Watching over life and death: the politics of precarious solitude in an aging Japanese urban community
Jason Danely (Oxford Brookes University)
Paper short abstract:
Solitary deaths have been identified as a problem for aging urban communities. This paper examines the ways in which caregivers take on the affective labor of watching older adults. It raises questions about the ways feelings about death inform care practices and political subjectivity.
Paper long abstract:
Deaths that go unobserved or unnoticed are messy, disorganized, and cast a shadow over efforts to encourage a sense of community connectedness and belonging. Deaths of solo-dwelling older adults in particular, expose the precarious bonds of communities in a literally visceral and unsettling manner. Solitary deaths also expose the perpetually contested roles and responsibilities of the older individual, their family, community volunteers, and the state. The problem is not death, but death in the absence of affective bonds of care by responsible others. This paper presents a view of solitary death from the perspective of caregivers at the end of life, including interviews with local community volunteers who look after solo-dwelling older adults, geriatric nurses, and older, solo-dwelling individuals themselves. In each case, I examine the meanings and motivations for care, looking at the ways it shapes political subjectivity and the economy of affective labor within the broader context of Japan's aging society, changing policies and local cultural and demographic change.
Politics of life and death and the practice of caring