Oral Presentation Session
Invited by: Anthropology of Aging and Life Course Interest Group
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: The Political
This panel brings together ethnographic studies from East Asia to explore how economic transformation and the reconfiguration of state-society relations have changed the ways that people enter and inhabit old age. Despite following radically different economic and political trajectories in the last hundred years, China, Japan, and Korea have all arrived at critical junctures in their efforts to address their aging populations. We are less concerned with teasing out the particular relationships between aging trends and the policies or circumstances that precipitated them. Instead, we wish to take each nation's complex recent histories into account in order to engage more critically with questions about what it means to grow old in these societies in the twenty-first century. How do technologies and practices of care emerge and take on moral resonance in these nations’ respective cultural and economic contexts? What new ideologies of aging and moral personhood do state actors, NGOs, and institutions of care promote in their policies and programming? How are these ideas transmitted through the ways that old age is talked about, treated, and planned for? How are they enacted and/or undermined by various actors who interact with elders? Finally, how do the elders themselves—who have already lived through dramatic social changes during their lifetimes– navigate these new realities to confront physical and mental decline, and ultimately their own mortalities?
Such conversations have been taking place for several decades in Japan, but are just now emerging elsewhere in East Asia. This panel helps to bridge these conversations and provides an opportunity for scholars with different epistemological orientations to engage with one another. From expensive life-saving interventions in Chinese hospitals to robotic technologies in Japanese eldercare institutions, Priscilla Song and James Wright examine how the latest scientific discoveries interact with pre-existing moral frameworks. Noting the fraught contradictions that arise from the marketization of care, Lillian Prueher’s paper on decision-making in a Chinese eldercare facility and Seonsam Na’s paper on changing marketing strategies in a Korean hospital both investigate the reorganization of traditional hierarchies in the context of market reforms. Finally, Claudia Huang’s paper on how the “productive aging” concept materializes in Chinese programs aimed at recent retirees offers a critical view of how new expectations about the life course alters models of moral personhood for elders. The panel begins with an overview of the theoretical foundations of the field from John Traphagan and concludes with remarks from Andrew Kipnis, who will contextualize the panelists’ findings within these broader discourses. In crossing both geographic and theoretical boundaries, this panel aims to foster a more holistic discourse on aging and end-of-life care in East Asia.