Jessica Robbins

Jessica Robbins

Jessica Robbins

Bio Sketch

Jessica Robbins-Panko is an Associate 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-Panko received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Michigan in 2013. Her research has been funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, P30 AG015281, and the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research, 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 and Wayne State University.


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

Research Focus

Dr. Robbins-Panko'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. In her first ethnographic project she 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. Current ethnographic research investigates related issues of social inclusion and exclusion among older adults in the post-industrial urban United States.

Dr. Robbins-Panko's first book, Aging Nationally in Contemporary Poland: Memory, Kinship, and Personhood was published in 2021 with Rutgers University Press. In Poland, active aging programs both take on meanings associated with the country’s transition from socialism to capitalism, and exceed such narratives of progress by resonating with older forms of activity in late life. Through intimate portrayals of a wide range of experiences of aging, Aging Nationally in Contemporary Poland shows how everyday practices and shared imaginaries of the Polish nation offer possibilities for living a valued, meaningful life in old age. This study draws on almost two years of fieldwork in diverse institutional sites in Wrocław and Poznań, Poland. The book draws on theoretical perspectives from studies of kinship, postsocialism, and memory to create explanatory links across temporal and geographic scales. 

In her new line of ethnographic research, Dr. Robbins-Panko explores the social relational elements of reminiscence in order to provide new understandings of memory and sociocultural formations of inequality in late life. Grounded in the anthropology of kinship and social relations, this pproject explores how reminiscence practices among older adults in the Detroit metro area may shape the limits and possibilities for social inclusion and exclusion in late life. Past studies in the US include an ethnographic study of wellbeing and gardening among older Black residents of Detroit, and an ethnographic exploration of older adults' experiences of the Flint Water Crisis.

Dr. Robbins-Panko 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. Other research interests include aging and memory in the Polish-American community in Michigan, and memory and palliative and hospice care.

Office Location

234 Knapp Building

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 3100 (World Cultures)

ANT 5400 (Anthropology of Health and Illness)

ANT 5450/7450 (Kinship and Social Relations)

ANT 7020/7010 (Anthropological Theory II/Proseminar II)

ANT 7680 (Medical Anthropology)


Professional Associations

American Anthropological Association
American Ethnological Society
Association for Anthropology and Gerontology
Gerontological Society of America
Polish Studies Association
Society for the Anthropology of Europe
Society for Medical Anthropology
Soyuz: The Research Network for Postsocialist Cultural Studies


Honors and Awards

2021 Aquila Polonica Prize (biannual), best article on any aspect of Polish studies, Polish Studies Association, for the 2019 article “Expanding Personhood beyond Remembered Selves: The Sociality of Memory at an Alzheimer’s Center in Poland.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 33(4): 483-500.

2021 Best Article Prize (annual), Polish Memory Studies Group, Memory Studies Association, for the 2019 article “Expanding Personhood beyond Remembered Selves: The Sociality of Memory at an Alzheimer’s Center in Poland.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 33(4): 483-500.




2021 Robbins, J.C. Aging Nationally in Contemporary Poland: Memory, Kinship, and Personhood. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.


Linn, C., J. C. Robbins-Panko, T. Perry, and K.A. Seibel. (2023). Living with Lead: Water Governance as Necropolitics in Flint, Michigan. Human Organization 82(3): 261–273.

Buch, E., and Robbins, J.C. (2020.) Age, Isolation, and Inequality in the Time of COVID-19. Anthropology Now.

Robbins, J.C. (2020.) Commentary: Towards an Inclusive Anthropology of Aging. Łódzkie Studia Etnograficzne (Ethnographic Studies of Łódź) 59: 231-237.

Robbins, J.C. (2020.) Aging Societies, Civil Societies, and the Role of the Past: Active Aging beyond Demography in Contemporary Poland. East European Politics, Societies & Cultures. 1-17.

Robbins, J.C. (2019). Expanding Personhood beyond Remembered Selves: The Sociality of Memory at an Alzheimer’s Center in Poland. Medical Anthropology Quarterly.

Robbins, J.C., and Seibel, K.A. (2019). Temporal Aspects of Wellbeing in Later Life: Gardening among Older African Americans in Detroit. Ageing and Society 1-21.

Seaman, A., Robbins, J.C., and Buch, E. (2019). Beyond the Evaluative Lens: Contextual Unpredictabilities of Care. Journal of Aging Studies.

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

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

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

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

Robbins, J.C. (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.

Robbins, J.C. (2008). “Older Americans” and Alzheimer’s Disease: Citizenship and Subjectivities in Contested Time. Michigan Discussions in Anthropology. 17:14-43.

Robbins, J.C. (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.

Book chapters

Robbins-Ruszkowski, J. C. (2017). 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. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Pp. 112-125.

Robbins-Ruszkowski, J.C. (2017). 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. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Pp. 193-212.

Lamb, S., Robbins-Ruszkowski, J.C., Corwin, A. (2017). Introduction. In Successful Aging: A 21st Century Obsession. Sarah Lamb, ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Pp. 1-23.

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

Robbins, J.C. (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. New York: Berghahn Books. Pp. 79-91.


Robbins-Panko, J.C., J. Kowalski, and E. Buch. (2023). “Care as Practice, Care as Analysis”. In “A Sign of Our times: Caring in an Unsettling World,” edited by Magdalena Zegarra Chiappori and Salwa Tareen, American Ethnologist website, 3 August 2023.

Robbins-Ruszkowski, J.C. (2018). Aging. In International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Wiley-Blackwell. Hilary Callan, ed.

Robbins-Ruszkowski, J.C. (2016). Exploring the “Shadow Side” of Ethnographic Research on Aging in Poland. Invited essay for centennial issue of Lud (journal of the Polish Ethnological Society). 100:143-152.

Robbins-Ruszkowski, J.C. (2016). “Little Sisters’ Home for the Aged Poor.” Digital story created with Katie Korth, as part of Ethnic Layers of Detroit. Digital humanities project, Dr. Krysta Ryzewski, PI.

Robbins-Ruszkowski, J.C. and Marback, R. (2015). Conclusion. In Generations: Rethinking Age and Citizenship. Richard Marback, ed. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. Pp. 313-322.

Červinková, H., Robbins-Ruszkowski, J.C., and Uherek, Z. (2014). Editorial. Cargo: Journal for Cultural/Social Anthropology 12(1-2):1-3.

Robbins, J.C. (2013) Blog post for Wenner-Gren Foundation summarizing conference funded by Engaged Anthropology Grant. July 19.

Robbins, J.C. (2009). Aging, Memory and Personhood in Poland. Anthropology News. 50(8):15-16.


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