- Resilience and the whims of reciprocity in old age: an example from Ghana
- Medische Antropologie
- Volume | Issue number
- 20 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
Anthropological research among older people in a rural town of Ghana brought out two concepts that epitomized their main concerns: respect and reciprocity. 'Respect' takes different meanings in different life situations, from outward deference to deep personal affection. According to people I talked to, the hidden principle that determines the type of respect is reciprocity. The quality of relationships between young and old depends on what the older generation long ago invested in the younger. Life is a bank account; you receive what you put into it. My observations and my conversations with older people largely confirmed this 'iron law' of old age security. In this presentation, however, I intend to look more deeply into one case that seems to contradict the rule of reciprocity: extreme poverty or loneliness in spite of life-long investment. Examining people's life accounts helps to reach a more nuanced understanding of reciprocity as the key to security at old age and to see resilience as a way to cope with the whims of reciprocity. Field notes and transcriptions show, however, that understanding if and how reciprocity works is further complicated by contradictory and confusing statements by older people and their environment.
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