Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Andrea P. Sankar


The central focus of this dissertation is to examine the inextricable link between persons, their social worlds, and their environments. I do this through an ethnographic study of senior members of non-biologically based kinship groups with an affiliation to place. Critical to this examination is the city of Detroit itself, as members of these groups ultimately collectively identify as Detroiters through space and time. It is this collective identity, strengthened mostly through their defense of an outsider deemed unsuccessful city that renders Detroit a good place for the older person to maintain connections, participate socially and civically, and to organize around as both a physical and psychic space. My ethnographic study of growing older in Detroit allows me to examine the neoliberal considerations of both aging and cities in a local context from which I can make important contributions related to literature in gerontology and the anthropology of urban aging. I argue that linking urban spaces, old age, and social connections allows for individuals to construct a view of old age that is shaped by both structural factors, but, imbued with meaning and values, in a way that gerontological discourse on successful aging which is narrowly focused on personal responsibility without attention to individual metrics for aging or satisfaction. To further the linkage of old age, urban spaces, and social connections, I demonstrate that urban spaces are not just the backdrop where persons grow older and both cities and lives emerge as intertwined processes. For the older person in Detroit, their neighborhood, or former neighborhood is linked to their sense of identity and personhood. The inextricable link between persons, their place-based connections, and environments emerges not only as form of non-biologically based kinship, but reveals space as a critical component of these relationships.