Anne Stefanie Aronsson

Anne Stefanie Aronsson, Dr.

Postdoc

Phone: +41 44 634 31 82

Room number: ZUB 4-418

anne.aronsson@aoi.uzh.ch


Research interests

Aging and Elderly
Caretaking and Quality of Life
Health, Medicine and Culture
Technology and Robotics
Emotional Machines and Social Robots

Short CV

10/2018 Postdoctoral fellow, Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies, University of Zurich
2014 – 2018  GfK Switzerland, healthcare team, market research and consulting, Basel
2014 – 2015 Research activities for publication of dissertation
2006 – 2012 PhD Socio-Cultural Anthropology (focus on Japan), Yale University, USA
2008 – 2011 Teaching Fellow, Department of Anthropology, Yale University
2005 – 2006 Intensive Japanese language program, Inter-University Center (IUC), Yokohama, Japan
2002 – 2005 Bachelor of Arts, Double Major in East Asian Languages & Literatures (focus on Japanese Literature) and East Asian Studies (focus on Japan, China and Korea), Yale College 
2004 – 2005 Research Assistant, Department of Anthropology, Yale University
2004 Elementary modern Chinese language training, Yale Summer School
2003 Intermediate Japanese language training, Hokkaido International Foundation, Hakodate, Japan
2001 – 2002 Faculty of Business and Economics (HEC), University of Lausanne, exchange year while at Yale College
2000 – 2001 Economics, Yale College, freshman year

Postdoctoral project

“Aging and Robotic Care: Artificial Intelligence and the Turn toward Emotional Machines in Contemporary Japan” (working title)

Project mentorship  

Prof. Dr. David Chiavacci

Funding source   

Suslowa-Postdoc-Fellowship 2018

Duration of project            

October 2018 to April 2020

Abstract

Focusing on Japan, my research has potential to contribute to the large body of social science scholarship on aging cultures. Japan ranks among the countries worldwide that have the highest life expectancies and has already gone through some of the demographic developments that Western countries will face in the near future. The case of the elderly in Japan highlights the issue of rapid demographic change and its profound effect on health and socioeconomic development. How Japan responds to this unprecedented economic and social challenge will help guide other hyper-aging societies, such as Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland. Consequently, the empirical findings of this project will be of great importance for academia by providing insight into the motivating factors, experiences, and concerns of elderly Japanese citizens. Further, this research project will gather important information on what it means to be a senior citizen in a society that is not yet prepared to support its rapidly increasing population. Therefore, my research bridges the social sciences, health technologies, and the culture of aging, and as such, has large growth potential, including helping to build a unique and highly adaptable research structure within the European academic context. The case of Japan is highly relevant as it will add to the conversation among various disciplines.

Japan is currently going through a rapid demographic transition that will make its population one of the oldest in the world by 2025. There has been a rapid increase in the number of elderly in Japan since the 1980s. Currently, 25% of its population is aged 65 or over; by 2040, this figure is estimated to rise to 36%. The population of Japan nearly tripled in the 20th century, peaking at 128 million in 2010. Now, with a falling birth rate, one of the world’s longest life expectancies, and close to zero net immigration, the country is headed not only for a uniquely high ratio of seniors to young people but also for a sharp downturn in its total population. The aging of Japan’s population will have a major impact on saving rates, labor practices, and governmental social expenditures. According to the International Monetary Fund, government pension and medical care spending will increase from 9% of GDP in 2017 to 21.5% by 2025. The Japanese government estimates that under its current pension system, the growing size of the elderly population will contribute to an increase in the social security tax rate, which will have a severe impact on Japan’s economy.

Life expectancy has increased dramatically in industrialized countries. According to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, “good health and well-being” for all ages is one of the 17 sustainable development goals. The World Health Organization defines healthy aging “as the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age,” where functional ability is “made up of the intrinsic capacity of the individual, relevant environmental characteristics and the interaction between them.” In this definition, healthy does not equal disease-free. Many older individuals have well-controlled health conditions that only have a small influence on their functional ability and do not limit their well-being. Aging causes physiological changes as well as social and behavioral ones.

In Japan, demographic change in the coming years will lead to a historically unique increase in the number of senior citizens and will change family structures. The economic significance of this demographic transition for social systems and their productivity necessitates the rethinking of how countries deal with old age. To better understand and prepare for this new situation, it is essential to gain knowledge about the aging of individuals and societies from different cultural contexts. Despite the global demographic shift toward aging, there is insufficient research on quality of life and aging, health in old age, and individualized technology. For these reasons, the culturally sensitive and systematic research of the contexts of aging is an innovative and timely project.

The overarching aim of this research is to showcase the current situation of the elderly in Japan, including how they make sense of their daily lives, how advanced technologies are employed to help them improve their quality of life, and how pension funds and the social welfare system are changing to accommodate a sharp increase in the elderly population. In my research, I will include the social contexts of the development and maintenance of health and quality of life, which are only marginally presented in the current research on aging. To examine both the macro- and micro-level consequences of aging in Japanese society, my research seeks to answer six research questions. First, I will inquire into the new, global trends of the drastic and continuous demographic increase of senior citizens. I will consider how more senior citizens are unable to rely on the care of their daughters, daughters-in-law, or other family members. In Japan, work represents the central axis of the male personal identity; therefore, I intend to explore how aging influences men’s self-actualization. Further, I will examine how the changing hierarchy of aging affects family, self, and individual aspirations. I will look deeply into senior citizens’ stories, struggles, tensions, families, work, and selves to assess the ways in which their identities are being reshaped. Second, I will examine how the elderly simultaneously deal with retirement and family obligations when the very idea of lifetime employment is being destabilized, deinstitutionalized, and deterritorialized. Specifically, in Japan, lifetime employment is primarily defined by the salaryman career track. Salaryman roles range from office clerks to high-level managers. Regardless of their position, they all lead an orderly life that is made possible through lifetime employment at large corporations. Third, I will explore how pension funds and social welfare contributions have changed over the past few years, and how they will change in the future. Fourth, I will ask the elderly what it means to be forced to rely on outside care, such as nurses, doctors, nursing homes, and even individualized technology, such as robots, which will have a significant impact on the interactions between humans and robots and contribute to a better understanding of artificial emotional intelligence. Fifth, I will investigate whether anxieties about aging might ultimately achieve prominence because they give focus to a range of fundamental human concerns with meaning, freedom, death, and isolation. Sixth, I intend to assess the extent to which the elderly establish a sense of self within their tenuous positions as Japanese senior citizens, which is constrained by the structure of the institution and destabilized by the dynamics of a neoliberal environment.

Lastly, Japan’s experience could inform other European hyper-aging societies. First, having recognized population aging as a critical societal issue, for the past two decades, Japan has put several policies in place. For example, to keep long-term care costs at bay, Japan incorporated disability prevention services into long-term care benefits and is working on ways to maintain older adults’ functional abilities and promote independent living. Second, Japan’s new community-building efforts can be a model for other countries that aim to strengthen social relationships. After people have experienced isolated urban lives, there seems to be a common understanding that old social relationships that tended to suppress individualistic lifestyles will not work anymore. To address this, innovative building efforts that incorporate old local customs are underway. Third, Japan is implementing policies to encourage older adults to engage in productive activities since high labor force participation among the elderly can provide insights into aging societies.

In sum, as a result of large declines in mortality since World War II, Japanese men and women today enjoy the world’s longest life expectancy. With mortality at younger ages having reached very low levels during the early postwar decades, recent increases in life expectancy have been driven primarily by mortality improvements at older ages. In order to understand attitudes toward aging and the widespread anxieties pertaining to it, one must consider both a socio-demographic perspective as well as an anthropological one. The connection between demographic and ethnographic approaches bridges both the utilization of tradition and the localization of change, as they are deeply connected to the social environment at large and individual agency negotiated in that environment. If anxieties arise when one senses the potential loss of something deemed important, then a study of those anxieties surrounding aging in Japan will illustrate the core values perceived to be under threat as Japan moves towards mass longevity.

Publications

2018 “Career Women in their Thirties in Contemporary Japan: Through the Labyrinth of their Working Lives” submitted in International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology (under revision).
2017 Ruiz de la Torre et al., “Burden and impact of migraine: a caregiver’s perspective” in ”11th Federation Congress jointly with 31st Congress of the Italian Society for the Study of Headaches,” in The Journal of Headache and Pain, Rome, 2017 Nov 30, 18 (Suppl 1):111. 
2015 Aronsson, Anne Stefanie. Career Women in Contemporary Japan: Pursuing Identities, Fashioning Lives. 2015. New York: Routledge Contemporary Japan Series.
2015 Aronsson, Anne Stefanie. “Genji and Faust: A Comparative Reading,” in The Comparatist, 39:2015, pp252-274.