• Guillermina Altomonte
    The New School for Social Research ’20

    MA Sociology ’13, The New School for Social Research
    PhD Sociology ’20, The New School for Social Research

    What are you working on now?

    Right now, I am working on a book based on my dissertation, which examines independence as a remarkably undisputed goal for aging—the value that currently defines “good” old age in the United States. While we used to think that nursing homes were the best setting for growing old, today gerontologists, policymakers, government agencies, and senior advocacy organizations advertise the importance of remaining in one’s home, or “aging in place,” in order to preserve independence in late life.

    In my book, I ask where this cultural elevation of independence comes from and how it shapes the experience of aging as well as the delivery of elder care. Looking at the production of independence historically and on the ground, through ethnographic observations and interviews, the book challenges the idea that this is a “natural” thing. The older people I studied worked hard to inhabit their bodies and minds in ways that felt consistent with cultural norms of independence, and their ability to come close to these aspirations was stratified along several axes of inequality—revealing the ways in which independence is an unequally distributed good among the American population.

    When you started your program, what did you think you would be doing?

    When I started my MA in Sociology at The New School, I thought that I would then go back to Chile, where I had been working as a journalist before pursuing graduate studies. I had no idea I would end up becoming an academic! But during my program, I became enamored with sociology, and I also met my partner, both of which compelled me to pursue the PhD and to stay in New York City.

    What was a new way of learning that you experienced at The New School?

    The term “critical thinking” has almost become a cliché, but my experience at The New School was marked by this way of learning, which was very different from what I had experienced as an undergrad in Chile. To give one example, I still remember my Social Inequality class, in which we discussed the gender, racial, and class hierarchies that shape the provision of domestic work—which had been a “normal” experience of my middle-class childhood in Latin America. 

    Perceiving these and other contradictions and inequalities embedded in the world around me led to discomfort at first—as I had to come to grips with my own privilege—but then later developed into the excitement of seeing the social world as something we make rather than a taken-for-granted reality. This way of thinking came from my fellow students as well, from whom I learned a great deal,not just intellectually but politically—for example, through the unwavering activism of those who fought for our graduate student worker union.

    How did that change your way forward?

    As I mentioned, this intellectual energy drove me to pursue a PhD in Sociology. It also opened up new and fascinating questions about the social world that eventually led to my dissertation project and teaching interests: questions about gender, about care work, and about the moral and cultural values we draw on to make sense of things such as commodification.

    Where do you see yourself in five years?

    Hopefully as a professor close to getting tenure! I also see myself working on a second book, probably on the topic that I am currently starting to conduct research on—digital platforms for healthcare cost sharing and crowdfunding.

    How do you want to leave your mark on the world?

    Through my research, I have become passionate about care work, not just as a topic for intellectual inquiry but as a lens through which to view relationships, politics, and democracy. Following feminist scholars such as Joan Tronto, Nancy Folbre, and Nancy Fraser, I think achieving social justice requires centering care as a universal right and a shared responsibility. I want to contribute to advancing this political transformation through my research and my teaching and by informing public dialogue as an active member of the Carework Network, an international organization of academics, policymakers, and advocates of care.

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