Elana Buch

Elana Buch
Associate Professor
Office: 
241 Macbride Hall
Phone: 
319-335-0535
Office Hours: 
Tuesday 10:00am - 1:00pm (ZOOM)
Research Interests: 
Sociocultural and Medical Anthropology; Care; Aging; Inequality; Kinship; Labor; Social Policy; United States

Elana Buch is a sociocultural and medical anthropologist who studies aging, care, and inequality.  I ask questions about how different ways of practicing human interdependence are connected to large scale social changes, and how these forms of interdependence generate social difference and inequality across the life course.

My current project Unsettling the Prairie: Living Long Lives in an Extinction Society asks about older rural Iowan’s experiences of caring for people, animals, and the landscape as ways of life on the American prairie have shifted in the last half century. In rural Iowa, elementary schools and maternity wards are being shuttered due to outmigration spurred by the corporate consolidation of agriculture. I am interested in understanding how the descendants of the prairie’s European settlers make sense of the collapse of this way of life, and how they are responding to these broad social changes. Based on fieldwork at antique stores, barn-wood reclaiming outfits, and kitchen tables, this project responds to calls to better understand rural America from the perspective of those who are living long lives here. (PAUSED DUE TO COVID-19).

I am also involved in several projects investigating the numerous ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of older adults and their caregivers.

My first book, Inequalities of Aging: Paradoxes of Independence in American Home Care (2018, NYU Press­) is an intimate examination of the relationships between older adults, home care workers, and the agencies that organize this work. Paid home care is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and millions of Americans rely on these workers, who are disproportionately women and people of color, to help them remain at home as they grow older. Drawing both on observations of everyday care and the longer personal, social, and policy histories that shape these relationships, Inequalities of Aging shows that the work that enables some older Americans to live independently generates profound social inequalities.  Inequalities of Aging was awarded an Eileen Basker Memorial Book Prize from the Society for Medical Anthropology in 2020. 

I am interested in working with graduate students who plan to focus on topics related to aging and/or care. I am especially interested in mentoring students interested in studying these topics in terms of their intersections with inequality, kinship, and labor. Students interested in research outside of the United States will be most successful if they plan to work in regions where other department (or collegiate) faculty have expertise.

Selected Publications:

Seaman, A. T., Robbins, J. C., & Buch, E. D. (2019). Beyond the evaluative lens: Contextual unpredictabilities of care. Journal of aging studies, 51, 100799.

Buch, E. D. (2018). Inequalities of aging: paradoxes of independence in American Home Care. NYU Press.

Buch, E.D. (2015). Anthropology of Aging and Care. Annual Review of Anthropology 44, 277-293

Buch, E. D. (2015). Postponing passage: Doorways, distinctions, and the thresholds of personhood among older Chicagoans. Ethos, 43(1), 40-58.

Buch, E. D. (2014). Troubling gifts of care: vulnerable persons and threatening exchanges in Chicago's home care industry. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 28(4), 599-615.

Buch, E. D. (2013). Senses of care: Embodying inequality and sustaining personhood in the home care of older adults in Chicago. American ethnologist, 40(4), 637-650.

Courses Taught: 
  • ANTH:2100 Anthropology & Contemporary World Problems
  • ANTH:2102 Anthropology of Marriage and Family
  • ANTH:2181 The Anthropology of Aging
  • ANTH:3117 Using Ethnographic Methods
  • ANTH:3151 The Anthropology of the Beginnings and Ends of Life
  • ANTH:5101 Sociocultural Anthropology Seminar
  • ANTH:6115 Ethnographic Field Methods