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Aging in Today's World: Conversations between an Anthropologist and a Physician

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Volume 4

Public Issues in Anthropological Perspective

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Aging in Today's World

Conversations between an Anthropologist and a Physician

Renée Rose Shield and Stanley M. Aronson

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256 pages, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-57181-420-3 25% OFF! $120.00/£85.00 $90.00/£63.75 Hb Published (May 2003)

ISBN  978-1-57181-080-9 25% OFF! $34.95/£24.00 $26.21/£18.00 Pb Published (May 2005)

eISBN 978-1-78238-724-4 eBook

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"... an informed and informative inquiry ... welcome and very highly recommended contribution to Geriatric Studies reference collections and supplemental reading lists."  ·  The Midwest Book Review

"Here, for a welcome change, is a genuine dialogue on later life, rather than a lecture; and it comes from two people who are real practitioners of the art of aging, not just pundits. The authors pack history, demography, anthropology, medicine, and personal experience into a comprehensive, reflective, and deeply-felt view of this critical subject."  ·  Joel Savishinksy, Ph.D., Ithaca College

“The authors’ project is an original and relevant venture. It contributes in a constructive way to the discussion of aging by opening our eyes to the variety among the aged.”  ·  Focaal


Never before in human existence have the aged been so numerous — and for the most part — healthy. In this important new book, two professionals, an anthropologist and a physician, wrestle with the complex subject of aging. Is it inevitable? Is it a burden or gift? What is successful aging? Why are some people better at aging than others? Where is aging located? How does it vary among individuals, within and between groups, cultures, societies, and indeed, over the centuries? Reflecting on these and other questions, the authors comment on the impact age has in their lives and work.

Two unique viewpoints are presented. While medicine approaches aging with special attention given to the body, its organs, and its functions over time, anthropology focuses on how the aged live within their cultural settings. As this volume makes clear, the two disciplines have a great deal to teach each other, and in a spirited exchange, the authors show how professional barriers can be surmounted.

In a novel approach, each author explores a different aspect of aging in alternating chapters. These chapters are in turn followed by a commentary by the other. Further, the authors interrupt each other within the chapters - to raise questions, contradict, ask for clarification, and explore related ideas - with these interjections emphasizing the dynamic nature of their ideas about age. Finally, a third "voice" - that of a random old man - periodically inserts itself into the text to remind the authors of their necessarily limited understanding of the subject.

Renée Rose Shield , PhD is Clinical Associate Professor of Community Health at Brown University in Providence, RI. A cultural anthropologist specializing in aging, her previous books include Uneasy Endings: Daily Life in an American Nursing Home (1988) and Diamond Stories: Enduring Change on 47thStreet (2002).

Stanley M. Aronson, MD, MPH, is currently University Professor of Medical Science and Dean of Medicine Emeritus, Brown University and founding dean of its medical school. He has specialized in the clinical neurosciences, is the author of a number of medical textbooks and writes a weekly column for the Providence Journal.

Subject: Applied Anthropology General Cultural Studies



Chapter 1. Introduction (RRS)
Interlude: Death Be Not the Enemy (SMA)

Chapter 2. Examining Our Assumptions (RRS)
Commentary: Understanding Aging: Being Old Helps (SMA)

Chapter 3. The Historical Demography of the Very Old (SMA)
Commentary: What Are Some of the Implications of So Many Old People? (RRS)

Chapter 4. Is Aging a Problem? (RRS)
Commentary: The Problem of Elder Abuse (SMA)

Chapter 5. (Negative) Associations to Growing Old: The Elderly Portrayed in Words (SMA)
Commentary: Anthropological Musings on Dependency (RRS)

Chapter 6. Mobility and Immobility: Stumbling, Tripping, Crumbling and Falling Amongst the Aged (SMA)
Commentary: When They Fall Down (RRS)

Chapter 7. Systemic Diseases of the Elderly and the Problem of Alcoholism: Two Points of View (SMA)
Commentary: Practicalities and the Quality of Life (RRS)

Chapter 8. Reflections On Retirement and the Concept of “Home” (RRS)
Commentary: Vagrant Thoughts on Retirement (SMA)

Chapter 9. Some Social and Ethical Implications of Dementia (RRS)
Commentary: The Expectation of Sorrow as Anticipatory Grief (SMA)
Interlude: Some Joys: My Personal Ode to Aging Thus Far (RRS)

Chapter 10. Conclusion: The Face in the Mirror (SMA)

Concluding Thoughts (RRS)

References Cited

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