galway

Cultural gerontology conference: Galway

Just back from attending my first gerontology conference – lots of food for thought, some of which I express below, much of which I hope to feed into the Tangible memories project as it develops…

Meanings and metaphors of home

Several papers explored the meaning of and metaphors of ‘home’ in later life. I particularly enjoyed Sheila Peace’s presentation and will follow up on her call to look at Iris Marion Young’s (2005) work on identity and homemaking. Sheila explored the different understandings of ‘domestic’ and ‘institutional’, drawing on individual case studies to highlight home as an intergenerational space, home as an orientating space, home as remembered past, supporting present and concealing future, and home as dwelling/ as a receptacle of continuity and change.

 Susan Braedley’s work offered a counterpoint to this suggesting that the concept of ‘home’ is generally unhelpful when applied to care home design and development. Drawing on an international project (Healthy Ageing in Residential Places – in which she is working with Liz Lloyd, University of Bristol amongst others) she suggested that metaphors of ‘home’ tend to dominate care home design and that in her view this was unhelpful and should be reframed to rather focus on concepts such as respect, dignity and equity. Susan’s insightful work touched on the unhelpful discourses surrounding institutions as nightmare places in comparison to the warmth of home. She pointed out how these discourses shape the policies and practices in new facility design, staff models and care relationships in particular ways that tend not to highlight social justice (both for staff and for older people living in these facilities).

Digital co-production and passionate scholarship

In a symposium organised by Kim Sawchuk a number of interesting papers and presentations explored co-design and co-production work with older people in making digital resources and content. Jospeh Blat discussed the work of his HCI research group who utilise co-production and ethnographic methods in designing games and other digital content for use by older people. It was great to hear of other HCI departments working in this realm, Joseph’s deep understanding of the power of ethnographic methods in HCI was refreshing. Kim’s own presentation focused on her ongoing work with a variety of activist community organisations run by older activists. She discussed what ‘Activist ageing’ (as opposed to ‘Active ageing’) might mean and the need for public (digital) records of the campaigning work that older people do. Drawing on a term used earlier in the day at Mim Bernard’s Ages and Stages symposium she described her work as passionate scholarship. Wendy Martin from Brunel University then presented on her interesting work using photo voice methods with older people, here I was left wanting to hear more about the challenges related to the use of digital technologies in researching with older people. The symposium finished with a highly personal piece in which Aynsley Moorhouse presented and shared an audio piece that she had developed using naturalistic recordings and hours of conversation between herself and her father as he was diagnosed with and experienced the ongoing symptoms of dementia. Aynsley’s paper was moving and honest and she then shared her audio work with us – the lights were turned off, permitting tears to fall.

Future technologies and older people

My paper session was opened by Caroline Holland who led the delegates through a whistle top tour of sociotechnical change and the implications of some of these changes both now and in the future. Caroline’s work is of particular interest to the Tangible memories team as she has done various studies exploring environment and usability of novel technological solutions with older people.

My paper presented some of our initial findings concerning loss of objects, meanings of home and the range of stimuli for stories we are finding useful in working with our widely diverse groups of older people in care settings. I concluded that there is a need to better understanding the relationship between material artefacts and records and digital representations; that digital curation should be understood as a process of translation between the material and the immaterial; and by pointing out the need for a ccommitment to collaborative research and co-curation of life stories with novel technologies whilst retaining ethical relationships that stress mutuality, dignity and reciprocity.