Track A: Images of age and ageing from a meta-perspective

Track A addresses the discussion of and reflection on images of age and ageing from a meta-perspective. The focus will be set on the social construction of concepts of ageing, and how these are being framed in (taken-for-granted) theories of age and ageing, from deficit- to activity-oriented stances [8].

In this track it is the goal to take a deeper look at how images of ageing are present in different stakeholders’/participants’ heads [9,10]. At the same time, we aim at the deconstruction of their impacts on the design of artefacts as well as on the formulation of IT project objectives themselves: A bandwidth of themes is possible from ethnographically derived self-images of older adults and related attitudes and appropriation processes of and towards IT products [2,7], to questions of how individual research interests shape the projects themselves (i.e. the formulation of needs, requirements, research targets, and so on) [5,12].

Description of the theme

How people perceive ageing and how they handle issues of health and illness always contain elements of social construction. In a study of wandering behavior of persons with dementia, for example, Wigg [11] has shown how the perspective on wandering an institution assumes – as pathology or as a purposeful and therapeutic activity – shapes how the elderly people are treated and what kind of technology is deemed helpful.

This example suggests that researchers in the field of Assistive Technologies (AT) are confronted with definitions of ageing, health and illness that influence in which ways AT projects, their objectives and outcomes are formulated and how the general landscape of IT-Design for the ageing society is constructed. There is a strong tendency to equate ageing with illness, weakness and neediness. Hence, much of the discourse on ageing is based on deficit-oriented theories. Gerontology, however, offers a broader theoretical basis, which, amongst others, contains activity-oriented theories for the explanation of how individuals experience their lives in higher age.

Opening up to a multiplicity of approaches to the field in AT design, means to make space for a number of highly relevant issues. Researchers in CSCW and HCI claim that IT design in the ageing and health domain need to be more sensitive to the mundane problems elderly persons and/or people who receive therapeutic treatment encounter in everyday life. The idea is that understanding everyday practices helps better situate new technologies and ‘sense-making artifacts’ that users can embed in the socio-cultural web of daily practice. Methods adequate to this purpose are ethnography or activity-research, amongst others [2,6,8].

Another topic for further reflection is the way how researchers and other stakeholders participating in a research project construct the research field. For example Whitney and Keith [10] talk about the differences in thinking and imagination between elderly participants and younger researchers, which may lead to simplistic, largely unreflected pre-conceptions about elderly people and their needs. This and similar findings suggest a ‘deconstructivist’ perspective on how researchers motivate and formulate requirements and design ideas. When doing so, we might see how research interests (including preferred technical solutions) shape research objectives; how the research agenda and calls of funding agencies structure what is researchable and how [12]; and how the formulation of problems or needs is linked to certain constellations of stakeholders (e.g. academia, industry partners) in research consortia [5,7].

How projects are designed also reflects larger societal perspectives on age and ageing. As a result, we often see a ‚wish for optimization‘ of the living circumstances of elderly people. We suggest seeing this as being linked to actual societal trends on how societies in general deal with their elderly citizens and to what images of ageing are displayed in the media and in advertising.

When it comes to the participatory elements in IT research projects, especially in the context of sensor technologies, elderly target groups often tend to challenge the objective of autonomy or independent living, which is at the heart of AT. Here, ethical questions are to be discussed more deeply, such as: what is the ‘backside’ of autonomy; which new forms of dependencies are being constructed; how are trade-offs between care and autonomy experienced by elderly persons in different socio-cultural living arrangements? A diversity of research perspectives and approaches are used in the field of IT design for the elderly: value-sensitive design [3], ‘persuasive design’ [4] and PD (Participatory Design). Researchers are looking for new concepts, which help guide design, such as ‚mastery‘ [9] or other sensitizing concepts which are derived from the empirical data [7].

Aims of the workshop

This workshop suggests a ‚deconstructive‘ perspective on ageing and how related problems, needs and design implications are being articulated by AT researchers. Interested participants are invited to reflect on and present research on the following research perspectives and questions:

  • What does it mean to age from a multi-perspective view? What are in particular the perspectives of elderly persons living in a diversity of circumstances?
  • How can we achieve a more holistic view of the phenomenon of age and ageing, based on individual accounts as well as from how ageing is mediated, ‘mediatized’, and perceived?
  • How can we better institutionalize qualitative research methods as well as participatory ways of designing to guide technology researchers in their labs?
  • How can we build a repertoire of qualitative case studies/vignettes and empirically-grounded concepts to sensitize the design of ICT and sensor technologies for an ageing society?
  • How can we better deal with trade-offs and ethical issues, such as the tensions between care and autonomy, for example by creating ‘spaces for negotiation’ that allow for individual appropriation and configurability?



  1. Grönvall, E. & Kyng, M. (2011): Beyond Utopia: reflections on participatory design in home-based healthcare with weak users, in: Proceedings of the 29th Annual European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics (ECCE ’11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, S. 189-196.
  2. Fitzpatrick, G. & Ellingsen, G. (2012): A Review of 25 Years of CSCW Research in Healthcare: Contributions, Challenges and Future Agendas, in: Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)
  3. Friedman, B. & Kahn, P. (2003): Human values, ethics and design, in: Jacko, J., Sears, A. (Hrsg.): The human computer interaction handbook, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, S. 1177-1201.
  4. Intille, Stephen S. (2004): A new research challenge: persuasive technology to motivate healthy aging. Information Technology in Biomedicine, IEEE Transactions on 8.3 (2004): 235-237.
  5. Müller, C., Hornung, D., Hamm, T. & Wulf, V. (2015a): Practice-based Design of a Neighborhood Portal: Focusing on Elderly Tenants in a City Quarter Living Lab, Proc. of CHI’15, 2295-2304 (CHI 2015 Honorable Mention)
  6. Müller, C., Schnittert, J., Walczuch, M., Alaoui, M., Lewkowicz, M., Wan, L. & Wulf, V. (2015b): Impact Factors on Social TV Research in Real Elderly Persons’ Households, in: S. Diefenbach, N.Henze & M. Pielot (Hrsg.): Mensch und Computer 2015 Tagungsband, Stuttgart: Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2015, S. 213-222.
  7. Müller, C., Neufeldt, C., Randall, D., Wulf, V. (2012): ICT-Development in Residential Care Settings: Sensitizing Design to the Life Circumstances of the Residents of a Care Home, in: Proc. CHI ’12, May 05 – 10 2012, Austin, TX, USA.
  8. Östlund, B. (2004): Social science research on technology and the elderly – does it exist? Science Studies Vol. 17, No. 2, S. 45-63.
  9. Sijis et al. (2015): Expanding Mastery into Futures. On Involving Old People in Participatory Design. Submitted paper.
  10. Whitney, G. & Keith, S. (2009): Bridging the gap between young designers and older users. In: The good, the bad and the challenging: the user and the future of information and communication technologies. Conference proceedings. Sapio, Bartolomeo, ed. ABS Center, Koper, Slovenia.
  11. Wigg, J. M. (2010): Liberating the wanderers: using technology to unlock doors for those living with dementia, Sociology of Health & Illness Vol. 32 No. 2, 2010, pp. 288-303.
  12. Wulf, V., Müller, C., Pipek, V., Randall, D., Rohde, M. & G. Stevens (2015): Practice-based Computing. Empirically-grounded Conceptualizations derived from Design Case Studies, in: Wulf, V.; Randall, D.; Schmidt, K. (eds): Designing Socially Embedded Technologies in the Real-World, Springer, London, 2015.