Unfolding Finitudes:
Current Ethnographies of Aging,
Dying and End-of-Life Care


The Globalizing Palliative Care project at Leiden University is hosting a three-monthly webinar series that highlights current anthropological research on care, aging and dying. During this series, invited speakers present their recent or ongoing ethnographic work in this field. Our aim is to create a platform for discussion of novel anthropological perspectives on unfolding finitudes at the end of life.

Scott Stonington

This talk will explore the concept of choreography as a way to understand care at the end of life. Professor Stonington will share from his book on how Thai families attempt to pay back a “debt of life” to their elders through intensive medical care, followed by a medically assisted rush from the hospital to home to ensure a spiritually advantageous last breath. Join us for an exploration of the nature of death and the complexities arising from the globalization of biomedical expertise and ethics around the world.

Dwaipayan Banerjee

Enduring Cancer: Life, Death and Diagnosis in Delhi is an ethnography of cancer in India. Enduring Cancer presents the efforts of the urban poor in Delhi to carve out a livable life with cancer, as they negotiate an over-extended health system struggling to respond to the disease. Through ethnographic fieldwork, archival research and analyses of cultural texts, Banerjee describes how cancer shapes and is shaped by such local social worlds.

Mara Buchbinder

Scripting Death: Stories of Assisted Dying in America, chronicles two years of ethnographic research documenting the implementation of Vermont’s Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act. Weaving together stories collected from patients, caregivers, health care providers, activists, and legislators, it illustrates how they navigate medical aid-in-dying as a new medical frontier in the aftermath of legalization. Scripting Death explains how medical aid-in-dying works, what motivates people to pursue it, and ultimately, why upholding the “right to die” is very different from ensuring access to this life-ending procedure.

Anna Corwin

Embracing Age: How Catholic Nuns Became Models of Aging Well examines a community of individuals whose aging trajectories contrast mainstream American experiences. In mainstream American society, aging is presented as a “problem,” a state to be avoided as long as possible, a state that threatens one’s ability to maintain independence, autonomy, control over one’s surroundings. Aging “well” (or avoiding aging) has become a twenty-first century American preoccupation. Embracing Age provides a window into the everyday lives of American Catholic nuns who experience longevity and remarkable health and well-being at the end of life.