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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/8w8q-f437


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Precarious Connections: Exploring Social Disconnection Across the Life Course (Anthropology of Aging and Life Course Interest Group)



aging and life course

Social disconnection has emerged as a particular form of precarity, the logical endgame of an individualizing neoliberal trajectory exposed, in particular, by the COVID-19 pandemic. Older adults around the world often have been disproportionately subject to this disconnection; although, we would argue, this is a phenomenon individuals face across the life course. Yet, even as inertia pushes toward isolation, inherent interdependencies and the futures they make possible are revealed. In this panel, we present ethnographic research from different points in  the life course, from young to older adulthood, to document sustained and novel forms of social disconnection being experienced and to draw insights about imaginaries made possible by embracing our interdependence.    Within anthropological scholarship, there has been long-standing interest in the relationship between aging and sociality (or its absence) resulting in various forms of social disconnection and isolation. Anthropologists have worked to articulate the dimensions of social disconnection by describing and distinguishing between not just loneliness, but social isolation, solitude, and marginality (Biehl, 2005; Lamb, 2008; Coleman, 2014; Mikkelson, 2016; Danely, 2019). This literature provides insightful commentary on social processes and relationships and highlights the interdependent nature of social disconnection.    This panel investigates various forms of social disconnection with the intention to highlight the fact we understand disconnection in relation to the (imagined) body politic. Panelists draw upon research with a range of participants across multiple contexts: older adults in the Netherlands, experiencing social distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; queer and trans older adults in long-term care in Canada; young adults on the autism spectrum who engage in furry fandom; prisoners in within the health care unit in a US prison; head and neck cancer survivors in the Midwestern US, and older adults in nursing homes and their families in Memphis, TN.  In doing so, we maintain that different relationships to sociality (e.g., loneliness, solitude, social distancing) are not mutually exclusive, but instead are dynamic and simultaneous. Alongside these relationships, this panel explores the affective, relational, technological, social, and political-economic dimensions of social disconnection. How do institutions construct and organize solitude and other forms of social disconnection? What kinds of work does social disconnection do for our current political economic configurations? Under which conditions do forms of social disconnection emerge, shift and/or circulate across different contexts? How is social disconnection experienced and understood across the life course? What forms of solitude(s) emerge within social relationships? In light of the spread of COVID-19, how do loneliness and solitude(s) emerge as the new form of sociality/belonging and social organization?


Transcript English (automatic)

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