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 Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg
Cultural Context of Aging Book Contents
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As seen in this graph, old age starts earlier for some Americans than it does  for others. In particular, people's image of aging and view  about life's trajectory are heavily influenced by  socioeconomic factors and ethnicity.
 
 
 
 
 

 


 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 

 

| Introduction | Part I. | Part II.
| Part III. | Part IV. | Part V. |Part VI. |

Introduction

STARTING POINTS: A GLOBAL, CROSS-CULTURAL VIEW OF AGING
| Newsflash | Gerontological Anthropology in Action| Projects to follow || Web Special | Web Resources
New & Notable Books| Print Resources |
newsflas.gif (7743 bytes) NEWS FLASH: In the October 16, 1997 issue of the journal Science, a major review article discusses the growing evidence that "lifestyle" {read as cultural context}, not genes, may play the biggest role in life expectancy and minimizing of disability in late adulthood. The article points out that studies of twins show that genetics have a relatively small effect on life span compared to lifestyle and that about two-thirds of the variance in life span can be attributed to cultural and environmental factors. 
       The research discussed is the culmination of 10 years of work by 16 scholars studying thousands of older American and Swedish twins. This focused on men and women over age 70 living in normal environments outside of nursing homes and hospitals. This work is summarized in a new book, Successful Aging by John Rowe and Robert Kahn, 1998.

newsflas.gif (7743 bytes) NEWS FLASH: Darwin’s Tortoise named oldest animal on planet. A Galapagos tortoise, named Harriet who reportedly was brought back to England during Darwin’s epic travel on the HMS Bounty in the 1930s is considered the oldest living animal and will be 176 years in 2006. The Guinness Book of Records cites her as the world's oldest living animal, not far off smashing the all-time record of 188 years, set by another Galapagos tortoise, now deceased – Update, Harriet died on August 26, 2006.  

newsflas.gif (7743 bytes) NEWS FLASH  George Vaillant, Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development (Little Brown, 2002). Reviewing longitudinal studies of aging, Vaillant comes to the conclusion that happiness in old age depends as much on our inner life as it does on exercise, diet and all the rest that we hear so much about in current versions of successful aging. It turns out that intangibles count for more than we thought. Lifelong learning, relationships, and, most important, attitude toward life are the key.

For a provocative paper related to some of these issues see "Critical Gerontology Discourse: Nomadic Thinking or Postmodern Sociology," Stephen Katz, Trent University. http://omega.cc.umb.edu/~sociolgy/journal/socart2.html

GERONTOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY IN ACTION: Anthropologist Joel Savishinsky, well known for his work on nursing homes and pet therapy, has completed a new project on the cultural meaning of retirement in the United States. This work is highlighted in a short article "Mastering the Art of Retirement." (see photo below).  Cornell University Press has published his book on this subject, BREAKING THE WATCH: THE MEANINGS OF RETIREMENT IN AMERICA, (2000). 

An Ithaca College student interviewing a Shelby retiree in Joel Savashinsky’s project on retirement.
Click on photo to see article

PROJECTS TO FOLLOW:      top of page

EVERGREEN PROJECT. In Box 1 of the introductory chapter there is discussion of "The Evergreen Project." This involves the use of anthropology in everyday life by learning from the elders of downtown Bloomington, Indiana how to construct environments which promote healthy, successful aging. Follow the work of this project and similar efforts in building elder friendly communities at the AdvantAge Initiative site: www.vnsny.org/advantage/index.html

GROWING OLDER IN WORLD CITIES: New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo, by Victor G. Rodwin, Michael K. Gusmano, and contributors, Vanderbilt University Press, 2006. This ambitious projects explores the relation between aging and local environment in four global cities. Look for an article in the 3rd volume of this book on this work. Also see papers from this project at: www.ilcusa.org/pub/research.htm

 WEB SPECIAL:

1.  PLAY THE AGING GAME! Plug in your personal health and lifestyle information and find out how long Insurance actuaries expect you to live. For a more advanced version take the "The Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator," at http://www.livingto100.com/

2. http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/aging.html AGING AND DEATH IN FOLKLORE, by D. L. Ashliman, 1997. A full electronic text which explores how the societies of pre-industrial Europe and the non-Western world use proverbs and folklore to shape attitudes toward the elderly. Chapters on "widowhood," "caring for old people," and "euthanasia and geronticide," are particularly relevant to chapters in part I of my text.
 
3. AARP GLOBAL AGING PROGRAM: This new site provides a gateway to global innovation and research on aging including their AARP's database, AgeSource Worldwide, identifies and provides links to over 300 major or unique libraries, clearinghouses, databases, directories, bibliographies, and Web metasites around the world that focus on aging or closely allied subjects. Some 30 countries are represented in AgeSource Worldwide www.aarp.org/research/international/

WEB RESOURCES:                  top of page

GERONTOLOGY WEB SITES CENTRAL www.aarp.org/internetresources/. Probably the best gateway to internet resources on aging, especially AgeLine which looks up the global scholarly literature at www.aarp.org/research/ageline/

UN Program on Aging: www.un.org/esa/socdev/ageing/ Gateway to UN programs, reports and activities related to aging and elders around the globe.

http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/iyop/ Countdown to 1999: International Year of Older Persons. This is the newsletter of the United Nations Focal Point for the International Year of Older Persons.
http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/agenew.htm - is their general aging site; with select issues of their newsletter, Bulletin on Ageing found at http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/ageboa.htm ; also see, for demographic information; "The Ageing of the World's Population" at http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/agewpop.htm

http://www.ifa-fiv.org/menu1.htm. International Federation on Ageing. This organizations much improved site has many papers and color graphs on global aging data.

http://www.globalaging.org Global Action on Aging is a New York based center focusing on the right of the aged around the world. At their web site check out "Pension Watch" and Resources for some interesting papers.

http://www-lib.usc.edu/Info/Gero/ Electronic Journals & Newsletters [Note: at site select "web resources" then "Electronic Journals & Newsletters."] This site at the University of Southern California Gerontology Library connects you to aging journals and newsletters of associations like the Gerontological Society of America. 

GRANTS, GRANTS, GRANTS! This is the best site I have found to provide information about grants for research on aging.

http://www.urban.org/health/oldpol.html  POLICY CHALLENGES POSED BY THE AGING OF AMERICA. An Urban Institute briefing paper produced in 1998.

Want to check out new books in social gerontology? Access this web page from Amazon books and search its catalogue of over 2 million volumes.

INTERNET DISCUSSION GROUPSocial Gerontology Discussion Group launched by Prof. Lars Tornstam, Dept. of Sociology, Uppsala U, Sweden. To join: e-mail to LISTSERV@LISTSERV.UU.SE with only this message: SUBSCRIBE GERONORD. Your Name Leave subject line blank; send without signature, address etc. For more information: Lars.Tornstam@soc.uu.se

NEW AND NOTABLE BOOKS: top of page

1999-2000

Guo, Zinbin, 2000. Ginseng and Aspirin: Health Care Alternatives for Aging Chinese in New York, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Lamb, Sarah, 2000. White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender and the Body in North India,  Berekey, CA: Univ. of California Press.

Thang, Leng Leng, 2001. Generations in Touch: Linking the Old and Young in a Tokyo Neighborhood, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Traphagan, John. 2000. Taming Oblivion: Aging Bodies and the Fear of Senility in Japan, Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

van Willigen, John and N.K.Chadha. 1999. Social Aging in a Delhi Neighborhood. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.

-----------------------------
Aguilar, A., ed., 1998. The Politics of Age and Gerontocracy in Africa: Ethnographies of the Past and Memories of the Present. Lawrenceville, N.J.: Africa World Press.

M. Szinovacz, ed. 1998. Handbook of GrandparentHood. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Cohen, L. 1998. No Aging in India: Berkeley: University of California Press.

Furman, F. 1997. Facing the Mirror: Older Women and Beauty Shop Culture. New York: Routledge.

Pearsall, M., ed. 1997. The Other Within Us: Feminist Explorations of Women and Aging. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Komesaroff, P. Rothfield, J. Daly and P. Komersaroff. 1997. Reinterpreting Menopause: Cultural and Philosophical Issues. Routledge New York: Routledge.

Noor Al-Deen, H. ed. 1997. Cross-cultural Communication and Aging in the United States. Erlbaum.

Putnam-Dickerson, J. and J. Brown. 1998. Women Among Women: Anthropological Perspectives on Female Age-Hierarchies. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

PRINT RESOURCES:                                 top of page

Edwards, M. and L.J. Edwards. 1996. "'Has it ever occurred to you?...' Societal Construction and Ageing in Australia." Health Care in Later Life 1(4): 243-52. 

Gutmann, D. 1997. The Human Elder in Nature Culture and Society. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Hazan, H. 1995. "Lost Horizons Regained: Old Age and the Anthropology of Contemporary Society," in The Future of Anthropology, A. Ahmed and C. Shore, eds., The Athlone Press.

Nixon, L.L. 1996. "Aging: a postmodern lens." Journal of Aging and Identity (3): 151-64. 

Pickard, S. 1995. Living on the Front Line: A Social Anthropological Study of Old Age and Ageing. [UK] Avebury: Aldershot. An ethnographic study of the aged in South Wales, Great Britain with a focus on social networks, independence and gender.

Ray, R.A. 1996. "A postmodern perspective on feminist gerontology." Gerontologist 36(5): 674-80. 

Rosenthal, Joel. 1996. Old Age in Late Medieval England Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. What aging was like in the "good old days." 

Sokolovsky, M. 1996. "Case Study as a research method to study life histories of elderly people: some ideas and a case study of a case study." Journal of Aging Studies 10(4):281-94. 

Wenger, C. et al. 1996. "Social Isolation and Loneliness in Old Age: Review and Model Refinement." Ageing and Society16(3):315-332. This is a good follow-up article for discussion of the cross-cultural study of lonliness mentioned in the introductory chapter.

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