Risky business: How older ‘at risk’ people in Denmark evaluated their situated risk during the COVID-19 pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with a unique opportunity to examine how societies manage urgent biological risk. While evaluating the available evidence is an important aspect of risk analysis, the resultant political decisions may contain certain biases and blind spots; thus, when they are experienced in everyday life, public-health measures may not consider the lived experience of those whom the decisions affect. As such, the pandemic has also provided us with an opportunity to learn how people experience risk-adverse public-health measures, and how they manage uncertainty. In Denmark, for example, the government’s response included a risk-adverse approach that labelled people age 65+ as one of the population groups most ‘at risk’ for infection. But what are older people’s (phenomenological) experiences of being categorised in a ‘high-risk’ group?
This paper is based on telephone interviews with 32 people across Denmark, including 14 people (eight women and six men) between the ages of 65 and 83, which were conducted to gain insight into how the pandemic and the first months of the societal lockdown in Denmark affected their mental health, everyday behaviour, and social lives (both in person and on the internet/social media). We describe how, in response to unclear biopolitical discourses and decisions being made for ‘their own good,’ older people reclaimed their agency by evaluating their individual circumstances to determine their own situated risk and to manage this existential uncertainty on their own terms. Our reflections focus on the consequences of the current pandemic on older lives, and particularly how governments – when faced with future public-health crises – can implement fairer preventative measures that consider the societal value and capabilities of older people.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnthropology & Aging
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)167-176
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

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