Infrastructures of Voice, Environments of Affect & Intimacy: : Voice-based Technology and Older People

Research output: Contribution to conference - NOT published in proceeding or journalConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review


Voice-enabled technology has been celebrated as a breakthrough in eldercare. Mainstream discourses emphasize voice-based technology as practical assistants, and thus figure voice as a practical means to achieve certain ends. But there is more to voice interactions than merely distributing messages and articulating commands. Voice-based interactions create sonic environments, enact affect, identities, likes and dislikes.

The paper explores the co-existence of older people and voice-based technologies ethnographically, and through the STS concept of infrastructure and a cultural anthropological view on voice. We see infrastructures as both objects and the relations between objects (Larkin), as ‘complex chains of material relations’ that ‘reconfigure bodies, societies [..] knowledge and discourses in ways often unnoticed’ (Harvey, Jensen and Morita). Voice is both a sonic material phenomenon and a culturally elaborated metaphor (Weidman), which connects deeply to feelings of intimacy, identity and community. Voice-based interactions can thus be seen as infrastructures that link the realms of the technical, cultural and sociopolitical to the level of the individual, creating sites where shared discourses and values, affect, and aesthetics are made manifest in and contested through embodied and material practice.

With the increasing co-existence of older people and voice-based assistants, we see a need for ethnographic views on what these technologies are, how they can be studied, and what they do. We develop the notion of ‘infrastructures of voice and affect’ as a more-than-human approach to study entanglements of ageing, environments of affect and intimacy, and voice- based technology.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date6 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2021
EventSociety for Social Studies of Science (4S) 2021: Good Relations: Practices and Methods in Unequal and Uncertain Worlds - Toronto and worldwide
Duration: 6 Oct 20219 Oct 2021


ConferenceSociety for Social Studies of Science (4S) 2021
LocationToronto and worldwide


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