Verónica Maria Pascoal Sousa is an Azorean Portuguese-American PhD candidate in Medical Anthropology at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon. She has studied medical anthropology and literature at UC Berkeley, anthropology and gender and sexuality studies at The New School for Social Research, and anthropology and medical humanities at Princeton University prior to her doctoral program in Lisbon, Portugal. Her current doctoral research project, funded by the Science and Technology Foundation (FCT), concerns the negotiations between care and harm with a focus on the politics of touch in elder care during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lisbon. She is interested in the ways that technologies of care and social inequalities, particularly those related to gender, sexuality, race, disability/illness, and class, are entangled within the practice and experience of elder care in the post-colonial Portuguese context.
Verónica is also currently training in documentary filmmaking. She is a graduate student editorial intern for the American Ethnologist/American Ethnological Association’s online platform; a research assistant for the Aga Khan project entitled DiversITy, focusing on improving immigrants’ access to healthcare in Lisbon; and is a contributing writer for The Human Perspective (based in the UK), a journalistic blog platform focusing on international social and political issues.
What made you interested in the study of aging and/or the life course?
I think originally it was a feeling of longing for close elders in my life, as most of my grandparents passed when I was very young, and my last surviving grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for almost a decade. Being present for my paternal grandmother’s complicated later years brought many issues to light for me, especially as a chronically ill child of Azorean immigrants, so that aspects of her sickness were rendered particularly discernible to me. Our lives were wildly different, and watching her change drastically in a short period of time allowed me to recognize – via daily life and family conversations regarding her care – how my identity, my family, my race and ethnicity, and my grandmother’s subject position were socially constructed by and through the interrelated factors of familial and political histories, notions of Catholic spirituality and death, moral values and labor regarding gender and sexuality, the body, science and medicine, trauma and memory, and the practice of care. She passed away during my last semester of college as an anthropology major.
At the time, I didn’t really plan on going to graduate school. Work experiences as a paralegal at an immigration law firm and as a case worker at a non-profit for teen mothers allowed me different viewpoints and experiences from which to contemplate intergenerational relationships and relationships to violent governing institutions throughout the life course. Then volunteer work as a sexual assault/domestic violence advocate opened my eyes to and intellectual interest regarding violence against elderly people, especially women, to now my focus on care and harm in elder care in Lisbon, over the last couple years.
What is an article, book, or other work that has made an impact on how you think about aging and your research?
Recently, I have been thinking about nursing homes as places of confinement, discipline, and surveillance (although, not just), and the consequences of standardized nursing home care during the pandemic. I’ve been reading “Nursing Home Abolition: Prisons and the Institutionalization of Older Adult Care” by Eva Boodman in the Journal of Ethical Urban Living (2019). The paper thinks through an abolitionist lens, citing a few essays from the edited volume, Disability Incarcerated: Imprisonment and Disability in the United States and Canada (2014), edited by Liat Ben-Moshe, Chris Chapman, and Allison C. Carey, and scholar-activist Ai-Jen Poo’s The Age of Dignity (2015). Boodman’s article illuminates the interconnected histories and racialized and classed carceral logics of prisons and nursing homes in the United States (both in regard to who is being cared for and how/why, and who is doing the labor of care and why). She calls for decarceration and the abolition of nursing homes to imagine new forms of community-based elder care.
Additionally, I have been rereading the late bell hooks’ book, All About Love: New Visions (2000), and thinking about the significance of love as revolutionary praxis in caring for one another, and how her work calls into question the relationship between and social dynamics of violence and care.
What do you do when you are not doing aging/life course research?
I’ve had Covid-19 for about a month, so lately I’ve been watching a lot of TV shows and resting. But otherwise, in my free time I like to read fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry, watch films and television, play cards and board games, practice creative writing (screenwriting, short stories, and satire), go to art exhibits, brush up on my Spanish, and attend a thousand zoom webinars since 2020! Spending time with family and friends, especially surrounding food (either cooking or going out) is always a meaningful experience to me, and I have truly felt this loss during the pandemic. While many people in the US were learning to make sourdough bread during lockdowns, I was finally learning to cook familial Azorean foods like patinha, a sautéed seaweed dish with lots of garlic and hot peppers served over warm homemade Azorean cornbread. I also like to dance, swim, hike, go for long city walks, travel when I can, and enjoy the Lisbon sun with friends and a glass of wine. I love animals, insects, mushrooms, learning about local ecologies, and being in nature with a decolonial perspective. Coming from island folks, I have a deep connection and respect for the ocean and marine life.
Once I’m done with fieldwork later this year, I plan to get more involved with local queer and immigrant community organizing, documentary filmmaking, gardening, and adjunct teaching while writing my dissertation. And at the end of the day, my partner and my two lovely cats, Maya and Cleo, are my safe space and sense of home.
Do you have a recent publication so that our members can learn more about your work?
I have a couple non-academic op-eds, but I will soon have an academic publication! I am in the process of editing my first peer-reviewed academic paper, which is forthcoming in a special issue of AnthroVision in the near future. It is the result of a dual panel from the virtual EASA conference in 2020, “Illuminating Futures of the Life Course Through Visual and Digital Media,” with other incredible anthropologists, filmmakers, and visual media artists at the intersection of visual anthropology and anthropology of aging. My paper is currently entitled, “Aging On-Screen: Visual Media as Method for Communal Care.”
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