Aging in cultural context and as narrative process: conceptual foundations of the anthropology of aging as reflected in the works of Margaret Clark and Sharon Kaufman.

Abstract

Although the discipline of anthropology has much to contribute to the understanding of the nature and experience of aging, it is a relative latecomer to gerontology. After briefly discussing why this is the case, the authors discuss the contributions of two anthropologists who brought a substantive anthropological voice to gerontological discussion of aging. Examining the "ancestral roots" of the anthropology of aging, we spotlight the intellectual heritage of Margaret Clark, arguably the "mother" of this anthropological subfield, and that of Sharon Kaufman, her student, colleague, and a pioneer in her own right. Clark and Anderson's Culture and aging: an anthropological study of older Americans (1967; Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas) remains a touchstone for the concept of situated aging. This examination of value orientations and mental health of older San Franciscans is foundational for understanding aging as an interactive, socially embedded process that is adapted to specific sociocultural contexts. Research and therapies grounded in narrativity and meaning benefit from Sharon Kaufman's The ageless self: sources of meaning in late life (1986; Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press), which articulated narrative thinking as a conduit for understanding, performing, and constructing identity and meaning. Kaufman's work has ongoing relevance to gerontological research on embodiment, chronic illness, and later life social transitions. Their research has continued relevance to contemporary gerontological scholarship and practice, signaling both prevailing and emergent agendas for anthropologically informed gerontology.

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