Accepted Paper:

Training the frail body: an exercise of hope: an anthropological study of elderly going through physical rehabilitation in Denmark  


Louise Scheel Thomasen (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines hope in times of uncertainty in the lives of Danish elderly going through physical rehabilitation. It offers an anthropological understanding of the temporality of hope in individual crises, and discusses how hope emerges in an institutional setting in a welfare state.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based on an ethnography of hope and uncertainty in the lives of Danish elderly going through physical rehabilitation. In Denmark people over the age of 65 years are assigned to rehabilitation free of charge after illness or operation. Working their way through the ups and downs of rehabilitation, crises occur continuously in the process of training the frail and unpredictable body. Feelings of insecurity, and of not being oneself, turn into a hope for a return to normality, thus restoring a well known sense of self. I argue that hope in crisis induces a certain temporal quality to life. The past is both behind and ahead of you as it spills into images of the future. When the imagined horizon is not reached, hope is replaced by hopelessness, yet, with time, also with new hope.

I discuss how hope emerges in the rehabilitation centers. Through physical rehabilitation and training, and an effort to engage elderly citizens in various kinds of activity, the welfare state both creates and organizes hope. Individual goals for training are negotiated between physio- and occupational therapists and elderly, shaping hope along the lines of a moral imperative of an active, healthy and independent senior citizen. Training the frail body emerges as an exercise of a culturally informed hope, and a way of managing uncertainty. Keeping track of progress, testing and measuring installs training with an aura of certainty and objectivity, and holds out a promise of reaching your goals.

Panel W002
Ethnographies of hope