Finding Comparisons, Collaboration and Colleagues through Scholarly Exchanges

By- Lillian K. Prueher and Iben M. Gjødsbøl

As elder care markets globalize, there is tremendous potential for productive international partnerships and conversations between elder care researchers from different countries. We have experienced this first-hand over the past few years as each of us has engaged in these kinds of scholarly exchange.
Iben: Interested in questions about personhood and the value of life in the face of dementia in the Danish welfare state, I went as a PhD student to the University of Washington in Seattle in fall of 2015 to work with Professor Janelle Taylor. During that semester, I came to know Taylor’s PhD student Lillian Prueher, also investigating dementia care practices with the proliferating Chinese dementia care scene as her focus. Reciprocating my research stay, Lillian then went to the University of Copenhagen in fall of 2016. These trips and the conversations and collaborations that developed through them have reverberated through our respective research projects ever since.

“Suddenly the Danish “welfare state”, which had sounded interesting in theory, emerged as infinitely more complicated in practice.”

Lillian: What began as a series of interesting conversations in Seattle around Danish expectations for state-provided elder care services, as well as the possibilities and limitations for care within a highly resourced social welfare system, then came alive when I was actually in Denmark. Suddenly the Danish “welfare state”, which had sounded interesting in theory, emerged as infinitely more complicated in practice. Questions about deservedness, equality and citizenship in relation to healthcare and access to social services seemed strangely distinct from conversations around socio-economic and racial equity in the United States. And yet, when thinking about how people and care models from these two places might interact, both sets of questions seemed critically important.

“Spending time in a different academic space has been extremely fruitful for both of us”

Iben: In addition to gaining exposure to different kinds of medical systems and healthcare priorities, simply spending time in a different academic space has been extremely fruitful for both of us, as well as the research groups and larger academic environments to which we belong.

Copenhagen (credit Kristoffer Trolle)

Lillian: The levels of researcher collaboration across projects and disciplinary boundaries was inspiring and energizing in Denmark. It not only led me to want to seek out more interdisciplinary conversations in the United States – where medical anthropologists might come together with ethicists, philosophers and economists to investigate elder care systems and practices – but it also pushed me to approach my research from a wider range of theoretical orientations.

Iben: My research stay in Seattle back in 2015 has developed into strong connections with different scholars not only at the University of Washington but also in the greater Cascadia Region.

Ultimately, these exchanges have enriched our individual projects, provided a foundation for us to think and write collaboratively about elder care across geographic boundaries, and broadened our thinking around studying elder care and anthropology, more generally. At the time of writing, Lillian has just returned to Seattle after another visit to Copenhagen. Together with Iben’s former PhD supervisor and present research leader, Professor Mette N. Svendsen, we are working on a publication comparing institutional dementia care and the logics informing this care across sites in China and Denmark. Though going abroad to conduct fieldwork can provide students with an invaluable experience, going abroad to meet international colleagues and gain exposure to new ways of discussing and research aging and elder care can be just as enriching.

Lillian K. Prueher is a PhD candidate at the Department of Anthropology, University of Washington.

Iben Mundbjerg Gjødsbøl is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen.

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