Active aging programs that encourage older adults to practice health-promoting behaviors are proliferating worldwide. In Poland, the meanings and ideals of these programs have become caught up in the sociocultural and political-economic changes that have occurred during the lifetimes of the oldest generations—most visibly, the transition from socialism to capitalism. Yet practices of active aging resonate with older forms of activity in late life in ways that exceed these narratives of progress. Moreover, some older Poles come to live valued, meaningful lives in old age despite threats to respect and dignity posed by illness and debility. Drawing on almost two years of ethnographic research with older Poles in a range of contexts, this talk shows that everyday practices of remembering and relatedness shape how older Poles come to be seen by themselves and by others as living worthy, valued lives. This talk shows how memories and understandings of the Polish nation intersect with ideals and experiences of late life to produce forms of life that are not reducible to binary categories of health or illness, independence or dependence, or socialism or capitalism.
Jessica Robbins is an assistant professor at the Institute of Gerontology and Department of Anthropology at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She received her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan, and her B.A. in anthropology and music from Williams College. Her research explores aging, memory, kinship, and personhood in historical political-economic perspective, in both Poland and Michigan. Her research has been published in journals such as Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Ageing & Society, Journal of Aging Studies, and East European Politics, Societies & Cultures. Her first book, Aging Nationally in Contemporary Poland: Memory, Kinship, and Personhood, is forthcoming later this year with Rutgers University Press. She has received funding from organizations such as the NSF, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, IREX, and the Wilson Center.
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This lecture series is a collaborative effort to showcase an area studies specialist from each center focusing on the Russian, East European, and Central Asian world region. The series is sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University; the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley; the Russian, East European & Eurasian Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; the Russian and East European Institute at Indiana University; the Center for Russian, East European, & Eurasian Studies at the University of Michigan; the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at The University of Texas at Austin; the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center at Indiana University; the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh; the Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia at the University of Wisconsin - Madison; the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies at The University of Chicago; and the Center for Slavic and East European Studies at The Ohio State University.