Jessica Robbins

Jessica Robbins

Assistant Professor


FAB 3034

234 Knapp Building

Jessica Robbins

Research Interest/Area of Expertise

  • Topical: medical anthropology, aging and the life course, kinship and personhood, memory, postsocialist studies, political economy, morality, population studies, palliative and hospice care, gardens, urban environments.

    Geographical: Poland, Central/East Europe, European Union, US.


Jessica Robbins is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Gerontology and Department of Anthropology at Wayne State University. As a medical and sociocultural anthropologist, she studies how individuals' experiences of aging--especially of health and illness--are part of broader social, cultural, political, economic, and historical processes.

Dr. Robbins's research is motivated by a concern for how some older people become valued and socially included, while others are devalued and socially excluded. As an anthropologist, she seeks explanations for these moral processes in the links between personal experience, personal and discursive imaginations, and transformations in political economy. Thus far she has sought to answer these questions through ethnographic research in Poland, a place where radical sociocultural and political-economic transformations have occurred in the lifetime of the oldest generations. She is currently in the early stages of two new studies on aging in post-industrial contexts in Michigan: the first, an ethnographic investigation of connections between wellbeing and place among older adults who garden in Detroit; and the second, with Co-PI Dr. Tam Perry (WSU, School of Social Work), an ethnographic investigation of older adults' experiences and understandings of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Education – Degrees, Licenses, Certifications

  • B.A., Anthropology and Music, Williams College, 2001
  • M.A., Anthropology, University of Michigan, 2006
  • Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Michigan, 2013

Awards and Grants

  • Selected grants and fellowships

    2016-2017, Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research (MCUAAAR) Pilot Scholar, National Institutes of Health, P30 AG015281, Cultivating Life in a Revitalizing City: Understanding Social Relations and Health through an Ethnographic Study of Gardening among Older African Americans in Detroit

    2014, IREX Individual Advanced Research Opportunities (IARO) Fellowship, Growing Old in Postsocialist Poland: Health, Education, and Morality

    2013, East European Studies Research Grant, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Creating “Euro”Seniors through “Active Aging”: (Post-)Socialist Histories of the Sciences of Aging in Poland

    2013, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Engaged Anthropology Grant, Beyond “Active” Aging and Abandonment: Relations of Suffering, Care, and Hope in Postsocialist Poland

    2010, Elderhostel K. Patricia Cross Doctoral Research Grant, Elderhostel/Road Scholar: Adventures in Lifelong Learning

    2008-2010, National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, Making and Unmaking Polish Persons: Aging and Memory in Postsocialist Poland

    2008-2010, Wenner-Gren Foundation Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, Making and Unmaking Polish Persons: Aging and Memory in Postsocialist Poland


Selected Publications

Forthcoming. Aging. In International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Wiley-Blackwell. Hilary Callan, ed.

Forthcoming. Aspiring to Activity: Universities of the Third Age, Gardening, and Other Forms of Living in Postsocialist Poland. In Successful Aging: The Anthropology of a 21st Century Obsession. Sarah Lamb, ed. Rutgers University Press.

Forthcoming. Introduction. As second author, with Sarah Lamb and Anna Corwin. In Successful Aging: A 21st Century Obsession. Sarah Lamb, ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Forthcoming. Responsibilities of the Third Age and the Intimate Politics of Sociality in Poland. In Competing Responsibilities: The Ethics and Politics of Responsibility in Contemporary Life. Susanna Trnka and Catherine Trundle, eds. Duke University Press.

2015 “Active” Aging as Citizenship in Poland. In Generations: Rethinking Age and Citizenship. Richard Marback, ed. Pp. 270-286. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

2014 National Dimensions of Personhood among Older People in Poland. Etnografia Polska (Polish Ethnography) 58(1-2):159-174.

2014 Thinking with “Postsocialism” in an Ethnographic Study of Old Age in Poland. Cargo: Journal for Cultural/Social Anthropology 12(1-2):35-50.

2013 Challenging Marginalization at the Universities of the Third Age in Poland. Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 34(2):157-169.

2013 Shifting Moral Ideals of Aging in Poland: Suffering, Self-Actualization, and the Nation. In Transitions and Transformations: Cultural Perspectives on Aging and the Life Course. Caitrin Lynch and Jason Danely, eds. Pp. 79-91. New York: Berghahn Books.

2013 Understanding Aktywność in Ethnographic Contexts: Aging, Memory, and Personhood in Poland. Forum Oświatowe (Educational Forum) 1(48):87-101.

2013 Aktywność i jej etnograficzne konteksty: starzenie się, pamięć i podmiotowość w Polsce. Translation of the above, by Patrycja Poniatowska. Forum Oświatowe. 1(48):103-119.

Currently Teaching

  • ANT 7020 Anthropological Theory II, 3 credits, Fall 2018

Courses taught

ANT 2100 Introduction to Anthropology, 3 credits, Fall 2014, Winter 2015, Winter 2019

ANT 5400 Anthropology of Health and Illness, 3 credits, Winter 2017

ANT 5450 Kinship and Social Relations, 3 credits

ANT 7020 Anthropological Theory II, 3 credits, Fall 2016, Fall 2018

ANT 7630 Problems and Concepts in Cultural Anthropology: Kinship and Social Relations, 3 credits, Fall 2015, Winter 2017

(no course taught in Winter 2016; course release)

(no course taught in Fall 2017; sabbatical)


Other qualifications directly relevant to courses taught

Graduate Certificate, Russian and East European Studies, University of Michigan, 2013

Graduate Teacher Certificate, University of Michigan, 2013