Theses Doctoral

Strategies and Ties of Resilience: Bulgarian Elderly in an Aging and Depopulating Landscape

Le Fevre, Lisa Marie

This work offers a cross-cultural account of the “aging experience” for elderly in two regions of Bulgaria. It is an ethnographic study that explores the importance of sustained and new (or adapted) interpersonal relationships for elderly in a depopulating Northwestern Village and a small Southern Town and its surroundings in the Rhodope Mountains. Highlighting relationships with family, peers, and neighbors, the study documents how the elderly negotiate and strategize their well-being in spaces and networks increasingly occupied by members of their same age group and despite adversity such as permanently depleting populations. These elders manage to engage in creating and maintaining their networks for instrumental or salient support; participate in peer memberships and interactions for coping and belonging; and negotiate valued and new cultural and socioeconomic strategies and places for well-being.
The study’s focus engages with theories of aging; psychosocial, anthropological, and sociological knowledge; and cross-disciplinary conceptions of how groups of people mediate relationships and issues affecting them. It underscores some Bulgarian elders’ engagement over disengagement, their nostalgia and coping, and pathways that lead to innovation and resiliency. The study also offers further insight into topics such as “aging in place” and the complexities of human experiences within a Bulgarian context that considers specific histories and processes such as post-socialism and out-migration. As such, the current work contributes to explorations of engaged and adaptive elders aging in place (particularly in relationship to out-migration and economic forces); to how overlapping histories and experiences create membership within age-cohorts; and on the ways that the elderly cope, adapt, and innovate when traditionally salient family networks are stretched because of economies, depopulation, or distance.
Finally, this work occurs against the backdrop of an aging and depopulating landscape. Issues affecting Bulgaria and its elders include population loss and stages of demographic decline, declining or low fertility rates, and an increasingly aging population across the country but more so within villages. These and other problems have resulted in the elderly expressing isolation; feelings of loss; and economic, social, and personal woes. It has also resulted in the elderly being categorized as a particularly “vulnerable” group within the country, a term which runs the risk of placing them within a realm of complacency or marginalization. Even in extreme situations, many of the elderly I met in Bulgaria remained resourceful and resilient by sustaining or adapting relationships and practices, by creating moments and spaces for coping and companionship, and to meet their need as “still alive” in ways that challenge perceptions of vulnerability or marginality.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Anthropology
Thesis Advisors
Harrington, Charles C.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 23, 2017