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SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011


Emotional and narrative landscapes of the elderly: creative relationships between notions of self and others through space and place

Location Tower A, Piso 3, Room 312
Date and Start Time 19 Apr, 2011 at 14:30


Lisa Le Fevre (Teachers College, Columbia University (TC) and Santa Clara University (SCU)) email
Brian O'Hare (Columbia University) email
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Short Abstract

Exploring belonging in a changing Europe, this panel centers on rural and urban elders' notions of self and others across space and place. Touching on emotions and creativity, the anthropological debate further investigates the interface of individuals with socio-economic and cultural processes.

Long Abstract

After years of expansion, the European Union is experiencing an increase and shift in elderly people across both sides of the former Iron Curtain. Anthropological research demonstrates how populations become older for reasons unexplainable solely by medical advancements or modernization projects. Tied to global influences, the push for modernity generates changes in local economic, political, and social structures resulting in the movement of people over time from rural environments to urban centers, from sending to receiving communities, and vice versa. This movement - in combination with the emphasis on becoming 'modern' and 'European' - creates experiences of place and space that contrast considerably for those unable or unwilling to begin new modes of being and knowing. Recent trends on the ageing process outside of anthropology primarily focus on elders' functionalities within the biomedical mind-body dichotomy. Yet, anthropological research can holistically and systematically help to explain social patterns as reflected in the way residents elucidate how physical environments contribute to feelings. Subsequently, emotions emerging in different settings are affected by social structures or societal ideals. The cultural processes found in older people's narratives elicit insight into these social forces' influence on daily life and the manner in which a sense of place is created. This panel hopes to shed light on the following questions: What are the roles of emotions and narratives in constructions of belonging in a changing and globalized world? What is creativity's role in shaping individuals' senses of space and place within their groups and environments?

Discussant: Charles C. Harrington, Professor of Anthropology Psychology and Education (Teachers College, Columbia University)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Returning to life in the capital of paradise: examining the constructions of self and feeling amongst retirees of an intergenerational residential complex in Asturias, Spain

Author: Brian O'Hare (Columbia University)  email
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Short Abstract

Adaptation to space requires creativity to imagine the self as continuous when located in different places. At an intergenerational center in Spain, elderly narrate their feelings about this experience by fusing interpersonal relationships made in the new location with social memories of the past.

Long Abstract

Focusing on the formation and maintenance of interpersonal relationships, this paper will attempt to describe the cultural significances of the self and emotive states, including the structures of feeling, amongst retirees of an intergenerational residential complex. Located in the city of Oviedo, the capital of the principality of Asturias in the kingdom of Spain, current demographic figures and assessments point out that 22% of the region's population is over the age of 65. This figure is expected to rise significantly in the near future, and has been at the forefront of national legislature, such as La Ley de Dependencia [The Law of Dependency], designed to mitigate resource depletion incurred on families having to cope with the cost of taking care of elderly. One adaptation to this law has been the creation of an intergenerational residential center, the only one of its kind in the country. This newly formed multi-functional building caters to elderly, as well as younger students, and was built to encourage the sharing of common areas for relationships to be forged across and amongst generations. Therefore, my analysis will attempt to meld a psychology of place with any cultural norms required for the continuation of the self, which in this context is framed by a local Asturian regional identity. Since the construction of feeling is vital to the process of a self-identity in the modern era, the way older residents discuss their feelings about themselves and younger residents in this new space will be a central theme throughout.

Growing old urban: modern cities in older people's talk

Authors: Lucie Galcanova (Masaryk University, Faculty of Social Studies)  email
Lucie Vidovicova (Masaryk University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper, using focus groups and individual interviews with older residents of city centres, strives to understand how postmodern urban processes of regeneration shape the experience of growing old and how ageing of population influences urban environment.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on "Ageing in the environment: regeneration, gentrification and social exclusion as new issues in environmental gerontology (2010 - 2012)" which strives to understand how postmodern urban processes shape the experience of growing old and how ageing of population influences urban environment. Here we present results from focus groups discussions and individual interviews with older community dwelling residents of central parts of three biggest Czech cities: Prague, Brno and Ostrava. The city (usually as compared to a country) is by the communication partners considered a good place for growing old, as important services, like shops, GPs/hospitals and transportation are usually available in the vicinity. At the same time older people are aware of profound changes in the lived environment of their cities in the last 20 years and they are very heterogeneous in perception of those changes, and reaction to them based on their postcodes, socioeconomic and health status or mobility. One of the main issues emerging from the transcripts is disparity between feelings of growing otherness of their living environment ("the city is not ours", [the new neighbours are] "strangers, complete strangers; they have nothing in common with us") with persisting willingness to "stay put" expressed in individual life strategies. The concluding discussion raises question whether and how different forms of regeneration of the cities create risks of real as well as symbolic exclusion of older people and how these are heterogeneously incorporated into older people narratives.

Stirring the quest of the good: narratives of women with chronic rheumatic conditions

Authors: Staffan Josephsson (Karolinska Institutet)  email
Sissel Alsaker (Sor-Trondelag University College, Faculty of Health Science)  email
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Short Abstract

This ethnography explored the impact of moral quests on the everyday life of some women living in Norway with chronic rheumatic condition. Narrative analyses identified how these quests play part in the womens management of unpredictability and contradictions in everyday life.

Long Abstract

This ethnography explored how four women living in Norway with chronic

rheumatic conditions related to and communicated moral issues in their everyday

activities. Narrative analyses identified how the women linked

everyday events and happenings to moral quests rather than to moral issues. Four stories are emplotted with

different moral quests, quests that are grounded in the women's everyday doing.

For example, one woman was concerned if she was doing well enough and another

woman was wondering about her society's good. The stories

show how the women experienced and managed unpredictability

and contradictions in their everyday life and activities, due to their conditions and

society's labelling traditions. The quests communicate the significance of their

experiences as human beings participating in a society where they are considered

to be different.

Back and forth: transnational life-concepts of German-Turkish migrants

Author: Felicia Sparacio (Universität Tübingen)  email
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Short Abstract

In Germany, many elderly Turkish migrants move back and forth between these two countries. By means of bi-local field research these transnational life-concepts are revealed from the perspective of subjects and are analyzed from a socio-scientific hermeneutic perspective.

Long Abstract

Recently, a new type of migration has developed in Germany. It is characterized by the continual movement between the migrants' country of origin and Germany. This presentation will focus on seniors with a Turkish background who continually move back and forth between Germany and Turkey. This work is embedded in a PhD-project concerned with the transnational life-concepts of this group of migrants. Both countries are examined with a bi-local field research approach incorporating semi-structured interviews, thick description and participative and distanced observation - performed in Germany and Turkey. Two field data collections have been performed, one in Germany and the other in Turkey. The social contacts of these migrants outside of family are dominated by people with similar life concepts in both countries. These Turkish migrants are confronted with a degree of social exclusion - in Germany they are not considered to be German and are not included in important demographic discourses. Further, this group is seen by the majority society as the subject of many stereotypes. In addition, Turkish society no longer views these people as 'real' Turks, instead they are classified as "Almanci". But their own concepts of identity are in contrary to external perceptions from both societies. They consider Germany one of their home countries however they also see themselves as Turks. The different perceptions of these migrants by the German and Turkish society and the difference in self perception creates the potential for conflict among this triad.

Social dimensions of environmental changes: construction of hydroelectric dams and the experiences of the rivermen

Author: Outi Autti (University of Oulu)  email
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Short Abstract

Hydro-electric dam construction in northern Finland has caused a dramatic environmental change for the local people in the last decades. How do elderly people reconstruct their belonging and sense of place in the new setting? How do they adapt to the physical, social, economical and cultural change?

Long Abstract

The construction of human controlled watercourses for the needs of hydro-electric power during the last 60 years has substantially changed freshwater ecosystems as well as socio-economical and cultural dynamics of many local communities, or even their history of existence. Dam construction in northern Finland has caused a dramatic change for the local people and has quickly led e.g. to the loss of migratory fish.

In my research, I have interviewed elderly people, who have experienced the change in their environment. How do they reconstruct their belonging and sense of place in the new setting? How do they adapt to the new environment? How do they justify or explain the change, which, in the end, is not only physical, but also social, economical and cultural.

The sudden push for modernity forced local people to look at their environment in a new light. Change of values also took place in the course of modernisation. The values changed from self-supporting, hard-working and productive to modern and consuming. That which used to be personal and immediate changed to being shared and touched by modernity. Local residents had to make concessions in order to benefit the whole nation's welfare.

The data demonstrates an interesting connection between human emotions and the physical environment. The river is used as a metaphor for human life, and the emerged emotions become evident metaphorically in the environment. The previously free river is now dammed and captured, and this resembles people's emotions in the changing world.

Objects of place, space, and time: a case study of social drama, liminality, and anti-temporality in post-socialist "nostalgic" narratives

Author: Lisa Le Fevre (Teachers College, Columbia University (TC) and Santa Clara University (SCU))  email
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Short Abstract

Approaching Bulgarian villagers' narratives through Turner's (1982) frameworks of "social drama," "liminality," and "anti-temporality," this paper explores stories about objects as narrating time and stress. It also places discourse on post-socialist nostalgia in a liminal and anti-temporal realm.

Long Abstract

Collected from exploratory fieldwork conducted in 2008, this paper takes a look at how elderly villagers in a region of northwestern Bulgaria narrated tales of continuity, change, and time through material remains around them. Using concepts of time and narrative as creative social construction and emotional experience, such stories can take varying analytical turns through academic theory, personal story, and lived "reality" in much the way Turner exemplifies how the four-part acts of "social dramas" are embedded in histories (1982:246-248). The academic turn chosen here, deals with how villagers offered tales about a stolen bell, abandoned houses, and derelict roads to illustrate conditions affecting the community in its current time and place. In telling these stories, however, present narratives also included individuals' responses to questions on the village's past and its possible future. Some of the academic literature dealing with narratives in post-socialist areas explores such stories in terms of the complexities of memory or nostalgia (see for example Wolfe 2000:206). In this case, it is suggested that these stories could also be treated as Turner's "symbolic types" ultimately serving as "rituals of affliction" in response to stress (1982:250; 253 Turner on Handleman's symbolic types; Turner 1975). As such, the interplay of Turner's (1982) "anti-temporality," "social drama," and "liminality" is explored through these narratives and nostalgia itself. The paper also examines narratives not only through a cultural/social anthropological lens, but also through one that incorporates the archeological record of a specific place, its space, and its material world.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.