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Accepted Paper:

Onlife digital-visual ethnography: smartphones and/for the anthropology of the life course  

Author:

Shireen Walton (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

Based on 16 months ethnographic research amongst older adults and migrant groups in Milan, I will reflect on the potentials and challenges of the smartphone in/for the anthropology of the life course, advocating overall for an onlife approach to smartphones and ageing.

Paper long abstract:

Digital technologies provide significant scope for the anthropology of ageing and the life course. In this paper, I explore the research potentials and challenges of the smartphone specifically, showing how it illuminates the study of the life course in a number of compelling visual and digital ways. As object-method, the smartphone reveals what people do; how they pass their time and with whom; how they traverse public/private domains; and how they view and narrate their own lives - from WhatsApp chats, to photo-sharing, to Facebook groups, to apps downloaded, used and discarded. Meanwhile, through their own digital and visual research entanglements, the anthropologist's 'field' is collapsed into her phone, and people and places remain present on the screen beyond fieldwork, blurring a number of spatial, social and epistemological boundaries.

Based on ethnographic research amongst older adults and migrant groups in Milan as part of the ASSA (Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing) project, the paper suggests how smartphones illuminate the present and future study of the life course, with an emphasis on digital and visual practices. Moreover, in moving beyond online/offline dichotomies with smartphones, the 'onlife' (Gomez Cruz 2017) I suggest, has greater applicability in this context; in acknowledging both the habitual interrelating of these categories in people's everyday life, and the anthropologist's entanglement of their own life with the peoples whom we live and work amongst in a myriad of forms and settings.

Panel P060
Illuminating Futures of the Life Course through Visual and Digital Media [Age and Generations Network]