INFRASTRUCTURING DESIGN: An Ethnographic Study of Welfare Technologies and Design in a Public-Private and User Driven Innovation Project

    Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


    The fact that the average citizen in Western societies is aging has significant implications for national welfare models. What some call ’the grey tsunami’ has
    resulted in suggestions for, and experiments in, re-designing healthcare systems and elderly care. In Denmark, one attempted solution to these challenges has been the development of welfare technologies and services. A range of projects is currently being initiated, all with the shared aim to create technological and social innovations for health care and elderly care. This PhD thesis focuses on practices of developing welfare technologies within one such project, Project Lev Vel, a public-private and user driven innovation project. The central questions posed by the dissertation are: What is welfare technology? How is it imagined, designed, and developed, and by whom? Who are driving the design processes and how? Who are the elderly users that are imagined as the target group for welfare technology, and where are they located? Based on ethnographic explorations of ’welfare technology’ and related figures that include not only ’the elderly’, but also ’prototypes’ and ’partnership’ the dissertation analyses the processes and socio-technical arrangements through which welfare technology, as concept and practice, emerges. Despite high expectations for the positive effects of welfare technology in Danish government policies, the practical development of technological solutions turned out to be a difficult task. What caused such difficulties? The dissertation aims to elucidate the activities of design, and the development of welfare technology within the framework of public-private (PPI) and user driven innovation (UDI) project. One of the main findings is that for design carried out under the auspices of PPI and UDI, the crafting of sociotechnical sites and infrastructures for project communication plays a central role for design and, ultimately, for what welfare technology comes to be. The chapters explore different processes of what I call infrastructuring design; the ongoing crafting of social, material, and technical arrangements for collaborative design to happen. The implication of this is that technological design should not be imagined as the foundation for shaping more effective health care practices and better welfare. Instead, possibilities for improving practices through welfare technology emerge out of heterogeneous assemblages, in which not only technologies but also other materialities and diverse subjectivities all play important roles. Presently, relatively little is known about the co-emergence of welfare technology and design practice. The perspective of this thesis opens up for novel ways of exploring the ’social life’ of innovative welfare technologies. In general, the thesis offers an alternative to conventional views that depict design as driven, as if naturally, by its methods (a view that might be called ’methods fetishism’), and as leading, again, as if naturally, to the development of ’better’ technologies (a view that might be called teleological design). Instead of such reified views, the dissertation offers an account of design practices that takes seriously the continuous negotiations among heterogeneous actors out of which welfare technologies may emerge, or not.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherIT-Universitetet i København
    Number of pages252
    ISBN (Print)978-87-7949-335-3
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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