AVA 2021 Winner

Discoveries – ASSA Project


LINK: Discoveries – ASSA Project

ABSTRACT: Through the ‘Discoveries’ pages, which are part of the The Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing (ASSA) Project, we endeavour to demonstrate a multi-modal approach to disseminating research into the contemporary nature of age and the impact of new media in an accessible format, combining text with visuals ranging from short films to comic book style illustrations. The main ‘Discoveries’ page features 12 core findings which range from the smartphone’s role as a tool that facilitates both care and surveillance (especially in contexts of care for the elderly) to an explanation of how the device has impacted intergenerational relations.

Our approach was unusual in firstly targeting those who do not define themselves by age, as neither young nor elderly, secondly through focusing upon the impact of smartphones upon these populations, and thirdly because of our comparative perspective across ten fieldsites around the world. This allowed us to contrast, for example, our Palestinian fieldsite, where people retain the cultural categories of seniority and change clothing and demeanour accordingly to field sites in São Paulo and Dublin, where people today mainly feel continuity with their youth right into their 60s, 70s, or sometimes even 90s. Instead of biological age, what matters is frailty since it is the experience of becoming frail that constitutes the sense of having aged. In several sites including Japan, we found that smartphones are becoming central to the organisation of care for frail older adults, especially when families are geographically dispersed. There are equally dramatic differences in the impact of retirement. For example, in Shanghai, a generation that lived through the Cultural Revolution consider in retirement all that they had missed out on in youth. In all fieldsites smartphones are becoming as much a place within which we live as a device we use, and therefore they are also key to understanding how we age.

PROJECT CONTRIBUTORS: The Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing (ASSA) is a multi-sited research project based at UCL Anthropology, primarily funded by the European Research Council (ERC). The project employs a team of 11 researchers who conducted simultaneous 16-month ethnographies in Al-Quds (East Jerusalem) (Maya de Vries and Laila Abed Rabho), Brazil (Marilia Duque), Cameroon (Patrick Awondo), Chile (Alfonso Otaegui), China (Xinyuan Wang), Ireland (Daniel Miller and Pauline Garvey), Italy (Shireen Walton), Japan (Laura Haapio-Kirk), and Uganda (Charlotte Hawkins). Launched in October 2017, the fieldwork took place between February 2018 and June 2019. This collaborative five-year project is based on a comparative analysis of the impact of the smartphone on the experience of mid-to-later-life around the world and considers the implications for the use of smartphones in the fields of health and care.

AVA 2021 JUDGES: This was simply a multimedia tour de force which might be considered a model for the future of multimedia ethnography – it had many visual forms, video, blogs, infographics, graphic stories and tied together in “lessons learned.” It was the aspect of accessibility and communication about what the project learned that moved it to another level seldom seen in multimedia projects. As a reviewer commented. “This work is truly multimodal, in that there are many forms of media, visual and audio creativity. There are even essays and comics. I also like how they are transparent about the unexpected changes of the project along the way, like with the mHealth aspect of the project.”

Jay Sokolovsky and Verónica Sousa, Judges (Multimodal Category)