Christine Verbruggen (KU Leuven), an AAGE Student Member Profile

Headshot photograph of Christine Verbruggen, who is the subject of this student member profile
Christine Verbruggen, PhD student at KU Leuven, Belgium

After obtaining my master’s degree in History (2005) and in Social and Cultural Anthropology (2018), I was granted a predoctoral fellowship by FWO Flanders for a PhD at the Department of Anthropology, KU Leuven (Belgium) (2019-2024). Some preliminary insights from my master’s thesis research on the practical and analytical limitations of a now hegemonic personhood approach on dementia and on the unique contributions ethnographic research can make to dynamize this ‘dementia identity,’ still inspire my current research questions. My PhD focuses on the performativity of ongoing mutual integration – of a changing self in the world and a changing world in one’s self – that people with the diagnosis continue to engage in. I am lucky enough to have found a uniquely welcoming research partner and field site in a daycare center for people with dementia in Flanders, which allows me to combine sensorial and participatory ethnography with the role of the ‘researcher-in-residence.’ My research focuses more broadly on processes of (dis)integration, differentiation, (exclusive) inclusion, the politics of care and everyday (response-able) ethics. I try to analyze research experiences in dialogue with fascinating work in the field of affect studies, anthropology of aging, STS, post-phenomenology, (posthuman) health geography, and literature studies.

What made you interested in the study of aging and/or the life course? 

During my master’s in History, I focused on the socio-cultural construction of pathologies and disease trajectories (1870-1914). Out of this fascination for the social fragility of (in)sanity and (ab)normality grew an anthropological interest in embodied remembering and in the cultural hierarchy of multiple realities. The choice for dementia research – as a paradigmatic ‘disrupter’ of the life course and of the self – followed almost naturally from this.

I also recently realized that I have a biographical predisposition for this field of research. With parents aged almost 20 years older than ‘average’ parents, I spent a lot of my childhood observing intergenerational relations and figuring out how to still catch up with typical life course expectations. Having happily failed all these scripts, and with my 85-year old parents still not ‘aged,’ what was once a 14-year old schoolgirl’s struggle, now turns out to be an enormous inspiration for a 40-year old anthropologist and mother-to-be.

What is an article, book, or other work that has made an impact on how you think about aging and your research? 

The first time I realized what long-term ethnographic engagement could do and what listening carefully could reveal in terms of political complexity, was when reading João Biehl’s Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (2005). I still go back to parts of the book to tune into the passion for delicate yet critical ethnography I felt the first time I read it. I would also invite everyone to remember the early work of Haim Hazan, “Continuity and Transformation Among the Aged: A Study in the Anthropology of Time” (1984) and – for Dutch-speaking colleagues – the work of the late Els Van Dongen “Ongelukjes en Niet-Ongelukjes: Infantilisering en het Oude Lichaam” (1997). Both excellently paint a realist and intra-agentive picture of aging bodies in infrastructures and relations of care. For people doing dementia research, I hope they start with reading some of Annette Leibing’s work; it saves you a lot of detours!

What do you do when you are not doing aging/life course research?

I am lucky enough to be part of the vibrant editorial team of the Journal of Anthropology and Aging. I also make time to look for inspiration outside the field of aging research (e.g., migration studies). I try to keep swimming, running, hiking, moving … whatever happens, and am generally greedy for words, paper, stories and emotionally generous people. As we speak I am waiting for our newborn to arrive and to magnificently disrupt my life.

Do you have a recent publication so that our members can learn more about your work? 

Verbruggen, Christine. 2021. “It’s Care – But Not As We Know It: Careful Relations with Caring with Dementia.” Unpublished Conference Presentation. IUAES Conference 2021, Yucatan. Panel 111_Anthropologies of Care and Politics of Knowledge.

Verbruggen, Christine, Britteny M. Howell, and Kaylee Simmons. 2020. “How We Talk About Aging During A Global Pandemic Matters: On Ageist Othering and Aging ‘Others’ Talking Back.” Journal of Anthropology and Aging 41(2): 230-245. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/aa.2020.277

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