Accepted Paper:

Studying old age in anthropology: reflections on creating an interdisciplinary career path  


Jessica Robbins-Ruszkowski (Wayne State University)

Paper short abstract:

As a recent anthropology Ph.D., my jobs thus far have largely been in interdisciplinary fields that share some of anthropology’s topical concerns, if not theoretical orientations. This paper offers reflections on forging an interdisciplinary career path while practicing a critical anthropology.

Paper long abstract:

As a sociocultural and medical anthropologist who recently received my Ph.D., thus far my career prospects have been equally strong in interdisciplinary fields (e.g., bioethics, public policy, gerontology) as in anthropology itself. These fields share some of anthropology's topical concerns, if not its theoretical orientations. Interdisciplinary conversations have required me to frame my research questions and findings in language that is accessible to scholars with diverse intellectual backgrounds and urged me to think about the practical implications of my work. I welcome these opportunities as productive challenges that improve my work both empirically and theoretically and help me to see its relevance to broader intellectual and policy conversations. In these interdisciplinary contexts, however, I often struggle to maintain and translate anthropology's critical theoretical perspectives and the nuanced insights of ethnographic work.

In this paper, I will offer reflections on my experiences of creating a career path that crosses disciplinary lines, but maintains the distinctive critical and complex perspectives that characterize anthropological and ethnographic research. I will draw on twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork on aging in educational and medical institutions in Wrocław and Poznań, Poland; job interviews with bioethicists and gerontologists; and research conversations with political scientists, historians, psychologists, and gerontologists. This analysis of ethnographic fieldwork and interdisciplinary academic experience works against the domaining tendency that remains common within academia, yet also takes seriously the epistemological challenges presented by translating anthropological insights to other contexts.

Panel P022
Anthropology as a vocation and occupation