EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(IW003)

Uncertain life courses: growing older and chronic disquiet (EN)

Location V307
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Susan Whyte (University of Copenhagen) email
Liv Haram (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) email
Bjarke Oxlund (University of Copenhagen) email
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Short Abstract

We explore sources of insecurity and disquiet as people grow older, including changing life course patterns, historical shifts in living conditions, intergenerational disparities, and (risk of) chronic health conditions. And we examine attempts to pre-empt or manage life course uncertainties.

Long Abstract

Life courses and expectations about the stages of life are changing in most societies around the world. New uncertainties and insecurities are emerging, but so are new modes of dealing with them. Relations between generations are transformed as the conditions of life and livelihood shift. Unemployment, migration, loss of adults to AIDS, and changing patterns of marriage and reproduction, reconfigure the social relations of aging. Contested values and plurality of possibilities, together with dramatic turns in political economy, engender reflection and often disquiet about life prospects. Moreover, greater longevity means that people are more likely to live longer with (risk of) chronic conditions. In high income societies, technologies for measuring and managing the body (to promote health and quantify pathology) focus uncertainty and seem to hold out the promise of control. In low income societies, aging is less biomedicalized, although chronic conditions have heavy significance for family relations. In this panel, we wish to examine the process of growing older (not necessarily the state of old age) within a framework of family relations, political economy, and social values. Focus is on the sources of uncertainty and attempts to pre-empt or manage it, whether through daily interactions, societal institutions, social and medical technologies, or ideological commitments. Adopting a life course perspective should ensure a common engagment with temporality and the intertwining of lives across historical and genealogical generations.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Of widows and bachelors: uncertainties of the later life course in Denmark

Author: Bjarke Oxlund (University of Copenhagen)  email
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Short Abstract

Drawing from a study of aging in Denmark, the paper analyzes the uncertainty and disquiet expressed by several widows and bachelors entering the later life course living on their own. The paper asks what is at stake for these interlocutors as they grow older in a Scandinavian welfare state.

Long Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork focused on aging in Denmark and carried out among people aged 50-75 years in the rural municipality of Vordingborg, the paper describes and analyzes the uncertainty and disquiet expressed by several widows and bachelors entering the later life course living on their own. In the cases of both widows and bachelors, they had not imagined that they would enter the later life course alone. Some are trying to find a (new) partner, while others are investing heavily in social networks and civic organizations in trying to make up for their lone status or loss. The paper thus sheds light on the lives led by the young old at a time, where longevity and new technologies have significantly altered the scripts of life without necessarily providing the answer as to how one should live such a life (on one's own). Reading the ethnographic cases against anthropological and sociological theories of the life course, the paper aims to shed light on both the effects and the affects of longevity as it plays out for men and women who find themselves in differing but overlapping situations. The paper asks how they respond to uncertainties of health, the need for care and comfort, and - in some cases - a yearning for love?

From ultimogenitur to senior club: negotiating certainties and uncertainties of growing older between rural Mexico and urban Chicago

Authors: Julia Pauli (Hamburg University)  email
Franziska Bedorf (Uppsala University)  email
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Short Abstract

Mexico - U.S. migration greatly affects the living conditions of elderly Mexicans on both sides of the border. Examining communities in rural Mexico and urban Chicago we seek to investigate what kinds of new (un)certainties the migratory context causes for elderly Mexicans in both settings.

Long Abstract

Many Mexicans on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border agree that fulfilled ageing is tightly connected to the everyday presence and care of family members and the family in general. Such perceptions are part and parcel of wider Mexican kinship and family ideologies. However, lived realities in transnational communities between rural Mexico and the USA diverge from these idealized discourses. Based on two long-term field projects and ethnographic locations (rural Mexico and urban Chicago) we want to ask how the elderly and their families within migrant transnational communities deal with new uncertainties (and certainties) emerging out of broader changes in economic, social and ideological conditions that are linked with migration. While elder women and men in rural Mexico are confronted with the crumbling of indigenous inheritance and security systems such as the practice of ultimogenitur, their elder counterparts in Chicago face new models of living arrangements and daily routine that result in appreciated leisure time on the one hand and loneliness and abandonment on the other hand. Participation in past time activities at Senior Clubs serves as a means to deal with this ambiguous situation and to create new social ties. Both in Mexico and Chicago migration thus crucially influences the frameworks and structures elderly Mexicans interact with, thereby necessitating new strategies for a satisfied ageing. In the new emerging realities the ideal of a family centred old age might be replaced by more diverse models of ageing.

Shifting in-between youth and adult worlds in a small town in Guinea

Author: Michelle Engeler (University of Basel)  email
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Short Abstract

The aim of this paper is to look at three youthful life courses in a constantly changing social environment found in a small town in Guinea. The strategies to manage uncertainties thereby vary according to gender, ethnic group and social background and generate many ways of “being young” and/or “growing older”.

Long Abstract

For youths in a small town in Guinea, "growing older" is not so much an issue of age but much more interlinked with social becoming. By introducing into the life courses of three young people I address youth as actors who are actively reflecting the continuously changing social environment and thereby try to manage various uncertainties to "grow older". Boubacar decides to establish himself within the regional trading network instead of being a teacher. He perceives the latter as an insecure and underpaid income strategy, not consistent with his wish to marry soon. Albert in turn is hustling around, doing this and that to support his mother and sisters' livelihood. However, he dreams of continuing university and therefore shifts between being involuntary the male head of the family and being a student keen to learn. The youthful dreams of Fatoumatou include the wish to marry soon. Only recently she lost her not yet born baby from a previous relationship. Struggling with health and dishonorable pregnancy, she is afraid of not finding a husband, thus being trapped within a youthful life stage. To become again a respected woman, she interlinks her youthful identity with religious beliefs and practices.

While analyzing the three different youthful journeys, societal institutions like marriage, having children and education are crucial turning points. However, while constantly "navigating the uncertain terrain" (Vigh 2006), the three portrayed actors shift differently in-between youth and adult worlds. The strategies to manage uncertainties thereby vary according to gender, ethnic group and social background and generate many ways of "being young" and/or "growing older".

Growing older and endurance among the Turkana of Northern Kenya

Author: Marianna Betti (University of Bergen)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper focuses on mechanisms of endurance done by the Turkana in order to socially “grow older”. In a context of scarce resources and change of community values, the Turkana face fears of being unable to achieve traditional life stages: entering adulthood, marriage and becoming parents. I argue that Turkana endure in time, space and the body in order to grow older and gain status and leadership in the community.

Long Abstract

The Turkana of Northern Kenya are traditionally a pastoralist semi-nomadic group, they are an acephalous and generally a gerontocratic group. In fact, those Turkana (men and women) who, through personal achievements and through proper traditional accomplishment of asapan (rite of passage for boys) and marriage and through begetting of children, are called "the elders", detain the highest status and are the real leaders of the community.

To fulfill such traditional life stages is becoming extremely problematic for the Turkana. Lack of economic resources, frequent droughts and chronic poverty trigger loss of livestock, which is the paramount means for forming alliances, for making social exchanges and thus for allowing age passages.

Moreover, the new ideologies, namely the Christian religion and the State institutions like schools and hospitals, give different guidelines for what it means to grow older, like through the sacraments, school attendance, and physiological assessments.

Against such background, my paper focuses on the concept of endurance. Even in a context of lack of resources, chronic poverty and illness, urbanization, and disruption of social values and family relations, Turkana people try to cope. To socially "grow older" they endure in time (waiting), in space (settling down), and in the body (starving and fasting).

This argument is based on the collection of life stories, narratives and participant observation done in a six months long fieldwork in Turkana in 2009.

Talking about care in the Netherlands

Author: Jolanda Lindenberg (Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper presents uncertainty and insecurity in intergenerational relations, especially around care. The insecurities and related (linguistic) strategies are discussed in a linguistic anthropological framework. The analysis is based on observations in a Dutch nursing home and neighborhood centre.

Long Abstract

Like other high-income countries, the Netherlands is dealing with greater longevity and its consequences. Predominantly, the focus is on intergenerational pressure, which is perceived as a financial burden and a social problem. A solution is commonly sought in informal care, but as the generational pressure is building upon fewer people, many foresee an unbridgeable strain on intergenerational solidarity (e.g. Goudswaard 2005; van der Horst et al. 2010). The possible demands for care run counter to changes in family relations. Moreover Dutch expectations, values and norms that surround informal care complicate matters; often mentioned are values of independence, refraining from asking or complaining especially in front of one's your children (van der Geest 1998; von Faber 2002). The contradictions between demands of policymakers and the physical demands of older people on the one side and expectations and norms of these same older people and their caregivers on the other, create numerous insecurities and uncertainties that are implicitly and explicitly expressed in intergenerational micro-interactions. In this paper, conceptualizations of care and expectations, assumptions, and negation strategies in asking for care are exposed through a linguistic anthropological framework. I show how linguistic strategies - such as attenuation, self-stereotyping and linguistic self-protection - reflect, manage and can accentuate current relations between generations (Coupland et al. 1988; Fox & Giles 1993). This paper touches upon (implicit) views on age-identity, roles and social status in naturally occurring speech events that were observed in a nursing home and a neighborhood centre.

Tackling life, uncertainty and diabetes by a group of South Asian migrants

Author: Prabhathi Basnayake (University of Melbourne )  email
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Short Abstract

This is an ethnographic study conducted among a group of older South Asian migrants living in Australia with diabetes. It explores their expereinces and challenges of grappling with uncertainties that are sometimes intrinsic to migrant life and with the uncertainties that come with living with diabetes.

Long Abstract

In Australia the incidence of diabetes among South Asian migrants is much higher than the mainstream population. Social and cultural aspects such as lower levels of literacy, and lower income levels are reported as having a positive relationship with poor management and higher prevalence of diabetes among migrants. National statistics state that Sri Lankans in Australia have a higher socio economic status. Despite this socio economic advantage, Sri Lankan migrants have one of the highest standardised prevalence ratios of diabetes in the Australian society. There is a body of literature that states that upon migration, the chances of getting diabetes for this group of people increase due to changes in psychological, social and economic conditions that they undergo and ageing. This ethnographic study attempts to identify the lived experiences of a chronic illness from the perspective of migrants. This study unveils themes of uncertainty about life plans, projection of this uncertainty on the management of diabetes, mistrust towards health professionals, the impact of culture specific gender roles on diabetes management, perspectives towards causation of diabetes related to stress caused by the uncertainty of employment, social and cultural alienation, and due to cultural and religious beliefs and attitudes. In this paper I argue that although Sri Lankans' socio economic situation is higher than other migrant groups, their high prevalence and poor management may be related to a lifestyle that is based on the migrant experiences of uncertainty, cultural and social isolation, culture specific gender roles and health beliefs.

HIV-positive women and precariousness in the Ethiopian city of Gondar: the disease as a factor of social integration in the face of uncertainty and chronic disquiet

Author: Carolina De Rosis (EHESS-CEAf)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper analyses the ways in which the status of chronic illness of 20 Ethiopian HIV-positive women older than 20 years, living in precarious conditions, has shifted from causing extreme material and existential forms of insecurity to became a resource against uncertainty and disquiet.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on the results of intermittent fieldwork conducted in the city of Gondar, in Ethiopia, between November 2007 and November 2010, within a PhD research focusing on care and support that HIV/AIDS mass treatment programs provide for HIV-positive women. It deals with different forms of managing uncertainty and disquiet observed in the daily life of HIV-positive women older than 20 years.

In the first part, the analysis of the life stories of 20 HIV-positive women characterized by material and existential forms of insecurity, demonstrates that the emergence of HIV with different manifestations and consequences including opportunistic diseases and loss of children and partner, far from appearing as a «biographical disruption», simply aggravated their conditions of precariousness by weakening their already fragile social ties.

In the second part, by focusing on the absence of strong welfare strategies, and by taking into consideration the unconventional forms of work and employment as livelihood systems, the paper shows that the implementation of tertiary HIV-prevention programmes through new forms of social and economic inclusion of marginalized HIV-positive people, have contributed to stabilise their life courses. More particularly, in relation to the 20 HIV-positive women case studies, the paper points out that HIV, rather than being a mere status of chronic illness, results in a condition of life, which produces new social ties and which contributes positively in facing the situations of uncertainty and disquiet.

Balancing kin relations: new challenges for the rural elderly in China

Author: Xiujie Wu (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email
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Short Abstract

“To bring up sons for one’s own old age” is an old proverb that still adequately describes the situation of elderly support in rural China. But new challenges for the elderly brought about by societal transformations are emerging.

Long Abstract

In managing the late years in their life course, the current generation of peasants in China still have to mainly rely on the financial and practical support shared in equal by their male offspring as the custom laws subscribe, since the old peasants get no pensions and only limited reimbursement of medical care costs from the state provisions of social security. However, dramatic changes that have taken place in the last three decades of the reform era have led to new kinship constellations: the elderly prefer to live independently by themselves and save their own resources for that purpose; increasing empowerment of rural women allows married-out daughters to interfere with the issue of elderly support in their natal family; brothers' income may vary enormously; juridical services offered by the local state protect the interests of the elderly.

But even the seemingly beneficial developments for the elderly (such as engagement of daughters, legal protection) are a mixed blessing. As a proverb says: "One should not expect filial sons when lying in sickbed for a long time". One huge challenge for the elderly people is to balance kin relations, in order to keep peaceful constellations. Juridical solution of family conflicts is always the last choice, and often the worst alternative.

This paper is based on ethnographic data collected from a village in North China. It discusses how state social policy intertwines with the traditional model of elderly support and investigates the anxiety of the rural elderly in coping with new challenges of societal transformations.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.