Laurence Tessier

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Ecole des Mines

Grant number

Gr. 9436

Approve Date

April 18, 2017

Project Title

Tessier, Dr. Laurence A., Ecole des Mines, Paris, France - To aid research on 'Being a Brain? An Anthropological Inquiry into Personhood, Care and Dementia'

Preliminary abstract: My project is an ethnographic inquiry into one emblematic situation: the ordeal of the end of life of a man or a woman affected by dementia, living in (more and more widespread) institutions in our modern societies. Neurodegenerative diseases are not only incurable diseases; they lead moreover to a progressive loss of identity: the person affected by Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemporal dementia, is at risk of ‘not being herself’ anymore. This judgement, which subscribes to the neuroscientific reduction of our personhood to cerebral mechanisms, is challenged by Alzheimer’s associations, who, in order to take care of these patients, place the ‘person within’ at the center of the medical experience. My project examines the pragmatics of this epistemological and ethical challenge, by inquiring as to how caring practices concretely take into account the ‘person’ living with dementia, and address, moreover, her ‘subjectivity’. In four venues devoted to the care of dementia sufferers (three in France and one in Belgium) which index an increasing gradient of medicalization, I examine and compare which ‘persons’ are produced by these milieus of care. Through the divergences between field sites, it will be possible to bring out analogies to allow us to better understand, in their plurality and their complexity, the ways in which the identity of the patient diagnosed as ‘demented’, is addressed today in practices of care. This project therefore modulates the reduction of our life to a raw neuronal life by inquiring at how ‘life’ can be understood not as a unique ontology or a consistent value, but rather as a series of problems and tensions that the plurality of caring practices for persons affected by dementia ask us to think and to act about.