Accepted paper:

Technological mediations and implied communities: older volunteers' spatial-material engagement with cultural-heritage material


Amy Clotworthy (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

Based on an ethnographic study of older volunteers' work to digitalise cultural-heritage material at the Danish National Archives, the paper examines how their position within certain socio-technical networks and material cultures improves their quality of life and sense of 'the good life'.

Paper long abstract:

Volunteering has been shown to have positive effects on ageing adults' health and well-being, and a negative correlation to depression. With older people today generally experiencing better physical health and a longer lifespan than previous generations, many decide to volunteer as a 'productive aging' activity after retirement. Frequently, they are volunteering in digitalisation projects at galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAMs); these projects increasingly rely on members of the target audience and/or the local community to perform certain tasks, which is informally defined as 'crowdsourcing'. This paper presents an ethnographic investigation of older (age 60+) volunteers' engagement with the digitalisation of cultural-heritage material (e.g., censuses, death/birth certificates, church books) at the Danish National Archives. The study aimed to examine how volunteering at GLAMs may influence older people's subjective perceptions of well-being and 'the good life' after retirement, which may impact health-related quality of life (HQoL). By illuminating how older volunteers shape and are shaped by their intra-actions with both the archival material (past) and new technologies (future) in their everyday lives (present), the paper contextualises the cultural implications of volunteering in digital-humanities and crowdsourcing projects. Framed against the political and biomedical paradigms that tend to dominate public-health policies and social programmes for ageing adults (and which thereby shape later life), the paper argues for community-based initiatives that acknowledge the complex socio-technical networks, spatial-material engagements, and ageing subjectivities of older adults; doing so could lead to more informed policies and programmes that account for new cultures of ageing.

panel P017
Spaces of Ageing - New Horizons of Mobility and Materiality in Later Life [Age and Generations Network]