Evidencing the ageing process: An Anthropology of misfortune, (un)certainty, and risk
Organizers: Jolanda Lindenberg, PhD & Philip Y. Kao, PhD
Despite a growing attention to the biomedical and demographic considerations regarding ageing, the uncertainties and articulations in the ageing process remain palpable yet overdetermined. The bodily and biological processes of ageing rely on symptom aetiology that creates, explores, and pathologizes evidence of objectively considered markers.
But these markers are not as certain or naturalized as portrayed. In this session, we explore what older individuals consider evidence and accident of the ageing process. In other words, how do individuals in late-life perceive the nature of misfortune or fortune, and furthermore how do they navigate and make sense of these experiences, including loss and changes in risk perception, for better or worse? As an initial salvo, we suggest that focusing on ideas and practices concerning misfortune provides a window into the phenomenology of ageing in order to tease out the hidden/denied capacities such as late-life style, coping strategies, and resiliency as resources to combat the elective affinities underscoring ageist and other ideological constructions of the ageing process.
The sociological question of misfortune was famously raised by Max Weber to enquire into ways individuals understand their social situation, and we take this forward by exploring the construction of causal explanations, accidents and subsequent responses to misfortune in a variety of contexts. Misfortune has long been studied within the context of medical anthropology and the anthropology of religion. This panel aims to widen this scope by presenting new contexts for research. Of particular interest will be how conceptualizations of taken-for-granted events and “natural” courses of ageing obtain on the one hand, and how ambiguities and uncertainties emerge and resist on the other hand. Often enough, situations such as bodily decline, loss of a spouse, and/or changes in a living situation are considered an inescapable, intrinsic part of the ageing process. But the boundaries between natural or normal and unnatural and abnormal are not always evident in how individuals see and experience ageing. These boundaries will be magnified and scrutinized during this panel. Idioms (Reynolds Whyte), discursive practices (Foucault) and strategies to engage with and interact with misfortune as well as how these interactions gain significance in relations and meaningful social action will be investigated. Ultimately, the construction of ageing can be seen as a complex process involving not just experts and prophetical signifiers, but a symbolic obviation of (un)certainties, claims, prognoses, accidents, evidence and (mis)fortunes.
Keywords: certainty, uncertainty, misfortune, risk, ageing