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.

Bharat Venkat Bharat Venkat

Can a history of cure be more than a history of how disease comes to an end? In 1950s Madras, an international team of researchers demonstrated that antibiotics were effective in treating tuberculosis. But just half a century later, reports out of Mumbai stoked fears about the spread of totally drug-resistant strains of the disease. Had the curable become incurable? Through an anthropological history of tuberculosis treatment in India, Bharat Jayram Venkat examines in At the Limits of Cure what it means to be cured, and what it means for a cure to come undone.

Iza Kavedžija

What makes for a meaningful life? Dr. Iza Kavedžija's Making Meaningful Lives: Tales from an Aging Japan is a rich anthropological account of the lives and concerns of older Japanese women and men. Kavedžija offers an intimate narrative analysis of the existential concerns of her active, independent subjects, based on years of ethnographic fieldwork at two community centres in Osaka. The elderly residents of these communities, both alone and in groups, use humour, conversation, and storytelling to make sense of their lives and shifting ikigai.

Jessica Robbins

Active aging programs that encourage older adults to practice health- promoting behaviors are proliferating worldwide. In Poland, the meanings and ideals of these programs have become caught up in the sociocultural and political-economic changes that have occurred during the lifetimes of the oldest generations—most visibly, the transition from socialism to capitalism. Yet practices of active aging resonate with older forms of activity in late life in ways that exceed these narratives of progress. In Aging Nationally in Contemporary Poland: Memory, Kinship, and Personhood, Jessica C. Robbins shows through intimate portrayals of a wide range of experiences that everyday practices of remembering and relatedness shape how older Poles come to be seen by themselves and by others as living worthy, valued lives.

Adrienne Strong

Documenting Death: Maternal Mortality and the Ethics of Care in Tanzania is an engrossing ethnographic account of the deaths of pregnant women in a Tanzanian hospital with limited resources. Anthropologist Adrienne E. Strong untangles the reasons Tanzania has had so little sustained success in reducing maternal mortality rates, despite global development support, through an exploration of everyday ethics and care practises on a local maternity ward. Growing administrative pressures to document good care serve to undermine good care in practise while putting frontline healthcare workers in jeopardy of moral and ethical repercussions. Maternal health emergencies highlight the vulnerability of hospital social relations and accountability systems, which continue to result in the deaths of pregnant women.

Previous Unfolding Finitudes speakers


The Spirit Ambulance: Choreographing the End of Life in Thailand

Dwaipayan Banerjee

Enduring Cancer: Life, Death, and Diagnosis in Delhi


Embracing Age: How Catholic Nuns Became Models of Aging Well 

Mara Buchbinder

Scripting Death: Stories of Assisted Dying in America.