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Title: Meaning in life : tales from aging Japan
Author: Kavedžija, Iza
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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Amidst widespread concerns about aging on several levels ranging from the personal to the societal, this dissertation examines the construction of meaning in life and older age in contemporary Japan. Based on an ethnographic account of a community salon in Southern Osaka, it explores the experiences of older people and their ideas of the good and meaningful life, while arguing that than an anthropology of the elderly can reveal a far wider scope of issues than aging alone. Drawing on a socio-narratological approach, I show how stories connect people, form a shared body of knowledge, inform our understanding of the everyday, and provide frameworks for our choices. I argue that the capacity of narratives to create coherence and make sense of seemingly random and unconnected events can help to reveal existential issues, and that narrative analysis may therefore be a powerful tool for creating an existential anthropology capable of elucidating and understanding deeply personal dilemmas in their social and cultural context. The ethnography and life stories of elderly salon goers, volunteers and others involved in a local Non-Profit Organisation raise important issues of autonomy and dependence, sociality and isolation, care and concern. People express concern for others through practices ranging from gift-giving, visiting, balanced forms of polite yet friendly discourse, the provision of information, and volunteering in the salon and beyond. I argue that older Japanese are as much providers of care as recipients of it, thereby challenging the constructed image of the elderly as frail and dependent, even though maintaining independence relies paradoxically on cultivating multiple dependencies on others. Navigating the tensions between the benefits of rich social ties and a desired level of separation in which the burden imposed is minimised, or between dependence and freedom, emerges as central to the balancing acts required for living well.
Supervisor: Daniels, Inge Sponsor: Clarendon Fund ; Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research ; Japan Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Social anthropology ; meaning in life ; ikigai ; narrative ; ageing ; old age ; Japan