Essential others: Anthropology and the return of the old savage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Purpose – Old age, in its most intense and extreme aspects involving frailty, dementia, Alzheimer's and death, is more often ignored rather than discussed in contemporary anthropology, remaining largely inaudible and invisible. This paper explores the marginal position of the study of old age in contemporary anthropology against the backdrop of the prominence of the postcolonial agenda. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the comparison between the neglected Third Age and the abundantly discussed Third World in the context of the anthropological discourse on others. Design/methodology/approach – This is a theoretical paper on ageing. Findings – This paper explores the marginal position of the study of old age in contemporary anthropology against the backdrop of the prominence of the postcolonial agenda. The comparison between the neglected Third Age and the abundantly discussed Third World is discussed in the context of the anthropological discourse on others. Studying the oldasother reveals two types of alterity: that which is culturally constructed as different vs that which is essentially different. The others that dominate the agenda of contemporary anthropology are culturally constructed, while the oldasother is an ontological essence. The condition of being old, it is argued, is essentially beyond culture, constituting an extracultural materiality. As such, the oldasother does not answer to the anthropological dictum of representing the “natives' point of view” and cannot fit the contemporary hermeneutics of anthropological relativism. Contemporary anthropology, which resists essential objects such as the savage and the old, thus ignores the raw materiality of old age while producing ethnographicallyinformed commentaries on eldercare. Originality/value – The paper is original in highlighting the juxtaposition between the savage and old age that is used to facilitate an understanding of the contemporary discipline of anthropology as a regime of social constructionism, which fails to confront and represent the bare materiality of old age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-72
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Sociology and Social Policy
Volume29
DOIs
StatePublished - 27 Feb 2009

Keywords

  • Elderly people
  • Society

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