Betwixt and between: doing ethnographic research or designing technology for older users
Cordula Endter (German Centre for Gerontology)
Paper short abstract:
Doing ethnography in applied contexts can be a fruitful endeavor for all participants but it also demands reflection about the different roles the ethnographer has to take on. The paper discusses different strategies of dealing with this betwixt and between position in the context of design for elderly.
Paper long abstract:
In my field study I have investigated the design process of a cognitive training platform for older users with mild-cognitive impairments. The project is situated in the broader context of assistive technologies which are subsumed under the term Ambient Assisted Living (AAL). These smart technologies are designed to support elderlies in their everyday activities with smart sensors that can detect falls, control their medication or request for help in case of need. In the public discourse assistive technologies are introduced as promising means to deal with demographic changes mainly in western European countries. But which ideas about age and aging are inscribed into the technical objects and how do they transform everyday activities of older users when applied in their homes? By actively taking part in the project I could observe the co-construction of technology by software engineers, psychologists but also test-users and myself. Furthermore, I've received a thick understanding in terms of Clifford Geertz what it means for the project staff to design technology for elderly on the one hand and on the other what it means for the elderlies to take part in the study and represent older test-users. Beyond that, taking part in the design process challenged my understanding of ethnography. Therefore, I want to discuss the different roles of the participants and reflect on my own role(s) in the design process and than discuss the potential of collaboration between ethnography and applied studies in the context of design for elderly.
Imagining an old future: anthropological perspectives on age and ageing