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“Finished blood”: the body, livelihoods and the challenge to identity in old age in Malawi

Freeman, Emily (2012) “Finished blood”: the body, livelihoods and the challenge to identity in old age in Malawi. In: Africa Ageing Beyond Madrid +10, 1st Africa Region Conference of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 2012-10-17 - 2012-10-18.

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Background. How people experience and negotiate growing old in rural Africa is under-researched and under-theorised in gerontology. Objectives. This paper explores understandings and meanings of old age and experiences of ageing in rural Malawi. Methods. Data were collected from men (n=20) and women (n=23) aged between 50 and 90 using repeat, dependent in-depth interviews (n=136) within a constructivist grounded theory framework. Interviews were supplemented by focus groups with older people with HIV (n=2), key informant interviews with leaders of organisations concerned with ageing in Malawi (n=19), observations made during 11 months of fieldwork, and the descriptive analysis of interview data collected during a three-month multi-site pilot study (n=42). Outcomes and conclusions. The study identifies body-centred understandings of ageing that are linked to livelihood systems in rural Malawi. Older age was conceptualised as a time of diminished bodily strength, measured by an individual’s ability to work and produce. Work and production were in turn associated with survival and what it meant to be an adult. This adult identity represented the core identity respondents associated with and aspired to. By altering the body’s ability to be productive, old age threatened respondents’ identities as ‘adults’. In response, they employed a range of narratives that (re)aligned their behaviour with that associated with the ‘adult’ identity, or altered understandings of the ‘adult’ identity to better fit their changed behaviour. In doing so respondents affirmed positive identities in older age. The study draws on social psychological and sociology’s identity theories to present and account for these empirical findings.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2012 The Author
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Sets: Research centres and groups > LSE Health and Social Care
Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2017 10:21
Last Modified: 25 Jun 2020 23:16

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