Jason Danely

Compassionate Human Values: Enhancing Life and Futures of Global Aging

Senior Lecturer of Anthropology
Oxford Brookes University, Department of Anthropology
Oxford, England

Capstone Conference Talk

Friday (8/4) 5:20-5:40PM

Compassion, culture, and counter-worlds

Compassion is an act of imagination as much as it is an embodied practice. How do cultural images, narratives, and social imaginaries enhance our capacity for compassion? I compare experiences of caring in Japanese and English societies. I found that while Japanese carers valued the proximity, intimacy, and vulnerability of care, English carers concentrated on managing services and finances in order to establish security and independence for the cared-for. I suggest that English carers might learn from the kinds of imaginative “counter-worlds“ that characterized Japanese compassion, but also that Japan might find ways to provide more UK-style direct support.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 9:30-10:40AM

Integral Ecology: Enhancing Human and Non-Human Life

The task of this Research Laboratory is to provide perspectives from philosophy, history, theology and anthropology about the possibilities for engaging in each other’s lives and in the natural world. Rather than exploring ecology and just the sum of its parts, we explore fundamental aspects of and “integral ecology.” That is, we examine the ways environments and social relationships organize, inspire, and vitalize each other. The laboratory will also look across different societies to explore the ways these integral interactions are mediated by material infrastructures and cultural belief systems. In doing so, we seek to reflect on the webs of mutuality, interdependence, and exchange that can and do enhance the integral coexistence of human and non-human life.

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

Jason Danely is Senior Lecturer of Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University and member of the Centre for Medical Humanities. He has been conducting fieldwork-based ethnographic research on aging, caring, grief, and ritual in Japan since 2005. His book, Aging and Loss: Mourning and Maturity in Contemporary Japan was published in 2014 by Rutgers University Press. Using the symbol of the memorial portrait as a starting point, this book presents in-depth biographies of older adults for whom loss constitutes a means of creatively reimagining old age. It looks at how memorials rituals for the dead reconstitute an economy of care that extends possible selves through old age and into the next world.  He is also editor of Transitions and Transformations: Cultural Perspectives on Aging and the Life Course (Berghahn 2013). Since 2011, he has served as Editor-in-Chief of Anthropology & Aging, the only international scholarly journal dedicated to anthropological perspectives on global aging. He has received awards from the Fulbright Foundation, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Center on Age & Community, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, and the University of California Pacific Rim Research Program. His current research is a cross-cultural comparison of the lived experiences of family caregivers of older adults in Japan and the UK. He received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego.

Project Executive Summary

Global population aging over the next decades will not only transform economic and political agendas, but will be acutely felt by the world’s unpaid informal family carers. Caring for an elderly family member often results in considerable emotional, physical, financial, and spiritual frustrations. And yet, at the same time, the repetitive everyday acts of caring also lead to invaluable transformations in how people understand and embody a life lived with others. What might we learn about our own capacities to enhance life and care for not only the elderly, but for any vulnerable group, if we listen closely to the stories of carers? Inspired by fieldwork conducted with family carers in Japan, this study will examine the role of compassion for enhancing the lives of carers, the cared-for, and all of those who support them. Compassion not only comprises the psychological and moral dispositions and actions that carers strive to learn, but also the intersubjective cultural context that infuses the close caring relationship with meaning and force. By adopting a cross-cultural comparative approach to the development of compassionate values in aging societies, this study seeks to understand the emotional and spiritual meanings that shape the lived experience of compassionate subjectivities. These are future possible selves that are willing to become vulnerable to the suffering of others, and to the imagination of one’s own prospective frailty and death. All of us, if we are fortunate, will grow older and depend upon caring others; compassion creates hope for a meaningful future and for us all.