Book Chapter

Aging and Subjectivity: Ethnography, Experience and Cultural Context


Anthropologists use the concept of subjectivity to describe the interplay between feeling, experience and social context. How can ethnography help researchers link theories of subjectivity to practices of working with older adults? This paper brings together critical gerontology of global aging, narrative gerontology, and anthropological theories of subjectivity to examine the experience of aging in contemporary Japan. In 2015, over one in four Japanese people were over the age of 65, and as pensioners enrolled in the national mandatory long-term care insurance program, older Japanese adults, like those elsewhere in the world, feel pushed and pulled by a variety of interests as they attempt to manage interpersonal relationships, health and hopes. One narrative that has emerged from this context of longevity and care was a narrative of old age as being “burdensome.” Using examples of this narrative from fieldwork with older adults between 2005 and 2014, I argue that these concerns reveal tensions between competing subjectivities. While many older people still aspire to maintain selves embedded in interdependent and reciprocal relationships, care services address them as if they were autonomous individuals. This chapter describes the frustration this brings for thinking about future possible selves in old age, and considers alternative cultural models of subjectivity.

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Danely, Jason

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Social Sciences
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Year of publication: 2016
Date of RADAR deposit: 2021-01-12

All rights reserved.

Related resources

This RADAR resource is Part of Cross-Cultural and Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives in Social Gerontology (ISBN: 978-981-10-1654-7)


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