at SfAA in Santa Fe next year!

Sherylyn Briller, SfAA Liaison


Growing old and growing up: Teaching and learning about death

Romanian funeral

(Photograph by Cristina Douglas, do not reproduce without permission)

This post is part of the Life Course Collaborative Research Network blog exchange, also available on the website of ACYIG. To see all of the posts in the series, click here.

In 2004, as part of my research regarding the beliefs in ‘strigoi’ (a term referring to dead people who come back to harm and even kill the most loved relatives who survive them) in a Romanian community, I observed the roles in funeral rituals performed chiefly by older women and young children. Later, I became interested in the teaching and learning about death as components of both the processes of growing old and growing up, which are strongly intertwined. As a child, growing up in Romania with my maternal and paternal grandmothers around, I learned my own community’s view of the good way of both ageing and dying.

(Photograph by Cristina Douglas. Do not reproduce without permission)

(Funeral gifts create bridges between the living and the dead. Photograph by Cristina Douglas. Do not reproduce without permission)

For older people in Romania, “successful ageing” refers to the maintenance of an active life, the avoidance of becoming physically dependent on other and dying “in full awareness.” The inevitability of death at the end of a long life and its “serene” acceptance (what Philippe Ariés (1974) called the “tamed death”) is supposed, culturally, to come with age. Good death, associated with dying in old age, is the death that finds someone “fully prepared” as part of this acceptance. After their retirement, Romanian older people’s savings are destined mainly to support their own funerals, and the shopping list will include the funeral gifts (towels, hankies, scarves) for the potential participants in their burial. These gifts (some of them offered specifically to children) are considered payment for the 44 customs that the soul has to cross in its journey through the underworld, where malefic creatures will try to make it lose its way unless they are paid. From an anthropological perspective, these gifts create “bridges” between the living and the dead, the old and the young, and they assure the deceased’s remembrance for as long as the material objects exist?.

In rural parts of Romania, growing up as a child is intertwined with the process of the ageing of their caretakers, the discourse of dying well, the performance of funeral rituals and being taught to manifest personal and cultural grief.

Both of my grandmothers, long before they passed away, made sure that all of the ritual funeral gifts and the clothes they wanted to be buried with were bought early enough so that death wouldn’t find them ‘unprepared’. Other older people from my village were going yet further, buying their own coffins and using them for the storage of cereal, before eventually being used for their intended scope. Another way of preparing for one’s own death in old age is the ritual called “alms while living” (“pomana de viu” in Romanian), which is performed only by older people while still alive. These people either don’t have any successors or feel like they need to take “extra measures” in case their successors don’t properly organize the traditional funeral feasts at 40 days, 1 year and 7 years after their death (during which the soul is traveling in the underworld). They participate as an “absent presence” in their own funeral feast as if already dead – serving and observing the others, rather than eating themselves. Conversely, at the funeral feast after someone’s death, a person of the same sex and age will wear the clothes of the deceased offered as funeral gifts, announcing his/her (absent) presence as if still alive.

(Photograph by Cristina Douglas, do not reproduce without permission)

(Passive learning about death. Photograph by Cristina Douglas, do not reproduce without permission)


The acceptance of death and the preparation for it also manifests in its inclusion in daily conversations between older people and potentially anybody else. This represents another feature of the Romanian cultural model of manifesting one’s appropriate old age, and it is quite often brought into discussions between grandparents-grandchildren. Several psychologists (see Corr 2000; Corr and Corr 2013; Kastenbaum 2000) argue that coping with death, loss and absence is an implicit part of growing up. In Romania, children learn how to face loss, how to grieve and how to remember (make present) the absent dead as part of learning how to show affection, take care and behave “maturely.” Passive learning about death (hearing adults’ talking about death; observing funerals, see Astuti 2011) is supplemented by an active teaching, both conceptually (what happens with the body and with the soul) and ritually (gestures to be performed). This “teaching about death” role is a key feature of Romanian intergenerational relationships and an important component of the kinship system of caring: while children learn how to take care of the elderly from their parents caring for their own parents, grandparents take care of their grandchildren by teaching them about how to age and die “with dignity” (according to the community’s cultural norms), and how to care for the dead. From an anthropological perspective, teaching children about death is part of an elderly caretaker’s role, and becomes an assurance of the maintenance and transmission of culture.

In many communities from the South of Romania, the teaching goes even further by interchanging various roles in funeral rituals. ‘Bringing the water for the dead’, a funeral ritual meant to assure the soul’s water for its journey through the underworld, can be performed either by a young girl ‘who didn’t meet men’ or by an old ‘clean’ woman (a woman who has entered menopause and does not have sexual relations anymore, usually a widow). Both groups – the children and the elderly – are represented as having a ‘fringe’ social status. Thus they are considered to have a higher capacity for communicating with the other world through ritual because of their proximity to it through life cycle. It is this status of children and the elderly in the funeral performance that reflects death as a manageable condition and doesn’t allow it, ritually, to damage the community.

(Photograph by Cristina Douglas. Do not reproduce without permission)

(Photograph by Cristina Douglas. Do not reproduce without permission)

While helping her to sew her own funeral towels, I remember Machi (the way we used to call my maternal grandma – a diminutive of the word “maica” used for grandmothers, meaning ‘old mother’) giving me instructions about which scarf or towel should be given to whom after her death. She often asked me to light candles for her and to cry at her funeral, somehow training me as a child to imagine how my life will continue in her absence and how, ritually and emotionally, I should face my encounter with her death: acknowledging the pain that her death would cause me, but grateful that this came during her old age so she could die prepared and believing that this is yet only one step in her continued existence in another world. In rural parts of Romania, growing up as a child is intertwined with the process of the ageing of their caretakers, the discourse of dying well, the performance of funeral rituals and being taught to manifest personal and cultural grief.

Sometimes I wonder, just as Jason Danely pointed out in the first essay of these collaborative posts, whether my interest in the anthropology of death and dying would have been the same in the absence of this early learning about death from my grandmas. The following years of education and research seem often as if they just added further structure to my approach of a subject I was initiated into by the elderly people around me ever since my very first years of existence.

 I would like to thank Jason Danely for his invitation to write for these collaborative posts and also for his and Elise Berman’s helpful comments, suggestions and assistance.

Works cited:

Ariès, Philippe (1974). Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Astuti, Rita (2011). “Death, Ancestors, and the Living Dead: Learning without Teaching in Madagascar”. In Children’s Understanding of Death: From Biological to Religious Conceptions edited by Victoria Talwar, Paul L. Harris and Michael Schleifer, 1-18. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Corr, Charles (2000). “What Do We Know About Grieving Children and Adolescents?”. In Living with Grief – Children, Adolescents, and Loss, edited by Kenneth J. Doka, 21-34. Hospice Foundation of America: Brunner/Mazel – Taylor & Francis Group.

Corr, Charles A., and Donna M. Corr (2013). Death and Dying, Life and Living. Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Kastenbaum, Robert (2000). “The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies”. In Living with Grief – Children, Adolescents, and Loss, edited by Kenneth J. Doka, 5-20. Hospice Foundation of America: Brunner/Mazel – Taylor & Francis Group.


Cristina Douglas is a PhD candidate (awaiting examination) in cultural anthropology at the University of Bucharest, Romania. Her main interest is focused on the anthropology of death and dying in relation to cultural transmission, representations of good/bad death and beliefs in immortality. Recently, she focused on researching the New Zealand institutional settings for the dying (end of life and palliative care). Currently she works in two projects: one dedicated to the imaginary of (shameful) death, diseases and hygiene in the political discourse of anticommunism, and another one that explores the medical learning of the body through the use of cadavers.


Read the ACYIG member companion to this post on “Death and the Life Course” by Jenny Huberman

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CFP: Morality and Aging (special issue of Anthropology & Aging)

We are seeking additional contributors for a special issue we plan to
propose. Responding to recent trends in ‘moral anthropology’, the issue
will be specifically concerned with moralities in and through the latter
stages of the life course. How, we ask, might moralities intersect with
ageing?Just as the life course is bodily lived and socially shaped so is it
morally mediated. How are the latter stages of the life course mediated,
interpreted, judged, or de/valued with and through moral frames? Meanings
of ‘the good’, for example, may shift with advancing age, while moral
discourses may map how ageing is to be both lived and interpreted. As with
recent ideals of ‘successful ageing’, what it means to grow old may itself
be imbued with moral imperative.While contributions must be ethnographically grounded, we encourage potential contributors to take an exploratory approach to the topic.
The issue is edited by Andrew Dawson and Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins (The
University of Melbourne), and will be proposed to Anthropology & Aging.Potential contributors should send an abstract (max. 250 words) and a brief
bio to by April 4th.We will notify the selected contributors of the article deadline after the
acceptance of our proposal.

Best wishes,

Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins