Considering more-than-human participation in co-design with older adults: Implications for a material gerontology

Yesterday the first online symposium of the international network on Socio-Gerontechnology took place with more than 100 participants*. The network brings together researchers from different social science and design disciplines who are interested in critical studies of age(ing) and technology. Disciplines include public health, gerontology, sociology, science and technology studies (STS), design research and socio-informatics. Common to the scientists is an interest in the increasing digitalisation of our lives and its effects on the lives of older people, but also our image of age(ing) and the resulting (socio-)political dynamics.

Together with Helen Manchester (University of Bristol) I gave a talk entitled “Considering more-than-human participation in co-design with older adults: Implications for a material gerontology”. In this paper we argue that many gerontechnologies understand age as a problem that requires a technical solution. A good example is the recent article in the New York Times on monitoring technologies that allow children to “keep an eye” on their elderly parents in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. The problem of quarantine is presented as a “matter of fact” that needs to be solved. In our talk, we argue that design should not be understood as problem-solving, but rather as joint problem-making. With this different focus, new actors in design processes emerge and need to be involved. Design is moving from a focus on “Matters of Facts” to a practice that is concerned with “Matters of Care”.

All contributions and a recording of the event will soon be published on the network’s website.

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