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Dr Adlina Maulod with Mdm Tan Swan Eng (front), aged 102, at the 2016 Centenarian Conference organised by Duke-NUS' Centre for Ageing Research and EducationResearch Fellow Dr Adlina Maulod recently joined Duke-NUS Medical School’s Centre for Ageing Research and Education (CARE), bringing a fresh perspective and lens to the research that CARE does. Today we talk to her about her background and role in CARE.

1. Tell us about your academic background.

I have always been interested in issues about power, identity and the body. I earned my PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Purdue University, specializing in gender and sexuality studies, to explore these issues.

 For my dissertation in Purdue, I explored how female same-sex couples become a family and navigate various reproductive, cultural and economic barriers in their desire to raise children. My work addresses the need to pay attention to stratified forms of reproduction, in which the privilege to bear and nurture children are unequally distributed as it is based on one’s marital status, race/ ethnicity, class, gendered sexuality and able-bodiedness. 

2. How does your academic background contribute to the work that you do now?

I wanted the challenge of working in a completely new field, where I could use a culture-centred approach towards understanding social problems in Singapore. The ageing research that CARE does, in bridging the fields of sociology, health and medicine, speaks directly to my core interests. I feel that Singapore is no more an ageist society than it is homophobic. How people experience ageism or homophobia reveals differences in terms of what our society regards as peoples ‘deserving’ of equal care and respect. Thus, whether it is about LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer) individuals, underprivileged minorities or the elderly, the core of my research focuses on human agency, vulnerability and the politics of care. My study population may be different, but my ethical and methodological frameworks remain similar.

3. What research are you doing in CARE?

At CARE, I will be exploring the intersections of culture and biology, the self and structure in producing emerging norms and practices about ageing health and care in Singapore. In a lot of economically-advanced societies, the term “successful” or “active” ageing has been heralded as the cultural telos for growing old today. The problem with buzzwords such as these is that it imposes a value upon how one should age. It creates an ageing hierarchy where certain types of elderly people are privileged over others.

Ageing is a complex process that produces rather varied experiences, both culturally and biologically. Diversity is key to understanding population ageing and in innovating inclusive social policies and health-care infrastructure catered to older adults.

In the research projects that I undertake, I want to understand how the elderly in Singapore perceive ageing, and the ways in which their life experiences and structural encounters shape the health choices they make. I want to investigate the political economy of healthcare and personal responsibility in later life. To what extent are the ‘choices’ that inform the quality of growing old, equitably distributed in Singapore? How would this impact policymaking?

For my long-term project I would like to explore how nonagenarians (90+ and above) in Singapore make sense of their long-term involvement in biomedical research about longevity. I would be interested to collaborate with researchers who are measuring bio-markers of these older adults for the sole purpose of understanding longevity.

4. What is your role in shaping the education programmes in CARE?

My role in CARE is to give another life to the narratives of aging beyond statistic. CARE is an interdisciplinary program. My colleagues have expertise in demography, epidemiology, gerontology and neuropsychology to name a few and it has been incredibly stimulating to see how our perspectives connect. I also conduct workshops, teach and train people to be competent in qualitative research methodologies specific to ageing and public health issues. 

In terms of public education, I am interviewing Singaporean centenarians (above 100 years old) about what makes them happy. I write their views and publish their quips alongside their life-sized portraits for a potential touring exhibition featuring Singapore’s centenarians. 

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