AAGE is proud to once again partner with the Aging and the Life Course Interest Group at #AAA2017 in Washington D.C. November 29-December 3. We’ll be hosting events, panels, networking, mentoring events this year, and you can find ways to get more involved by attending our joint business meeting, where you can also learn about student awards, publishing opportunities and how to be a part of the new AALCIG advisory board!
For a list of all new publications from the first quarter of 2017, click here
At the closure of this new quarter we have tried to trace the articles published by members and non-members again. The sheer number of articles identified alone already testify to the relevance of our topic of interest. In this post about the last quarter, I again highlight two articles that discuss related topics. The first is an article published by, among others, fellow AAGE member Lynette Leidy Seivert about the experience of hot flashes among Mayan and non-Mayan women in Campeche state, Mexico (Huicochea-Gómez et al. 2017). The second concerns an article published by Kaitrin M. Jacklin and co-authors (Jacklin et al. 2016) about the experiences of indigenous people with Diabetes type II with Canadian health care. 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
In the last quarter of 2016, we have identified about 60 articles published at the crossroads of anthropology and gerontology. AAGE members published no less than a quarter of those articles, attesting to the prolific activity in this group. This periodical update of recent publications will be a regular feature of AAGE, and each update will be supplemented by a brief commentary that elaborates on a couple of the member contributions.
While all of these contributions deserve a read for those of us interested in the state of the field, for this post I want to highlight just two articles, both of which discuss the role of social engagement and how it relates to successful aging.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There will also be a light breakfast and informal discussion on “Applied Anthropology and Aging” (suggested donation is $8)*
Time: Saturday, April 2, 9-10:30AM
Place: International Suite at the Westin Bayshore Hotel
*Sign up at the SfAA registration desk or at the Thursday 3:30 session (above)
Discussion Table Hosts:
Sherylyn Briller Preparing for and engaging in applied gerontology careers
Iveris Martinez Addressing social and cultural barriers to aging services
Jean Schensul Building social and health interventions with older adults
Jay Sokolovsky Teaching the anthropology of aging and the life course
Nanami Suzuki Aging in place in Japan: the roles of anthropologists and caregivers
Maria Vesperi Reaching non-academic audiences with news about aging
If you have any questions, please contact Iveris Martinez (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There is an old Irish folktale goes something like this:
A raven was carrying his chicks, one at a time, from an island to the mainland. In mid flight he asked the first, “Who will carry me when I am old and can no longer fly?”
“I will,” answered the young raven, but the father did not believe him, and dropped him into the sea.
The same question was put to the second chick. He too replied, “I will carry you when you are old,” and the father also let him fall into the sea.
The last chick received the same question, but he answered, “Father, you will have to fend for yourself when you are old, because by then I will have my own family to care for.”
“You speak the truth,” said the father raven, and carried the chick to safety.
Indeed, when it comes to the care of elderly people, tales like this one (not to mention the occasional controversial ethnography) don’t offer the most favorable picture of Irish care. All the better then that the organizers of the 2016 conference of the Anthropological Association of Ireland (15-16 March) chose “Caring Cutlures/Cultures of Care” as their theme.
Maynooth University, a modern university on the grounds of a nineteenth century Catholic seminary, and the only Irish University with a Department of Anthropology, was the venue for this year’s conference. For two days (just preceding St. Patrick’s Day festivities), participants from across Europe gathered to engage with questions on the nature and significance of care in anthropology.
The conference did not explicitly focus on care of older people, yet it was telling that the keynote speaker was Prof. Arthur Kleinman (Harvard), who, while contributing widely to medical anthropology, has turned in his more recent work, to his personal experience of caring for his wife Joan. He cared for her for 10 years, during which she was also living with dementia. Reflecting on his experience, Kleinman argued that caregiving (and perhaps the care of older, ill, or disabled family) is central to humanity, and therefore should also be placed at the center of anthropology. In his keynote, he presented a wide ranging discussion of care, from phenomenology and ethics, to art and ageing. He admonished what he felt was the “anti-humanitarian” effects of anthropological critiques on the politics of care, and particularly medical and international aid organisations. He chastised anthropologists for too hastily dismissing the real good that carers do, and encouraged us to consider ways to collaborate and improve care rather than stop at the point of our intellectual project of deconstruction.
Kleinman was not the only one at the conference to talk about care of the elderly. In fact, the number of papers presented on topics related to ageing and end of life care far outnumbered those on care of children or disabled persons. This swell of interest in ageing shows what an exciting moment this is for our field, and how powerful our work can be when brought together under a theme like care.
I began day 1 with two presentations on long term care. Resident community in nursing homes: A promising practice in the era of individualism? (Christine Øye, Bergen University College, Anne Karen Bjelland (UiB), Gudmund Ågotnes, Bergen University College & Frode F. Jacobsen, Bergen University College). The authors described a small piece of a multinational study into the future of long term care, drawing mainly on ethnographic observations of resident interactions during meals. The authors brought up a theme that carried on throughout the conference concerning the tension between autonomy and collective engagement, particularly in care institutions. This was brought out most forcefully by Susanne van den Buuse (University of Amsterdam) in her paper The autonomy paradox: how promoting resident autonomy in a Dutch nursing home has a reverse effect, in which she described how Dutch initiatives to encourage older persons to embrace values of capability and self-reliance (bafflingly referred to as the “participation society”) resulted in role confusion, carer neglect, family resentments, and breakdowns in care. While many argue with the lack of personal freedom and dignity afforded in care institutions, these papers show how too much emphasis on autonomy leads to isolation and the moralised pressure to embody active ‘ageing’ that has its own damaging effects.
Questions of how to provide care for older adults and other vulnerable groups are particularly salient in an age of neoliberal governmentality and rapid technological advances. Together, both of these have contributed to models of care that privilege the role of the imagined independent, rational individual actor, deflecting responsibility away from public welfare institutions. While Annemarie Mol’s Logic of Care and Sharon Kaufmann’s Ordinary Medicine have been some of the most widely influential ethnographic accounts of this critique in recent medical anthropology, these and others draw on a much longer discussion on the relationship between individuals and the state that runs through political anthropology. Jacqui O’Riordan, Carol Kelleher & Feilim O’hAdhmaill, (University College Cork) and Anette Fagertun (Bergen University College, Norway) link this discussion to their work in Ireland and Norway respectively. Lived experiences of caring relations and interdependencies: Human orientation and moral reasoning as challenges to neoliberal rational thinking considered the ways insights from the ethics of care and feminist philosophy can offer alternatives to neoliberal subjectivity. The anti-politics of Care in Norway: a theoretical discussion, Anette Fagertun pointed out how transformations in the kinds of knowledge used to shape and assess the effectiveness of care has at once depoliticised and “refamilialized”elder care.
In contrast to these more critical papers, there were several that highlighted the success of more grassroots, community focused, and holistic approaches to care. Amy Murphy, Cormac Sheehan, Chrizine Blackhorse, (University College Cork, The Crystal Project ) presented their work using a interactive drama techniques to collaborate with carers of people living with dementia (Pressure Play: forum theatre for carers of people living with dementia), and Andrea Kuckerg-Wöstheinrich (St. Augustinus Memory-Zentrum, Neuss, Germany) described how perspective taking is being used to make life better for people living with dementia in German long-term care (Changing perspectives – an institutional challenge in delivering qualitative good care for people with dementia). Dalia Zein, a landscape architect and anthropology Masters student at Central European University Hungary, highlighted the ways feminist architecture is easing unpaid care in Vienna (Infrastructures of Care: Tackling Unpaid Care Work and Ageing in Vienna’s Gender-Sensitive City Planning). Finally, Bodil Ludvigsen (University of Copenhagen) described how the ubiquity of the state in the everyday lives of Danish citizens is expressed through attachments and intimacy with home nurses. In her paper, Elderly people, home nurses, and relatedness, Bodil described how, far from being a target of resistance, older people living alone welcomed the benevolence of the state and felt empowered by its support.
My own paper, Wounded Worlds: compassion and vulnerability in narratives of unpaid carers of older adults in Japan and the UK, reported preliminary thoughts on subjectivity, emotion, and embodiment among family carers in two different cultural contexts. As Kleinman underlined in his keynote address, care is an excellent opening for conducting cross-cultural research, and my paper presented what struck me as overwhelming similarities between Japan and the UK when it came to the affects of care practices on the experience of self and the other. Ethnography of family care of the elderly is still an area that anthropology has much to contribute, and surprisingly few presentations ventured into the homes of carers or older adults.
There were many more presentations that I could not attend that will be of interest to AAGE members. I’ll just list some of them here, and urge you to get in touch if you want to know more.
Equality issues in conceptualising the body/self in Palliative Care Luciana Lolich & Kathleen Lynch, University College Dublin
Exploring the Perspectives and Experiences of Business Managers when working with Customers with Dementia Hannah Murphy & Jeanne Jackson, University College Cork
Crisis of care, migrant women and social reproduction in Spain Sílvia Bofill Poch, University of Barcelona
Growing old together: Deafness and aging in the context of cutbacks in care Anja Hiddinga, Michou Benoist & Madeleine Herzog, University of Amsterdam
Long-term Care in Spain: The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Social Policies and its Effects on Older Adults with Care Needs Blanca Deusdad, Rovira i Virgili University
The number of panels examining culture and care at larger conferences like AAA is growing each year, and lends credence to Kleinman’s assertion that care is not just a passing fad, but an emerging center for theorizing human life. Moreover, if this conference is any indication, those anthropologists who work on ageing will be at the forefront of this endeavor.
This is the first set of posts in the Life Course CRN blog exchange series developed in conjunction with the Anthropology of Children and Youth Interest Group of AAA. A complete list of published exchanges in the series is available here. Follow this link to the corresponding post on “Producing Difference” by ACYIG member Elise Berman.
On February 8, 1998, my grandfather, the only one I ever knew, died at the age of 79. My grandfather was one of the kindest, most generous people I ever knew. He was the man who made little puzzles in his workshop and handed them out to strangers, the man who donated gallons of his own blood to the Red Cross, the man who took me in his car to deliver meals-on-wheels. He was also the man who in his last years cared for his wife, even after she had forgotten who he was.
Many of us who do research on aging have had such people in our lives. Our work is a way of honoring that connection, giving it the narrative weight of a legacy. Who I am is in many ways the result of my retelling the lives of others: legacies, like my grandfather’s that live on in my self-narrative. For me then, this is a starting point for thinking about the endurance of age as a category of difference—the hierarchies and cultural constructions like generational divisions or kinship positions that make the force of life’s legacies legible.
A legacy is both an inheritance and an offering: a form of memorial. During fieldwork in Japan, I found that older adults who felt strongly about the importance of memorializing the spirits of the ancestors were obaachan-ko, or “granny’s kids.” From a young age, they remembered spending time with their grandparents, often visiting the family graves or offering incense at the family altar. For them, rejoining the spirits in the other world beyond death, was something that lay ahead in the grander trajectory of the life cycle. At the same time, ancestors, by definition, are those who came before, and those to whom one owes one’s life. From this perspective, death was a kind of back to the future, a merging of one’s own life course narrative with that of the ancestors and descendants; it was a becoming oneself through the retelling of the other’s story.
Legacy is that silvery thread of that runs through the quiltwork of generations, allowing us to see the dreams of youth in age, and wisdom of age in youth. But today, in Japan and elsewhere, the divide between young and old seems greater than it has ever been. There are fewer children under 15 than adults over 65. Opportunities to nurture lifelong affinities between the young and old are rare. Longevity has, in some ways introduced expectations that pensioners can and should resist dependence, form their own, separate generational identity. This modern idea developed alongside changes in social welfare policies that erected further barriers between young and old, and older people would frequently comment on the fact that there is little to pass on, be it property, heirlooms, or knowledge of the ancestors. Houses, graves, and the elderly themselves are being abandoned; a haunting reminder of generational disjunction.
My favorite work on the disconnect between youth and age and the need for a new ways of retelling in the life course, is Margaret Mead’s Culture and Commitment (1970). In it, Mead cautioned against romanticizing cultures like the Australian Aborigines, where the importance of tradition kept elders in high regard, while at the same time, she warned of the consequences of abandoning the elders for the sake of progress. For Mead, generational harmony meant opening up a new dialogue where elders do not cling to an absolute authority based on their experience, and the young do not throw themselves into radical and rebellious ways at the cost of caring for older generations. Instead, Mead, saw the legacy of age as a kind of “love and trust, based on dependency and answering care,” a “sense of commitment” that would enable to the young to move into a yet uncharted future.
A life course perspective in anthropology does more than critique the ways modern social institutions still divide young and old, sometimes cruelly pitting them against one another in a competition for public resources. Age categories are not only cultural wedges driven between our young and old selves. They can also be a way of recognizing the links between generations and their embodied histories, between past and future selves, along which lives are told and retold.
Would I have chosen to study the lives of older had it not been for my grandfather’s legacy? I don’t know. I know that I learned something about what it meant to be old by watching my grandfather, and I also like to think that he learned something about himself by being with me as well.
1970. Culture and Commitment. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Jason Danely is Senior Lecturer of Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University and President Elect of the Association of Anthropology Gerontology and the Life Course (AAGE). He is author of Aging and Loss: Mourning and Maturity in Contemporary Japan (2014 Rutgers University Press). He is currently conducting cross-cultural research with the support of an award from the John Templeton Foundation on the lived experiences of family caregivers of older adults in Japan and the UK.
A complete list of published exchanges in the series is available here.