AAGE, with its partner orgaization the Anthropology of Aging and the Life Course Interest Group (AALCIG) will once again be holding two joint events at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Anthropology in Washington D.C. this year. The meeting will be held at the Wardman Marriot Hotel, November 28- December 3, and the theme is Anthropology Matters! We will be compiliing our annual guide to the meetings (see the 2016 guide here) so if you are an AAGE member and interested in having us advertise your panel or event, contact our AAA liasons Jay Sokolovsky or Maria Cattell. Also, if you want to keep up to date or exchange information to meet up at AAA for lunch or coffee, use our discussion forum HERE.
The Second International Interdisciplinary Congress on Age and Ageing was held from June 20th to June 22nd, 2017 at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. The event, organized and led by Veronica Montes de Oca, sociologist and gerontologist, brought together participants from numerous countries and disciplines throughout Latin America, Spain and France, to discuss autonomy, mobility and adaptation in aging. The field of anthropology of aging was well represented, as well as sociology, psychology, philosophy, geriatrics, design and the arts, among others. Continue reading
By Michelle Bentsman
I arrived at the AAGE conference in Oxford unsure of what to expect. I was a few thousand miles from home, standing likewise on foreign intellectual terrain. Despite my involvement in death studies, I am a comparative religion scholar in training, and I have only recently begun immersing myself in anthropology. However, any initial hesitation was quickly replaced by a mounting eagerness to engage with the ideas and conversations that swirled across our swift and brimming two-day schedule.
The first panel I attended featured fascinating work in religious anthropology and aging, providing an ideal bridge through which I stepped into the proceedings. Professor Uchibori Motomitsu of the Open University of Japan discussed the Iban longhouse communities of Malaysia, describing the practice of providing ngibun, care, to the dying. This includes the mundane, which one community member likened to “feeding a corpse,” leading into post-mortem rites conducted in the open corridor of the longhouse. Hom Shrestha of Laurentian University gave an overview of the Nepalese Bura Janko ceremony, through which the elderly are elevated to the status of gods through a series chariot rides into the divine realm. Shrestha emphasized their power to strongly increase the psychosocial well-being of seniors, urging such practices to become more widely integrated into elder-care. These papers pointed to the influence that imaginative and ritual foregrounding can have on end-of-life processes and attitudes, affirming the potential for further inquiry into aging, dying, and religion.
I was in very good company during my panel, playfully dubbed the “death panel.” Iza Kavedzija of the University of Exeter offered a meditation on gratitude in the lives of Japanese elderly, observing that in conversation, expressions of gratitude were often preceded by a space of silence. She concluded by noting that although gratitude points directionally toward the past, it is experienced in the moment, opening affective possibilities in the present. Heekyoung Kim of Seoul National University expanded on the topic of Japanese aging, discussing the methodical preparations for death undertaken by healthy Japanese adults. This, Kim explained, has the effect of transforming death into a necro-social project with a long process, rather than a singular event. Natashe Lemos Dekker of the University of Amsterdam addressed the legal limitations faced by dementia patients seeking euthanasia in the Netherlands, in which euthanasia is understood as a request rather than a right. She left open the question of whether euthanasia is sought out as an act of desperation, or as a way out of desperation. I was grateful for the enthusiastic feedback I received on my paper about the rising role of death doulas in the aging western world. In addition to having the privilege of meeting a formerly practicing death doula among the attendees, I was pushed to further investigate how such services break down across class lines and in different geographic areas.
[scholars] were immensely helpful, sharing their own experiences in the field and encouraging me to pursue my research further
In a panel focused on intergenerational dynamics, Nancy Burke of University of California, Merced, used the awe-inspiring murals of JR and Jose Parla, depicting the elderly upon crumbling facades in Cuba, to convey its changing healthcare system. These images became the backdrop–or in her Bakhtinian parlance, the chronotype–for the comments of elderly Cuban civilians, such as, “we live like slaves and we die like kings,” or, “I can see the doctor whenever I want. But once I get there, he has nothing to give me.” Fayana Richards of Michigan State University described how African American grandmothers, who often took their personal relationship with God very seriously, regarded church as a seed to be transmitted to their grandchildren. For these women, faith could provide a way out of street life by carrying the possibility of change at any moment.
In addition to some very sobering truths, the AAGE had a great deal to give us, the conference-goers. Alongside coffee-breaks, meals, and a very pleasant wine reception, I was treated to genial company and brilliant conversation. I was impressed and heartened by the scholars I spoke to, all of whom were deeply involved with the issues they studied. They were immensely helpful, sharing their own experiences in the field and encouraging me to pursue my research further. The possibility of future collaborations emerged, as well as suggestions for like-minded journals where I might pursue publication. I left with the sense of having tapped into a network of supportive and passionate people that are leveraging theory and community engagement as a means for social change.
Michelle Bentsman is currently an M.Div. candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Her areas of focus include end-of-life care, ideologies of death and dying, and comparative religion, with a particular emphasis on Judaism and Hinduism. She has worked in a north Indian hospice, where she collaborated with doctors, nurses, and volunteers to develop a spiritual care program, as well as served with an NYC Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial society). She recently co-published an article on embodiment and the unknown in the Performance Research Journal.
By Gina Crivello
Every time I attend an anthropology conference it feels as if I’m returning to a piece of home, having worked for the past fifteen years in the multi-disciplinary field of International Development and during which time I have been just as likely to collaborate with economists as with anthropologists. Concepts like ‘kinship’, ‘culture’, ‘affinity’ and ‘relatedness’ might slide easily off the tongue in an anthropological discussion of care, but I have learned to not take such discussions for granted. Continue reading
The Association for Anthropology, Gerontology and the Life Course held its Biennial Conference meeting at Oxford Brookes University, in Oxford, United Kingdom this past June 8th and 9th. C The theme, “Culture, Commitment, and Care across the Life Course,” provided an opportunity to expand our perspective of the anthropology of aging by taking a comparative perspective on youth and seeking to explore the continuities between early childhood and the life-long process of aging. With a program packed with thought-provoking and relevant information, it was hard to choose what sessions to attend! Continue reading
AAGE was well represented at the Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology, held this year in Santa Fe, NM.
One of the highlights was the AAGE networking breakfast, which provided an intimate social setting to discuss professional issues such as teaching and publishing.
Thanks to Sherri Briller and Jay Sokolovsky for organizing this event and all of the attendees for making it a success!
all photographs taken by Jay Sokolovsky. Do not copy or reuse without permission Continue reading
The 10th Biennial AAGE Conference, “Culture, Commitment and Care across the Life Course” brought together over 100 participants from 15 different countries for two days of research presentations, workshops, and keynote lectures. We opened on June 8th, as UK citizens were voting in a snap election that would proclaim their commitment to education, social care, housing security and tolerance. Whereas the Brexit vote one year earlier seemed to push generations and their values further apart, the results of the snap election showed a broader support for the Labour Party across age groups, and perhaps a rejection of the kind of misguided policies that would take school lunches from children and issue a #dementiatax on the old.
So there couldn’t be a better time to talk about the ways our commitments to values and aspirations are linked to our experience of generation and the life course.
For the first ever AAGE conference to be held in Europe, this enthusiastic turnout exceeded my expectations, and I was thrilled to meet so many students and scholars for the first time. I was so impressed, in fact, that I quickly put together a proposal to establish a new research network of the European Association of Social Anthropology so that we could continue to stay in touch and hold conferences even when AAGE’s Biennial moves back across the pond.
One of the keys to the success was our partnership with ACYIG, represented by my unflappable co-organizer Patrick Alexander. ACYIG has been a fantastic supporter of AAGE through the Collaborative Research Network on the Life Course. Through the CRN, we’ve organized a blog exchange and organized panels for #AAA2017 focused on how age is situated within the life course. One of the classic anthropological works on culture and the life course is Mead’s ‘Culture and Commitment’, and when Mead’s daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson agreed to fly over as a keynote speaker, it felt like we really had a conference worth shouting about.
And you heard. While I can’t possibly summarize all 16 panels (73 papers!) presented, as you can imagine, there were several on inter-generational relationships, kinship and community and many more on the ways global and local politics of care bring youth and age into closer affinity. The life-course perspective meant grappling with the ways personal and historical change intersect, how mobility, precarity and hopes might be shaped by generational patterns as well as changes in life-course trajectories. Alone, telling such a complex story would be formidable, but together, I could see how each of the conference presenters contributed some unique piece of the puzzle.
Apart from the papers, the conference included a workshop on ageing in Sub-Saharan Africa by Jaco Hoffman of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing and another on research on children and development by Young Lives. These workshops were mainly aimed at presenting outward facing research aimed at contributing to public policy. Nearly half of the presenters at the conference were PhD students or recent graduates, and these workshops helped them consider the ways our research can have impact and the kinds of opportunities that are available outside of academia.
Finally, we were treated to two wonderful keynote presentations, both of which drew out the fundamental importance of inter-generational life-course interactions. Mary Catherine Bateson spoke of the importance of learning from each other and the joys of being depending on each other at every age. She spoke of how infants and children teach adults how to be better carers, and how older adults can offer perspectives to the young. Pia Christensen told stories of ‘wonder’ that arise when we listen and pay attention to the worlds of children. I felt that much of what she said could easily be applied to our thinking about old age as well, and how aging societies might provide new chances for reflecting on the values and commitments that are most important to our shared future.
Over the last 20 years, anthropology of aging and of youth has produced an impressive body of research that recognizes the agency and influence that people of all ages have on culture and society. As ethnographers who strive to bring a more holistic perspective of human relationships to our work, it seems that the next step is to try to understand the life course inter-generational interactions. What kinds of care are given or received across the life course? Are there commitments that cross generations? What do different ages bring to our understanding of the role of commitment in social and political change?
These are questions that can’t easily be solved by looking at only a narrow slice of the life course or one demographic group within a multi-generational society. The connections made at AAGE 2017 between the themes and ideas of presenters doing work at different ends of the life course presented an exciting challenge, both intellectually and empirically, and I hope AAGE and ACYIG will continue to work together in the future to strengthen our common interest in the life course. With the establishment of a formal network within the European Association of Social Anthropology (coming soon!) and organized panels ready for AAA 2017, we hope to keep up the momentum started in Oxford.
Thank you again to everyone who made the conference a success and to all of the presenters and chairs. I encourage all of you stay in contact with people you met at AAGE2017 and stay tuned for AAGE2019!
One of the most surprising moments of the 9th International Symposium on Cultural Gerontology (also the first ENAS/NANAS Joint Conference and the 3rd ENAS Conference) was when Plenary Panelist Stephen Katz asked the audience members to hold up a hand if they had a degree in ‘Gerontology’. I twisted in my seat to get a better look across the crowd but I only saw about a half-dozen hesitant arms poking out of the full lecture hall. The point Katz was making was that ‘cultural gerontology’ remains an assemblage of different discipline-based concepts and methodologies. Even after all these years, the infrastructure hasn’t emerged that could establish the key concerns, questions and concepts that social science and humanities scholars call ‘gerontology’. Continue reading
The 2017 Society for Applied Anthropology meetings are fast approaching (March 28- April 1), and, as always, AAGE members will not only be presenting work, but hosting a networking breakfast event for members, students, and anyone interested in learning more about us.
Thank you to Iveris Martinez for compiling this list of relevant sessions at this year’s conference. Continue reading
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.
Some 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