2023 Annual Meeting

2023 Annual Meeting

Theorising Ageing in a Digital World



On 28 & 29 September 2023, the Open University of the Netherlands hosted the Socio-gerontechnology Network’s 5th Annual Meeting in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Entitled “Theorising Ageing in a Digital World”, the conference welcomed over 80 scholars from around the world. The programme included 9 paper sessions with over 30 paper presentations and 3 plenary discussions. Moreover, the programme included 10 poster presentations from emerging international scholars. All sessions addressed different facets of the main challenge addressed during the meeting – to explore theoretical and methodological innovations that push the limits of existing approaches in Socio-gerontechnology and put in sharp relief the terrain that becomes visible when we intersect empirical work and concepts that think ageing and technology together.



Frankenstein’s Monster

Next to learning about many exciting empirical studies, the conference also sought to establish a focused theoretical discussion to carve out future challenges of theorising in critical studies of ageing and technology. Network members Vera Gallistl, Susan van Hees and Anna Wanka organised an interactive theorizing session that explored theories in Socio-gerontechnology as Frankenstein’s Monster. Participants pondered which long-standing concepts may be up for amputation from the body of theories we currently use, and also new ideas to which such classical ideas should give way. Some classical concepts, just like Frankenstein’s Monster, turned out to be more obdurate than participants expected – so that a fruitful discussion about theoretical histories and lineages to draw from expanded during the workshop. And for an interdisciplinary group like the Socio-gerontechnology network it is of course important to carefully balance the identity creating aspects of theories with the specific roles in empirical research – that can help illuminate certain element in the entanglement of ageing and technology, while downplaying others.

These theoretical discussions were also taken up during the plenary session on “Theorizing Materiality” in which scholars put into question how existing theories in age studies focus primarily on human actors, human actions, and human agency. In the field of material gerontology, by contrast, approaches that draw on concept surrounding materiality have vastly diversified, each drawing on their own theories of materiality, and highlighting different aspects of how materialites shape ageing and later life. The session brought together four suggestions on how to theorize materiality in ageing research: Michela Cozza explored how decentering the human being can open up interesting avenues for studying ageing. Taking the everyday life as a starting point, Wendy Martin used the lens of rhythms to explore the ways digital materialities in everyday are experienced, constructed, performed, remembered and imagined. Drawing on Karen Barad’s concept of spacetimematter, Vera Gallistl and Anna Wanka explored the materialized temporalities of gerontechnology in the lives of older adults and focus on the ways materiality and temporality are entangled in later life. Finally, Kim Sawchuk shared her insights on materiality and intimacy with a microethnographic investigation of aging, tntimacy and digital intricacy.



Collaboration with the Aging in Data Project

Two plenary sessions were organised in collaboration with the ACT Lab and the Ageing in Data project housed at Concordia University in Montreal. During these sessions, the specific challenges were addressed that emerge when ageing becomes increasingly enmeshed with the data infrastructures and algorithms, we so often simplify under the label Artifical Intelligence. The first of these sessions specifically focused on digital inclusions and exclusions through an examination of everyday media practices and commonplace digital devices. Panelists Nicole Dalmer, Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol and Galit Nimrod zoomed in on the overarching theoretical and critical questions when we explore the experiences and understandings of data objects in the everyday lives of older adults, as they intersect with notions of ageism in hyper-digitized societies. The second of these sessions investigated the different knowledge systems in play in the development of intellectual tools and procedures that attempt to quantify age and aging and to create replicable systems for the collection of data on age and aging. Panelists Unmil Karadkar, Wendy Martin, Kim Sawchuck, Constance Lafontaine and Stephen Katz departed from a critical point of view to address the ways in which the processes of age and aging intersect with the social organization of seemingly objective forms of knowledge that constitute an essential part of the “relations of ruling for contemporary capitalism”.

The conference programme and the book of abstracts is available here.

We’d like to thank all the participants of the conference for making it such an inspiring event and hoped everybody enjoyed the meeting and the wonderful cityscape of Utrecht. We hope to see you all back in Vienna next year!

And of course a big thank you to Open Universiteit for the kind support and for hosting us.