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Overview of the ASSA Project

The Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing team introduce themselves and their research highlights.
Who we are Laura Haapio-Kirk.
Fieldsite: Japan Hello! I’m Laura Haapio-Kirk. I worked in two fieldsites in Japan. One was Kyoto, a city of 1.4 million people. And the other was a depopulated rural region in Kōchi prefecture. I found that in both fieldsites, smartphones are rapidly being taken up by older people. With mid-life often representing a time of movement and relocation, these devices were primarily used to help people to show care towards family living remotely, often in highly visual ways.
Xinyuan Wang.
Fieldsite: China Hi, my name is Xinyuan Wang and my research took place in Shanghai. I lived in a low-rise compound in the city centre,   but also conducted research in different suburbs, and a care home for the elderly. I found that older people in China are particularly  enthusiastic about adopting new technology. They saw this as contributing to the national  effort to leapfrog other advanced economies. Maya de Vries & Laila Abed Rabho.
Fieldsite: Al-quds (East Jerusalem) Hello, I am Maya de Vries and I am an Israeli academic,   And I am Laila Abed Rabho, a Palestinian researcher.   Our joint fieldsite was Dar al-Hawa, a Palestinian community of about 13,000 people, which today is a neighbourhood in Al-quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem. We did our research at the local seniors’ club, where I taught older people how to use smartphones, and also in people’s homes. We researched the way participants, even when they have smartphones,   still struggle to access different bureaucracies, as well as health services. Charlotte Hawkins.
Fieldsite: Kampala, Uganda. Hi there! My name is Charlotte Hawkins and I did my ethnography in Lusozi, an area of central Kampala, which is the capital of Uganda. Many research participants told me that they  feel ‘dotcom’ technologies such as smartphones are undermining respect and care for elders. But my research also showed how most participants continue to care for their older relatives at home in the village, for example by sending mobile money for health expenses.
Shireen Walton.
Fieldsite: Italy
Hi, I’m Shireen Walton. My fieldsite was an inner-city neighbourhood called NoLo in Milan, Italy. NoLo has a diverse urban population, with people from Egypt, Peru, The Philippines and other countries, as well as from other parts of Italy, such as Sicily.   This makes the smartphone an important instrument for connection   and transnational communication. Patrick Awondo.
Fieldsite: Cameroon Hello everyone! I’m Patrick Awondo. My research took place in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. I focused on the middle-class district called Mfadena. Many people there work in public administration, education or culture, and come from all over the country. I observed how the middle class create a new public sphere of constant political conversation, much of it through the smartphone. Daniel Miller.
Fieldsite: Ireland Hi! I’m Danny Miller, and my fieldsite was a  small coastal town in Ireland of about 10,000. I call it Cuan.   My research helped me to appreciate how our ability to transform smartphones after we have purchased them means they can become incredibly intimate, and a reflection of our individual personality, more than any previous device.
Pauline Garvey.
Fieldsite: Ireland I’m Pauline Garvey, and I also worked in Ireland. I’m calling my fieldsite ‘Thornhill’. It’s a middle-class coastal suburb of Dublin City. What I found particularly interesting was the way older people use retirement to craft their own lives and engage in many activities.   The smartphone has become a key instrument in this life crafting.
Marília Duque.
Fieldsite: Brazil
Hi. My name is Marília Duque and I work in Bento, a district within São Paulo City in Brazil. This is a middle-class area where people come to access health services. I found people made little use of specialist health apps on their smartphones, but smartphones are really important for health  because of the way they use ordinary apps,   such as WhatsApp and Google in relation to nutrition and health. Alfonso Otaegui.
Fieldsite: Chile Hi there! I am Alfonso Otaegui and I conducted my research in Santiago, Chile. By teaching smartphone use to older adults in cultural centres, I could see how the smartphone helps them get autonomy,   but also reveals their frailties and may lead to new forms of exclusion.

Watch the video above to gain a sense of who we are and our range of fieldsites. In the video, each ASSA team member introduces her or his fieldsite, highlighting one of their main findings.

The ASSA project began in 2017. We have been blogging about the project ever since we started, with team members reflecting on their fieldwork and findings. You can read our blog here.

Each member of the team carried out simultaneous 16-month ethnographies. Following this period, we are now writing monographs about each fieldsite, as well as publishing comparative studies. The first three books were launched on May 6th, 2021. All of our books are open-access and freely downloadable from the UCL Press website under the ‘Ageing with Smartphones’ series. We are currently translating the main comparative book, called The Global Smartphone, into several languages: Arabic, Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, and French and Thai.

We also have a YouTube channel that shows a range of short films from the fieldsites. This is linked below. The videos on the channel are grouped by region and theme.

As you watch the video above, you might want to think about the following questions:

Is there a fieldsite that you are particularly interested in and why?

How do you think your own region might be distinctive in respect to the use and consequences of smartphones?

You can also consider how you might apply the ideas of this course to the region where you live.

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An Anthropology of Smartphones: Communication, Ageing and Health

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