Beyond functioning: simple technology, complex lives

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


In this paper I discuss my ongoing fieldwork with older people in the UK. As part of this work I explore informants’ use of and attitudes to mobility aids (walking sticks, frames, wheelchairs etc.). Such aids are crucial for functioning and often stand in metonymical relationships with older age itself. Interestingly though, these aids also have their own complex existences that are embedded in people’s life-stories and experiences. Aids such as sticks and chairs have specific, remembered origins, emotionally charged histories, and hoped-for futures. These trajectories are bound-up with elements of their users’ lives that include family circumstances, significant life events and self-image. For instance, sticks are inherited from relatives, wheelchairs are obtained at times of crisis, and walking frames are left to one side for the sake of appearances (or vice versa). Thus, while aids certainly do provide physical assistance, we also need to see them as intertwined with people’s everyday lives, pasts and futures. As such, mobility aids are intrinsic to the embodied person. While many such mobility aids may seem relatively simple, the nature of the engagement between person and aids is highly complex and may mirror people’s engagement with more technologically complex medical interventions.
Translated title of the contributionBeyond functioning: simple technology, complex lives
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnthropology and Science, ASA Decennial Conference, Manchester University, 14-18 July
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003

Bibliographical note

Name and Venue of Event: Panel: The Science of Functioning Bodies
Conference Organiser: ASA


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