"Expanding Personhood beyond Remembered Selves: The Sociality of Memory at an Alzheimer's Center in Poland"

Published by Medical Anthropology Quarterly

Examining the social and processual dimensions of personhood can transform ethnographic and clinical understandings of “person‐centered care” in dementia care specifically and in medicine more generally. Ethnographic research among people with early‐stage Alzheimer's disease in a day center in Poznań, Poland, shows that practices of remembering involving collective memory can sustain personhood and foster ties of relatedness among people with dementia, defying some expectations about the destructive effects of dementia on personhood. This apparent paradox between people with dementia's loss of memory and their capacity to build social relations based on remembering can be resolved through expanding understandings of personhood to include practices of remembering involving collective pasts—in this case, through shared national frameworks and embodied practices of sociality. Attending to these two dimensions of collective memory reveals unexpected aspects of personhood among people with dementia.

"Temporal aspects of wellbeing in later life: gardening among older African Americans in Detroit"

Published by Cambridge University Press

Gardening has well-established physical, social and emotional benefits for older adults in varied circumstances. In Detroit, Michigan (United States of America), as in many cities, policy makers, funders, researchers, community organisations and residents regard gardening as a means of transforming bodies, persons, communities, cities and broader polities. We draw on ethnographic research conducted during one gardening season with 27 older African Americans in Detroit to foreground the social dimensions of wellbeing in later life and thus develop a more robust and nuanced understanding of gardening's benefits for older adults. Based on anthropological understandings of personhood and kinship, this article expands concepts of wellbeing to include social relations across multiple scales (individual, interpersonal, community, state) and temporalities (of the activity itself, experiences of ageing, city life). Even when performed alone, gardening fosters connections with the past, as gardeners are reminded of deceased loved ones through practices and the plants themselves, and with the future, through engagement with youth and community. Elucidating intimate connections and everyday activities of older African American long-term city residents counters anti-black discourses of ‘revitalisation’. An expansive concept of wellbeing has implications for understanding the generative potential of meaningful social relations in later life and the vitality contributed by older adults living in contexts of structural inequality.

"Beyond the evaluative lens: Contextual unpredictabilities of care"

Published by Journal of Aging Studies

Featuring Elana Buch who received her PhD from Anthropology and Social work in 2010

Social science and gerontological research on care tends to focus on identifying practices that qualify as “good care” and promoting interventions that might produce it. In this article, we identify this approach to care as the “evaluative lens.” We argue that while useful, an evaluative approach to studying care can limit scholars' abilities to attend to the complex and disorderly aspects of care in daily life. Drawing on long-term ethnographic research in three distinct contexts of elder care, we show the central role that contextual unpredictability plays in care experiences. In so doing, we argue for scholarship that recognizes care as a form of becoming, embedded in processual and historically contigent relations.

White Paper “Aging in Place: Challenges and Prospects”

Robbins also led a Summer Salon at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe in June 2019. A resulting white paper is available in the link below. 

'Aging in place” is a common phrase meaning that older people prefer to age (most frequently through the end of their lives) in their homes, in spaces that represent their lives, and ideally close to family and friends. The World Health Organization (WHO 2015, 36) states that aging in place is “the ability of older people to live in their own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income or level of intrinsic capacity..."