Wayne State University

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Jessica Robbins-Ruszkowski

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Assistant Professor
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234 Knapp Building
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Bio Sketch

Jessica Robbins-Ruszkowski 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-Ruszkowski received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Michigan in 2013. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (through a grant from the US Department of State Title VIII), the International Research Exchange Board (through a grant from the US Department of State Title VIII), Elderhostel/Road Scholar, and several units at the University of Michigan.

Research Focus


Dr. Robbins-Ruszkowski'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.

Currently, Dr. Robbins-Ruszkowski is working on her book manuscript on aging, memory, and personhood in Poland. An ethnographic and historical account of the moral logics that make full personhood in old age contingent on health, this study draws on almost two years of fieldwork in diverse institutional sites in Wrocław and Poznań, Poland. She draws on theoretical perspectives from studies of kinship, postsocialism, and memory to create explanatory links across temporal and geographic scales.

Dr. Robbins-Ruszkowski has an ongoing research project on the (pre)/(post)socialist histories of the sciences of aging in Poland, in which she seeks to understand how the fields of gerontology, geriatrics, andragogika and pedagogy, and social work were shaped by sociocultural and political-economic transformations in central Europe and its eastern and western neighbors.

Dr. Robbins-Ruszkowski is developing three new ethnographic projects. The first is a study of aging and memory in the Polish-American community in Michigan. The second is a study of memory and palliative and hospice care in Poland in political-economic context. The third is a comparative study of urban gardens/działki in Detroit and Poland as sites of wellness-seeking among older people. In this project, Dr. Robbins-Ruszkowski seeks to explain the links between urban change, personal and community health across the life course, and connections to land and environment.

Areas 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.


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

Courses Taught

ANT 2100 (Introduction to Anthropology)

ANT 7630 (Kinship and Social Relations)


Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Michigan (2013)

M.A., Anthropology, University of Michigan (2006)

B.A., Anthropology and Music, Williams College (2001)

Professional Associations

American Anthropological Association

American Ethnological Society

Association for Anthropology and Gerontology

Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

European Association of Social Anthropologists

Gerontological Society of America

Polish Studies Association

Society for the Anthropology of Europe

Society for Cultural Anthropology

Society for Medical Anthropology

Society for the Social Studies of Science

Soyuz: The Research Network for Postsocialist Cultural Studies




Forthcoming.  National Dimensions of Personhood among Older People in Poland. Etnografia Polska.

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

2015. Conclusion, with Richard Marback. In Generations: Rethinking Age and Citizenship. Richard Marback, ed. Pp. 313-322. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

2014. Thinking with "Postsocialism" in an Ethnographic Study of Old Age in Poland. Cargo: Journal for Cultural/Social Anthropology 12(1-2):35-50.
2014. Editorial: Critical Anthropologies in/of Central Europe, with Hana Červinková and Zdenek Uherek. Cargo: Journal for Cultural/Social Anthropology 12(1-2):1-4.

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 O?wiatowe (Educational Forum) 1(48):87-101. 

*2013 Aktywność i jej etnograficzne konteksty: starzenie się, pamić i podmiotowość w Polsce. Translated by Patrycja Poniatowska. Forum Oświatowe. 1(48):103-119.

*2008 "Older Americans" and Alzheimer's Disease: Biopolitics, Subjectivities, and Citizenship. Michigan Discussions in Anthropology. 17:14-43.

*2006 "Starsi Amerykanie" a choroba Alzheimera. Biopolityka, podmiotowość i obywatelstwo. ("Older Americans" and Alzheimer's Disease: Biopolitics, Subjectivities, and Citizenship.) Translated by Ania M. Nowak. In Trzeci wiek drugiej płci: Starsze kobiety jako podmiot aktywności społecznej i kulturowej. (The Third Age of the Second Sex: Older Women as a Social and Cultural Entity.) Edyta Zierkiewicz and Alina Łysak, eds. Wrocław, Poland: MarMar Press. Pp. 223-241.

* denotes publication as Jessica C. Robbins