Interview with Monika Palmberger (University of Vienna)

conducted by Victoria K. Sakti, July 2019

Monika Palmberger is research fellow and lecturer in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna, and research fellow at the Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre at the University of Leuven. She is editor of Care Across Distance: Ethnographic Explorations of Aging and Migration (Berghahn Books, 2018, with Azra Hromadžic), and author/editor of How Generations Remember: Conflicting Histories and Shared Memories in Post-War Bosnia and Herzegovina (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and Memories on the Move: Experiencing Mobility, Rethinking the Past (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, with Jelena Tosic).

See: https://ksa.univie.ac.at/institut/mitarbeiterinnen/post-docs/palmberger-monika/

Could you tell us about how you first came to study ageing and mobilities?

After-long term fieldwork in Bosnia and Herzegovina on memory and generation, in 2010, I started research with migrants who came to Vienna in the 1960s and 1970s as so-called “guest workers”. They migrated to Austria as young adults and have now reached retirement. I realized that retirement, a time also marked by children leaving home, was a very important period in the lives of my interlocutors. It was a phase when past choices, such as the decision to migrate, were rethought and questions of home and belonging as well as of where to spend late life were reflected upon. This process was characterized by multiple ambivalences; the past decision to migrate was not seen as either simply positive or negative, and neither was there a straightforward answer regarding where to spend late life. In this process, my interlocutors took not only their own needs and desires into account but also those of close family members, which I capture in the notion of “relational ambivalence”.


What are your thoughts on “ageing across borders” in the context of your work and experience?

Ageing across borders can have very different meanings. In my work it mainly concerns the aspect of growing old outside one’s country of origin. But it also means that old age is characterized by the literal crossing of borders: almost all of the migrants I worked with still regularly commuted to their place of origin – namely to Turkey or to the Yugoslav successor states. “Ageing across borders” can also have a metaphorical dimension, when, for example, elderly Turkish migrants in Vienna are active in migrants’ associations. Many people I spoke with made clear that they have a strong desire to remain socially embedded, including in old age, and here migrants’ associations play a crucial role. The community aspect of ageing and care, I believe, has been widely neglected in research as well as in public policies. It is important to look beyond family and also pay attention to other forms of social embeddedness migrants’ seek in old age.


Your previous work dealt substantially with the explorations of (collective) memory from a cross-generational perspective. Could you tell us more about how this strand of research and approach shape your current work on transnational ageing and care?

Yes, memory was central in my “Placing Memories” project when I investigated ageing labour migrants’ memories and the places their memories are bound to. The focus on migration and ageing poses interesting questions regarding memory and place. Especially if we consider that it is in the nature of ageing that the places people feel attached transform over a lifetime, sometimes to such an extent that they are no longer recognizable. Ageing migrants experience the loss of places they are attached to twice over: once as a result of their migration history, then again as time passes, the places change, and what made them familiar fades. One key insight I gained was that the memory places I encountered during my research had a transnational dimension that reflected the migrants’ mobility and their multi-locale past.


We see a growing interest in 
research at the crossroads of ageing and mobilities, namely in relation to care. From your expertise, what key issues and concepts do you think can be further developed within and beyond these intersecting fields?

I believe that more research at the crossroads of ageing and mobility is necessary to further explore the manifold roles new information and communication technologies (ICTs) play in care practices. In the book Care across Distance: Ethnographic Explorations of Aging and Migration, which I edited with Azra Hromadzic, we already laid out the importance of new media for care across distances. In my new research project “REFUGEeICT: Multi-local Care and the Use of Information and Communication Technologies among Refugees” I focus on exactly this aspect of care. In the context of flight and refugee experience, new ICTs are essential for cross-border care relations because personal contact and home visits are neither possible nor allowed. This situation is a great burden for families and friends and sets these ICTs, and their opportunities and limitations, in a new light.

 

Recent publications on ageing and mobilities:

“Relational Ambivalence: Exploring the Social and Discursive Dimensions of Ambivalence – the Case of Turkish Aging Labor Migrants.” In International Journal of Comparative Sociology (Vol. 70, No. 1–2)2019: 74–90. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0020715219832918

Care across Distance: Ethnographic Explorations of Aging and Migration (with Azra Hromadzic), Oxford and Brooklyn, NY: Berghahn, 2018. https://www.berghahnbooks.com/title/HromadzicCare

“Social Embeddedness and Care Among Turkish Labor Migrants in Vienna: The Role of Migrant Associations.” In Azra Hromadzic and Monika Palmberger (eds.), Care across Distance: Ethnographic Explorations of Aging and Migration Across Societies, Oxford and Brooklyn, NY: Berghahn, 2018. https://www.berghahnbooks.com/downloads/OpenAccess/HromadzicCare/HromadzicCare_05.pdf

“Introduction: Care across Distance.” In Azra Hromadzic and Monika Palmberger (eds.), Care across Distance: Ethnographic Explorations of Aging and Migration, Oxford and Brooklyn, NY: Berghahn, 2018. https://www.berghahnbooks.com/downloads/intros/HromadzicCare_intro.pdf

“Social Ties and Embeddedness in Old Age: Older Labour Migrants in Vienna.” In Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (Vol. 43, No. 2), 2016: 235–249. OPEN ACCESS: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369183X.2016.1238907

 

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