Ageing is not what it used to be: In the last decades, the processes of growing old have indeed turned into the object of scrutiny of new health disciplines, but they have brought the development of a wide variety of services and products addressed at a ‘gray’ market segment, or have turned into matters of concern and policy-making.
In this Studienprojekt, we would like to learn to practice ethnography paying attention to the specific urban dimensions of this phenomenon. Indeed, ageing in cities is no longer what it used to be: as a result of the landslide transformation that the ‘baby boom’ generation brought with it, Welfare states across the world have unfolded participatory governing processes and policies searching to combat different forms of ‘ageism’ (stereotyping or discrimination on the basis of age), so as to provide older citizens with a voice in the management of their urban habitats. This has also been accompanied by the development of a wide range of age-friendly urban equipments, services and infrastructures (transportation systems; sidewalk and public space designs; senior cohousing projects; older people’s residential apartments; newer forms of pensioner migration and tourism; residential care facilities; ageing-friendly participatory plans or ways of co-management; or leisure and wellness infrastructures: ranging from cruise ships to thermal spas).
The question this course would like to pose to ethnographers in training would be: How do these urban infrastructures inscribe specific notions of ageing in cities? What role do older people have in their management, or what capabilities do they have to alter and change them? To answer these questions and understand the genealogy of specific cases, students will work (individually or in groups) in a wide variety of ethnographic projects. Throughout the course students will learn to find relevant questions and sites, articulate their research proposal and questions, plan and undertake fieldwork (in this particular case, paying attention to different embodiments and materials) and archival work, as well as engage in the analysis and production of ethnographic accounts. To do so, we will draw from literature on Critical Gerontology and Disability Studies, Science and Technology Studies, and the anthropology of ageing and urban infrastructures.
Furthermore, this project seeks to train students to explore multimodal and interventive forms of collaborative / interdisciplinary ethnographic work and output on ageing cities. This multimodal approach will prove relevant when attempting to explore a relevant environmental dimension of cities whose welfare provision models, infrastructures, materials, architectural forms and conceptual understandings of an all-too-human welfare might have also started to age, decay, get ruined or are discovered to be toxic (in a literal sense: with protective materials discovered as being hazardous; but also in a more metaphoric one: in a post-COVID time in which some of these ageing infrastructures might have been complicit in the pandemic affecting older people more).What if these ageing infrastructures that were thought to be solutions in the past might have become stark problems for both the present and future of our common life in the planet? How could we as anthropologists contribute with our ethnographic insight and multimodal intervention experiments to a wider public reflection inciting more careful arrangements for all involved?