Ethnography for aging societies: Dignity, cultural genres, and Singapore’s imagined futures

by Michael M. J. Fischer

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By Michael M. J. FischerFull Article:onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/amet.12126/abstract


(image:
http://americanethnologist.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/04/mjfischer-figure1a-600px-300x225.jpg alt: Singapore’s new iconic skyline: the Marina Bay Sands assemblage, symbol of sailing into the future from a past of sea peoples, migrants, and traders, designed by architect Moshe Safdie. A lotus-shaped Museum of Art and Science and a double-helix bridge are below to the left; a casino, convention center, and shopping mall are below to their right, hidden by the bridge in the foreground. Photo by M. M. J. Fischer.

Singapore’s new iconic skyline: the Marina Bay Sands assemblage, symbol of sailing into the future from a past of sea peoples, migrants, and traders, designed by architect Moshe Safdie. A lotus-shaped Museum of Art and Science and a double-helix bridge are below to the left; a casino, convention center, and shopping mall are below to their right, hidden by the bridge in the foreground. Photo by M. M. J. Fischer.

) Singapore’s new iconic skyline: the Marina Bay Sands assemblage, symbol of sailing into the future from a past of sea peoples, migrants, and traders, designed by architect Moshe Safdie. A lotus-shaped Museum of Art and Science and a double-helix bridge are below to the left; a casino, convention center, and shopping mall are below to their right, hidden by the bridge in the foreground. Photo: M. M. J. FischerSocial theory generated in and about Singapore lies in psychic depths and archive fevers of an immigrant society subjected to accelerated social changes that devalue the lives of those marked by aging. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Singapore, weaving together four kinds of data sets—gerontology psychiatric research and intervention; changing ritual forms; analytically phenomenological, paraethnographic theater and stories; and student video and drama projects—I argue that new literacies, pedagogies, and practices can foster enriched community life in posttraumatic, aging societies. Focusing on meaning and affect, and referencing Derrida on hauntology, archive fever, sur-vie, and grammatology (as syntax of social configurations within which aging occurs, or, sociocultural texts, narratives, and symbols), I build on the ethnographic literatures on aging and explore strong metaphors of monstrous history (taowu), ghosts (hantu), obliviousness brought by prosperity (fat years), and intercultural repetition compulsions of unfilial children (Lear).