Fictive kin: real and imagined models of social support in late life
Maria Vesperi (New College of Florida)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines how late-life decisions to assume alternative kinship identities and obligations may be facilitated in the United States by contemporary literature and films featuring older protagonists.
Paper long abstract:
Since the African-American strategy of "going for sisters" was first documented in the anthropological literature, research on aging in the United States has included close attention to alternative models of family support. Viewed as adaptive and enriching rather than compensatory, relations identified traditionally as "fictive kin" can be limited to one-on-one or can include extensive networks with affinal breadth and generational depth. Some networks established in late life are facilitated by housing arrangements, religious congregations or social clubs; others are sustained solely by friendship and mutual awareness of need. All share an assumption of reciprocal obligation, often defined in ideal contrast to the absence or perceived shortcomings of consanguineal kin. Many studies of alternative kin networks focus appropriately on structured social inequality and other deficits, but with the result that the agency of individuals in reaching for new social goals is often ignored. This paper examines several types of alternative kin networks in relation to models presented in contemporary literature and film. Novels and films with older protagonists are increasingly popular, and the dramatic tension often includes interaction between consanguineal kin to what researchers have dubbed families of choice or by choice. Of particular interest is how reading about or viewing fictional families provides a shared experience and a safe but fertile space for imagining and sometimes acting upon what might be.
Re-conceptualising kinship and relatedness in an ageing world [MAN]