Thinking about Dementia: Culture, Loss, and the Anthropology of Senility

By Annette Leibing; Lawrence Cohen | Go to book overview

7
Coherence without Facticity
in Dementia
The Case of Mrs. Fine

ATHENA HELEN MCLEAN

The narrative turn in the study of aging has brought forth a variety of nonpositivist, nonrealist approaches to examining an elder's life story within the terms of the story itself, independent of its truth content. Beginning with the early 1980s, anthropology witnessed a flood of studies concerning the life history approach (cf. Bertaux 1981; Crapananzo 1980; Shostak 1981). By 1988, however, the influence of illness in the construction of one's life history received little attention (Kaufman 1988, 217). Since then, bolstered by interpretive approaches to narrative in anthropology (e.g., Rabinow and Sullivan 1987), as well as theory and methods from literary criticism (Bakhtin 1981), philosophy (Ricoeur 1981,1984), and cognate disciplines (Polkinghorne 1988, 1996; Cohler 1993; Bruner 1991; White 1980, 1987), social scientists have increasingly examined the place of narrative production in the construction of meaning for persons confronting illness (Kaufman 1988; Mattingly 1998), disruption (Becker 1997; Lovell 1997), or the frailties of aging (Gubrium 1993; Kaufman 1986; Rubinstein 1988, 1990; Rubinstein, Kilbride, and Nagy 1992; Holstein and Cole 1996).

Whereas many clinical applications of reminiscence and developmental understandings of the life course have been informed by positivist notions that view language as direct reflections of a fixed coherent self, recent autobiographical works in gerontology (Gubrium 2000, 2001; Gubrium et al. 1994; Birren et al. 1996; Coleman 1999; Kenyon 2001) or at large (Climo and Cattell 2002) have been shaped by more critical approaches.1 Studies problematizing the notion of a coherent fixed self (Ewing 1990; Gubrium and Holstein 1995) have been informed by a postmodern appreciation of the dialogic production (Bakhtin 1981) of multiple ever changing selves produced in diverse contexts.

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