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.

Megha Amrith
Victoria K. Sakti
Dora Sampaio
Harmandeep Kaur Gill
Alfonso Otaegui

In our highly interconnected and globalized world, people often pursue their aspirations in multiple places. Yet in public and scholarly debates, aspirations are often seen as the realm of younger, mobile generations, since they are assumed to hold the greatest potential for shaping the future. This volume flips this perspective on its head by exploring how aspirations are constructed from the vantage point of later life, and shows how they are pursued across time, space, and generations. The aspirations of older people are diverse, and relate not only to aging itself but also to planning the next generation’s future, preparing an “ideal” retirement, searching for intimacy and self-realization, and confronting death and afterlives. Aspiring in Later Life brings together rich ethnographic cases from different regions of the world, offering original insights into how aspirations shift over the course of life and how they are pursued in contexts of translocal mobility.


Anne Allison

With an aging population, declining marriage and childbirth rates, and a rise in single households, more Japanese are living and dying alone. Many dead are no longer buried in traditional ancestral graves where descendants would tend their spirits, and individuals are increasingly taking on mortuary preparation for themselves. In Being Dead Otherwise Anne Allison examines the emergence of new death practices in Japan as the old customs of mortuary care are coming undone. She outlines the proliferation of new industries, services, initiatives, and businesses that offer alternative means—ranging from automated graves, collective grave sites, and crematoria to one-stop mortuary complexes and robotic priests—for tending to the dead. These new burial and ritual practices provide alternatives to long-standing traditions of burial and commemoration of the dead. In charting this shifting ecology of death, Allison outlines the potential of these solutions to radically reorient sociality in Japan in ways that will impact how we think about the end of life, identity, tradition, and culture in Japan and beyond.

Previous Unfolding Finitudes speakers


Documenting Death: Maternal Mortality and the Ethics of Care in Tanzania


Aging Nationally in Contemporary Poland: Memory, Kinship, and Personhood


Making Meaningful Lives: Tales from an Aging Japan 


Dwaipayan Banerjee

Enduring Cancer: Life, Death, and Diagnosis in Delhi


The Spirit Ambulance: Choreographing the End of Life in Thailand


Embracing Age: How Catholic Nuns Became Models of Aging Well 

Mara Buchbinder

Scripting Death: Stories of Assisted Dying in America.