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Aging as a Human Condition

How do people who are aging under challenging and uncertain life conditions strive to achieve good lives? What can we learn about aging as a universal human condition through ethnographic, philosophical and artistic projects that take seriously the diversity of ways in which old age is lived and experienced? How may a philosophical attention to the human condition give ethnographic studies more phenomenological depth and theoretical insight?

There is already burgeoning research on the good life in old age framed as successful and healthy aging - as well as critical gerontological and anthropological work on inequality and the social construction of old age. Our contribution departs, theoretically, from a rather different direction. We propose a comparative phenomenological project on aging that speaks to broad humanistic concerns and puts philosophy, anthropology and art in dialogue. Phenomenology provides a framework for exploring old age in a comparative perspective between local settings characterized by large diversities in available cultural, social and material resources in Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, USA and Dharamsala. Empirically we wish to learn about radical uncertainty and moral striving by exploring and comparing four themes central to the experience of aging: the body, intimate others, lived time and home space.

The project will provide nuanced portraits through experience-near studies carried out over longer time spans aiming to transcend longstanding dichotomies in the anthropological and sociological study of old age between active and passive, successful and failed, healthy and impaired aging. Additionally the project aims to provide theoretical elaboration of phenomenology as a “middle ground” between the exploration of old age as a universal human condition and as socially differentiated.

These insights will be communicated in: 1. An anthology featuring comparative case studies of moral striving and radical uncertainty in old age; 2. A journal special issue on the phenomenological approach to old age as a middle ground between universalism and cultural relativism; 3. A museum exhibition featuring artistic representations, local ethnographic portraits and philosophical reflections on old age; 4. Individual articles in popular scientific journals and national newspapers; 5. Two national seminars with stakeholders, leaders, and professionals and 6. Conference with leading international scholars.