Ep #57 Narratives of Loss: Baptiste Brossard talks Alzheimer’s Disease & Social Dimensions of Ageing

“I’m giving mundane examples here, but it can be a matter of life or death in a sense. Whether people are believed or not, it changes their destiny.” 

In this episode, we bring you an interview with Dr Baptiste Brossard. Dr Brossard is a sociologist and lecturer currently based at Australian National University. He has an interest in mental health, sociological theory, qualitative methods and utopias. He has authored two books: Why Do We Hurt Ourselves?: Understanding Self-Harm in Social Life; and Forgetting Items: The Social Experience of Alzheimer’s Disease. The latter is the focus of this interview, which was captured during last year’s AAS conference held in Canberra, at the ANU. 

Dr Brossard spoke with our own Julia Brown about what sociology and anthropology can bring to the study of Alzheimer’s disease, and how ethnographic practice informed his time spent with French and Quebecois Alzheimer’s patients. He discusses how he applied some key theories from philosophy and sociology such as Erving Goffman’s Interaction Order and  Deference and Ian Hacking’s Looping Effect to his ethnographic observations.  He also reflects on narratives of loss, selfhood and social inequity in the context of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.


“It was important to me to have a lot of different field sites because I wanted to  understand how the interactions surrounding people diagnosed with dementia was changing” 

‘One of the first sentence(s) that I have been told was this doctor that told me “you know in my area, medicine is more an art than a science”’. 

“It becomes a moral imperative, a moral expectation to convey deference to people suffering from Dementia” 

“Inequalities are important to raise because they considerably affect possibilities that diagnosed people and their caregivers can have” 

“Maybe I can take the example of credibility which is one of the main changes that I observed during my research. So to speak in general interactions we tend to believe one another, generally if I say “My name is Baptiste” or “I like chocolate” people are believing that it is true[….]. From the moment that someone is suffering from Alzheimer’s, people around them start to have doubts about the credibility of what they are saying,  when they say “I like chocolate” that may be taken as a symptom”.  


Baptiste’s ANU Researchers profile can be found here  :https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/brossard-bpm

Here are some of Baptiste’s books:

If you want more clarification on Erving Goffman’s work on the Interaction Order:

Or Goffman’s work on Deference:

Ian Hacking’s Looping Effect can be found here

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This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Matthew Phung and Julia Brown
Podcast edited by Julia Brown and Matthew Phung

Feature image ‘No I Can’t Remember!’ By Neil Moralee (2014)

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