Conceptions about aging: a socio-material approach to the design of social and technological innovations for the elderly

The present thesis project, unfolded from the intersection between Science and Technology Studies (STS), Ageing Studies and Design, tries to understand how ageing -as a process that is both socially and materially constituted and historically situated- is being shaped by design. By looking inside of designing, assembling and developing processes involved in the making of social and technological innovations this thesis wants to answer about: What conceptions about ageing are emerging from social and technological innovations involved in facing the needs of population ageing phenomenon? And more specifically: How different social imaginary about ageing and older people are being in-scripted in innovations by design? What user configurations do emerge from these design processes?

Following the sociotechnical point of view (Bijker, Hughes y Pinch, 1987; Law, 1991), which conceive technology as hybrid socio-technical groups formed by the interaction of different human and non-human actors, this thesis takes the concept of script carried out by Madeleine Akrich (1992), trying to comprehend how imaginary and figures around ageing are being inscripted in innovations through design. Not only technical objects are built up in this process, but an entire user is tentatively configured at the same time (Woolgar,1990).

Asking about conceptions and imaginary around older people and how they are inscribed in socio-technical innovations leads to concern about what these visions are and what they actually reproduce. In this sense, we ask about the extent to which they contribute -more and less explicitly- to issues such as the inclusion or exclusion of older people in society, their autonomy or dependence, their decision-making capacity or their delegation to third parties, etc. In other words, we ask: In what sense do social and technological innovations that seek to respond to the needs of population aging may be reproducing new forms of ageism? (Tonolli et al., 2015) Understood as the action of stereotyping and discriminating against persons or groups on the basis of their age (Butler, 1969; Nelson, 2002; Gullette, 2011).

From a qualitative scope, mainly using participatory observation and ethnographic method, this proposal expects to get close to different ongoing design contexts in which innovation processes related to elder people are being developed. We aim to analyse some case studies combining several involved dimensions. Therefore, it will be taken into account different kinds of participatory strategies in design contexts, different moments in the developmental processes (early and late design phases, testing, etc.) and several kinds of innovations from different fields related to ageing.

Funding Body: Generalitat de Catalunya

Programme: Ajudes per a la contratació de personal investigador novell (FI) 

Supervisor: Daniel López

Start date: 01/03/2016

End date: 01/03/2019

Lluvi Farré

Investigador principal