Creating Communal Narratives in Later Life: Old Age, Meaning and Memory in Asia

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Creating Communal Narratives in Later Life: Old Age, Meaning and Memory in Asia
Stream: Anthropology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Benny Tong, National University of Singapore, Singapore (organizer, presenter)
Veronica Sau-wa Mak, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, Hong Kong (presenter)
Akemi Minamida, Kobe University, Japan (presenter)
Gordon Mathews, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (chair)


In fast aging Asian societies, becoming old is a highly complex juncture in the life course. For older Asians, who are aging more healthily than their predecessors, finding sources of meaning and identity is increasingly paramount. Although they share important backgrounds and experiences in maturing and growing old in the socio-political and economic environment of post-World War II modernization, older Asians are ultimately a diverse group with differing life experiences, trajectories and desires. However, existing popular and academic discourse has largely portrayed them as a monolithic group from a medicalized viewpoint of care and support, and only recently have researchers sought to understand from an emic perspective the conditions and motivations of older people themselves. This panel engages with such nascent critical discussions, by comparing various contextual settings in which older Asians construct communal narratives that address issues of memory, meaning and identity. Mak studies the narratives of well-being surrounding the interpretation and consumption of milk products as ‘functional foods’ by older Hong Kong Chinese. Minamida investigates how residents in Japanese senior care facilities react to wartime songs in their group singing activities. Finally, Tong details the individual and social life narratives that influence older Singaporeans’ participation in leisure activities. Juxtaposing these work-in-progress fieldwork studies, we highlight the variety of and tensions between communal mnemonic narratives constructed through different older Asians’ interpretations of diverse individual and social life experiences, and invite panel attendees to join us in debating their complex conceptualizations of communal memory and identity.