Age matters: senior exclusions, designing consultations and a municipal action plan for age-(un)friendly cities

Constance Lafontaine and Kim Sawchuk


Researchers within social gerontology have argued that population ageing and urbanisation are two of the most significant trends shaping the 21st century. According to researchers working for the Public Health Agency of Canada, the percentage of seniors (aged 65 and over) will rise from 14% in 2006 to 25% in 2036 (Turcotte and Schellenberg 2007) with the vast majority of Canadian seniors living in cities. Within this context, the World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed the “age-friendly cities” (AFC) agenda as a public policy response to demographic ageing and urbanisation (WHO 2007).

One of the key goals of the AFC initiatives is to create “supportive and enabling settings at the local level that promote good health, compensate for disabilities, and foster social and civic participation” so that communities can “help harness the potential of seniors in society” (Plouffe et al. 2012, p. 36). Given the desire to promote social and civic participation as an end goal, one might assume that the processes put into place to create civic participation would reflect these aspirations and provide a supportive and enabling setting for participation at the local level. In this chapter we examine these processes, asking how age was “scripted” (Akrich 1992) into the design of the City of Montreal’s 2018 public consultation to enhance Montreal’s status as an age-friendly city, which took place from January to March 2018. This consultation led to the elaboration of Montreal’s “Municipal Action Plan for Seniors 2018-2020” (Ville de Montreal 2018a) released in June 2018. As Science and Technology Studies (STS) researchers looking at the intersection of ageing, technology and design have argued, “age scripts”, which enable and constrain the scope for action, are often embedded in the design of socio-cultural technologies (Neven 2010).

Our analysis of this local case brings STS research on age and ageing (Joyce et al. 2017; Neven 2010) into conversation with a cultural studies approach to the study of ageing and technology (Katz 2013; Twigg and Martin 2015). Like cultural studies, STS emphasises the importance of contexts and examines the localcontingencies that enable a particular technology or design to be co-produced. As the editors of the recent Handbook of Science and Technology Studies state:

[T]he idea that epistemic, technological, and social orders are co-produced has become commonplace in the field.. . ; so, too, has reflexivity toward the situatedness of knowledge claims and technological developments. ... In this sense, all knowledge is local and reflects the specific historical moment, cultural context as well as the networks within which it is made.

(Felt et al. 2017, p. 1)

This attentiveness to local specificities and historical contingencies echoes one of the central concepts within cultural studies, that of a conjuncture (Slack and Wise 2005). A conjuncture takes into account the intersection of numerous contingencies that come together in “a particular place, at a particular time, in a particular set of relations: in, as it were, the articulation of a real historical moment” (Slack 2006, p. 225). Jennifer Slack explains that the articulations that come to comprise a conjuncture suggest two critical dynamics: “a contingent joining of parts to make a unity or identity that constitutes a context, and the empowerment and disempowerment of certain ways of imagining and acting in that context” (ibid). Thinking from the perspective of living within a particular conjunctural moment entails mapping the “conditions we inherit” as well as envisioning “how we might move on from there” (Slack 2006, p. 227).

Our purpose is to provide a “de-scription” (Akrich 1992) of this conjunctural moment and the design of this consultation. We detail the contingencies that came to matter, describe what happened, and what was done in response to collectively challenge the design of the City of Montreal’s consultation process that led to the 2018 Municipal Action Plan for Seniors. Who are the seniors imagined within these documents and whose values came to matter during the three months of the consultation? What do the scripts embedded in this design tell us about who and what is made to matter in the consultation process? What lessons can be gleaned from the case Montreal’s AFC public consultation, and more specifically to the design of future online fora to reach older adults? In this sense, our chapter also speaks to recent STS research on the “performativity of participatory methods” (see López Gómez and Criado 2021, Chapter 6 in this volume)

De-scribing a conjunctural moment

Let us return to the WHO document, which defines the initial problem and offers potential guidelines for action, as the first point of reference in the creation of a script that imagines the senior “users” within the age-friendly city agenda (see also van Hees et al. 2021, Chapter 10 in this volume). The WHO agenda gives eight criteria to evaluate “age-friendliness” in any urban setting: (1) outdoor spaces and buildings, (2) transportation, (3) housing, (4) social participation, (5) respect and social inclusion, (6) civic participation employment, (7) communication and information, and (8) community support and health services (WHO 2007; Plouffe and Kalache 2010). These domains are used as the basis for consultations with older adults, caregivers and service providers to identify the key features of an urban setting that will make them compliant with an AFC agenda.

The WHO’s initial plan and description of age-friendly communications is intended to ensure the design of an age-friendly communications and information strategy. Among other points, it emphasises a

basic, effective communication system [that] reaches community residents of all ages, . . . oral communication accessible to older people, . . . people at risk of social isolation get one-to one information from trusted individuals, ... printed information - including official forms, television captions and text on visual displays - has large lettering and the main ideas are shown by clear headings and boldface type [and] wide public access to computers and the Internet, at no or minimal charge, in public places such as government offices, community centres and libraries.

(WHO 2007)

While this list was written in 2007, before the widespread proliferation of the cellular telephone and the mobile Internet in Canada, it nevertheless highlights the WHO’s emphasis on communication and information as integral components of an age-friendly city.

By 2013, Canada was the country with the most extensive uptake of the AFC approach (Plouffe et al. 2012). While Quebec was the fourth partner province to sign on to the AFC agenda in Canada, it has since become one of its most active promoters. In 2008, Quebec’s Ministère de la Famille et des Aînés (MFA) supported and promoted the development of seven AFC pilot projects, with the assistance of researchers from the Université de Sherbrooke's Centre de recherche sur le vieillissement (ibid.). Initially grounded in a community-based approach, the success of these pilot projects inspired the government to engage in a province-wide programme Municipalité amie des aînés, or MADA (a French translation of AFC), with the promise that “Municipalities that receive funding for MADA also receive technical guidance in the form of tools, training sessions, and field support from the carrefour action municipale (CAMF) a non-profit organization funded by the MFA” (ibid., p 34). By September 2012, 579 Quebec municipalities had engaged in a MADA process, including Montreal, the largest municipality in the province. Municipalities need to adopt action plans to be eligible for provincial funding and by 2017 Montreal’s plan was up for renewal. As such, it launched a process to develop its next AFC action plan, and its public consultation was announced on 29 January 2018 (2018b).

Montreal’s age (un)friendly public consultation

The design of the public consultation involved several simultaneous components aimed at gathering input from the Montreal population, especially from seniors themselves. The consultation was to end on 28 February 2018 (Ville de Montréal 2018d), lasting for a meagre 31 days. Early on, four major problems with the design of the consultation were identified by our research team and community partners: insufficient and physically inaccessible face-to-face consultation sessions, unilingual consultation in a multilingual city, lack of public outreach and the prioritisation of online dissemination, including the use of an online only survey (Lafontaine and Sawchuk 2018). As local community organisers suggested, these problems are indicative of the city’s inability to engage with underrepresented or marginalised groups of seniors in the city. For example, Tania Callender of the African Canadian Development and Prevention Network criticised the city’s lack of effort in reaching minority groups. She explained that immigrant communities often mistrust governments and that relationships must be rebuilt through genuine engagement. In her speech delivered at the press conference, Callender stated that the public consultation embedded “systemic barriers that amplify the sense and state of exclusion that already exists”. Another informant told us that organisations, particularly those serving immigrant communities in Montreal, were sidelined and silenced early on in the process. They also noted that representatives from immigrant communities were wary of being too vocal in their criticisms because they rely, in part, on municipal funding. In other words, from the beginning the seniors scripted into this consultation were not imagined to be members of these communities.

Insufficient and physically inaccessible face-to-face consultation session

The WHO’s guidelines place transportation on its checklist. Indeed, one of the key issues identified by seniors who participated in the consultation was the issue of fostering an accessible transportation system. Statistically, disability is higher among seniors in Montreal, compared to those living in other major Canadian cities (61% versus an average of 56%) (Markon et al. 2017). One of the challenges of ageing in Quebec, particularly with a disability, is climate. Ironically, the four face-to face-consultations, along with the entire consultation process, were planned for February, one of the coldest, snowiest and iciest months of the year in Montreal, when average temperatures are between -3 and -11 degrees Celsius. This is a time of year when local older adults often express a wariness to venture outside of their homes, and for good reason. Madhu Nambiar, an 88-year-old resident of Montreal, urged the city to extend the consultation “because it’s been such a harsh winter” (Scott 2018). In fact, each winter, there are media reports about individuals - especially older adults - falling on slippery Montreal sidewalks, to such an extent that emergency rooms become overcrowded with patients reporting bone fractures (CBC 2017).

As scholars on ageing and mobility have pointed out, there is a need to pay attention to “age-friendly mobilities” in the creation of urban infrastructures (Murray 2015, p. 2), a point that is particularly germane for older adults living in cold climates. In designing the consultation, the city chose venues that were not easily accessible for those with reduced mobility who rely on public transit, as three out of four locations were next to metro stations that do not have elevators. The fourth venue was near a wheelchair accessible metro, but it required an additional eleven-minute walk to reach it. These physical conditions meant that seniors, particularly those who experience mobility issues, those who rely on public transit and those who do not own or drive cars were less likely to partake in the consultations. While the WHO guidelines continually address the need to ensure that “people at risk of social isolation get one-on-one information from trusted individuals” (WHO 2007), the difficulty of reaching many of these venues in the month of February meant that those most at risk of social isolation had difficulty participating.

Unilingual consultation in a multilingual city

The first point made by the WHO’s guide on communications is that a basic, effective communication system must reach community residents of all ages (WHO 2007). Members of advocacy groups, such as Seniors Action Quebec, tried to pressure the city of Montreal to “make the entire process accessible in English, considering the size of Montreal’s English-speaking senior population” (Seniors Action Quebec 2018). The consultation process devised by the city was essentially unilingual, with a French-only website, survey and guide to what they called “kitchen assemblies”, or small informal conversations organised by citizens. The four face-to-face consultations themselves were slated to be facilitated only in French, and none were planned in Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the most populous and culturally diverse borough of Montreal, or for that matter in any borough in the largely non-francophone western part of the city. While the city designed a guide to facilitate small-scale kitchen assemblies, or kitchen table conversations that they imagined could supplement the low number of facilitated face-to-face consultation sessions, the guide provided no instructions for how the ideas generated could be reported back to the city. In other words, it was not clear how the kitchen assemblies would inform any part of the city’s AFC policy.

The unilingual character of the consultation process scripted who could participate and who could not, excluding the significant population of seniors who speak English or other languages. Seniors born outside of Canada are more likely to have English than French as their first learned Canadian official language than their younger counterparts (Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages 2014). English-speaking seniors in Quebec are at a higher risk of isolation than those who are French-speaking, in part due to a lack of services rendered in their language (ibid.). Some 42% of Montreal seniors were born in another country (Ville de Montréal 2018a), making older adults an especially diverse segment of the city’s population and putting into focus the need to adopt a multilingual approach. In stark contrast to Montreal’s, Toronto’s AFC public consultation used a survey that had been translated into ten languages (City of Toronto 2018).

Lack of public outreach and prioritisation of online dissemination

The WHO’s age-friendly communications guidelines stress the importance of disseminating printed information that is accessible. However, the Montreal AFC consultations were largely unpublicised. At a February meeting, city officials informed us that they had not paid for any media or other advertising, instead they relied on their websites and social media accounts to disseminate information. A press release had been issued on 29 January 2018; however, it was not picked up by any local media. While a small number of French-language posters were printed by the city, officials could not provide us with details about their distribution or circulation. Additionally, a few community organisations were asked to communicate the information about the consultation to their membership, but it is unclear what tools were given to support them. As critics of the AFC process in other cities have noted, austerity measures taken by governments have created additional burdens on those who are providing community-based services (Joy 2018). In this context, community-based organisations in Quebec are faced with the burden of undertaking the delivery of social services that might otherwise fall under the responsibility of governments. Each community organisation has its own mission to fulfil for its membership, aside from any AFC initiative.

As we learned when we began to contact community organisations and political officials, the design of the city’s communication strategy meant that few of these organisations knew about the existence of a consultation about the city’s senior action plan. From borough mayors, to city councillors, to community groups working with seniors, to local community centres, to seniors themselves, many of the local actors central to energising citizen participation had no knowledge that a consultation was taking place. Remarkably absent from the design of the outreach strategy was deliberate outreach to groups of seniors traditionally marginalised in the city and who already are less likely to partake in government consultations.

Contesting the AFC consultation process

In the face of an inadequately designed consultation, we conferred with research partners inside and outside the university. Many of them, especially community groups working closely with seniors, were alarmed in the face of the city’s rushed approach to public consultation and were concerned that this exclusion might become an outcome of its design. In consultation with these organisations researchers from Concordia’s engAGE Centre and the ACT project1 wrote a letter outlining the deficiencies of the process, requesting that changes be made to increase public engagement and foster the inclusion of underrepresented seniors. We sent this letter to the Mayor of Montreal’s office. After receiving no response for two weeks, we made this letter public (Sawchuk and Hebblethwaite 2018) and circulated it to the local media along with a press release. We reached out to other community groups equally frustrated by the city’s lack of response, who issued press releases of their own and contacted their city representatives.

Over the following weeks, we engaged with the media by providing interviews and fact sheets about age-friendly cities, wrote an opinion editorial (Lafontaine and Sawchuk 2018) and built an engaged collective front with community groups. On 18 February, we co-organised with allies Seniors Action Quebec, the African Canadian Development and Prevention Network and the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations a press conference in Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Representatives from over a dozen community organisations collectively challenged the Mayor’s continued assertion that the consultation process was inclusive. Together, we asked: how can we count on the city to implement an age-friendly city while it seems wholly incapable of implementing an agefriendly public consultation?

After the issue received public and media attention, the city expressed interest in meeting with us and other community organisations to shed light on its consultation process. Public pressure continued, with over thirty television, radio and newspaper reports, including the front page of the Montreal Gazette (Scott 2018). The city made some improvements to the design of their process: it extended the consultation by three weeks into the month of March, it opened a line to assist people who wanted to fill out the survey by telephone (though this was only advertised online, making it of little use for seniors who do not use the Internet). In collaboration with some boroughs and community organisations six more face-to-face consultations were announced and sign language interpretation (in Quebec Sign Language) was added to many of them. One English-language consultation brought in 246 attendees (Ville de Montréal 2018e) with attendance exceeding the numbers of any other face-to-face consultations. The city translated the website, survey and guide to kitchen assemblies in English. It included a downloadable version of the survey on their website and distributed copies at the face-to-face consultation sessions. It ran some advertising in metro stations. These improvements to the design of the consultation were important but struggled to counter the initial lack of outreach to minority communities.

Understanding that Canadian seniors, especially those over the age of 75, rely chiefly on traditional media to access news (Loos et al. 2018), the uptake of the issue by newspapers, radio and television supplemented the city’s own communication efforts. In our dialogues with the media, we made the case that the consultation process systematically excluded the groups of seniors who were already marginalised in Montreal by language, ethnicity, ability and social class. The design of the consultation called for the engagement of very specific actors: those who were already most privileged in their life in the city. The process was designed, albeit unintentionally, to effectively overrepresent the youngest, wealthiest and most educated seniors living in Montreal, subsequently ignoring the lived experiences of the oldest citizens and those who are already excluded or isolated in the city.

Throughout the process, it is important to note how often the media recast, and re-scripted, this message framing the inadequate consultation as an affront to anglophone rights. This was seen in headlines such as CTV's “Anglo group say Montreal must do more for senior consultations” (CTV Montreal 2018). In a Canadian province where the French and English divide stands as an ongoing political issue, the question of linguistic exclusion was a hook for many English media outlets and a likely reason that the failings of the consultation became highly publicised and deemed newsworthy. Though the violation of anglophone linguistic rights was indeed valid, it stood as just one of the many intersectional elements of minority exclusion perpetrated by the city’s consultation design.

Challenging the city’s account of the consultation

The city released its Municipal Action Plan for Seniors 2018-2020 (Ville de Montréal 2018a) and its Community Consultation Report (Ville de Montréal 2018e) in June 2018. In these glossy documents, the city provided a glowing account of a collaborative, inclusive, accessible, bilingual and successful consultation that generated an understanding of the needs of Montreal seniors. The documents gloss over the contested history of this process, including the boycott of the process by particular seniors’ organisations as a gesture of opposition. It rendered invisible the community and research mobilisation that forced the municipal government to make concessions by galvanising public and media attention. Finally, it ignored the ongoing public claims that the consultation had been discriminatory in its design and the call for future consultations to take into account the com-municational challenges faced by a linguistically, ethnically, socio-economically diverse ageing Montreal population.

The city’s (mis)portrayal of the consultation is illustrated by its claim that “no less than 2,346 persons took part in this consultation” (Ville de Montréal 2018c). In fact, this number counts each survey, each participation in a face-to-face consultation and each feedback form submitted at the end of a face-to-face consultation as an individual and unique participant. To put this into context, at the English-speaking consultation where 246 people were present, each person in attendance was invited to fill out paper copies of the survey and feedback form. If everyone filled out the paperwork as instructed, then 738 participants would be counted, dramatically inflating participation.

Many of the salient demands of the face-to-face consultations were never included in the city’s plan, or in the city’s account of the consultation. Citizens forcefully requested the formation of a permanent committee on ageing that would advise the city. This demand was not represented in the city’s records of the consultation and it was never implemented. A key demand, in other words, was rendered invisible in the final report. The city’s revisionist account of how it had designed a successful public consultation clashes with the observations made by several community groups and researchers. This discrepancy puts into focus the importance of research that is engaged with the community on the ground and willing to engage in intersectoral dialogues that move beyond the official documented accounts of policy building processes, which may not always tell the whole story. As van den Scott et al. (2017) argue, “(b)y studying situated actions and knowledges, ethnographers are able to study the unsettled and dynamic aspects of technology in relation to user groups, often in the midst of wider power struggles” (p. 517). Studying situated actions and knowledges allows ethnographers to expose wider power struggles that may go missing when the final plan is put into print, or “black-boxed” into an existence that naturalises its outcomes.

Challenging an ‘online solution’ for engaging seniors

The invisibility of precarious ageing in Montreal

In a recent review of ageing and STS, Joyce and colleagues make the prescient point that “ageism not only impacts how we understand old people and aging, it also shapes who counts as the imagined user of technologies and who is made invisible or marginalized” (Joyce et al. 2017, p. 918). Ageism intersects with other processes that produce and reproduce social inequities. Grenier and Phil-lipson point out, the tacit expectation that older adults are healthier and wealthier than ever before can lead us to “overlook contrasting experiences of later life” (Grenier and Phillipson 2018). In fact, significant portions of Montreal seniors live in a context of financial precarity. Poverty among older adults is higher in Montreal than it is in other major Canadian cities like Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver (Markon et al. 2017). Twenty-eight per cent of older adult Montrealers report difficulty buying goods and accessing services. Over half of all seniors in Montreal rent their dwellings, and 35% of adults over 65 live alone in Montreal, leaving them more at risk to situations of social isolation (Ibid.).

Arguably, the seniors who have the most to gain from an age-friendly city strategy are those who most keenly rely on local programmes and services for their well-being and those who are already most marginalised in society. They are also the ones more likely to voice the issues that have become invisible or have been normalised by a fundamentally ageist premise that “understands population aging as a burden, seeks to change senior citizens to make them more like young people, and targets those deemed most risky” (Joy 2017, p. 12).

Older adults and designing the conditions for digital inclusion

The digital divide between generations in Canada is narrowing, but it remains the case that younger adults are much more connected to the Internet and thus tend to have acquired more digital experience than older adults (Statistics Canada 2017). Access to the Internet and participation in a digital world is much more complex than having a connection or owning digital devices. To borrow from the words of Karen Barad (2007; also Cozza 2021, Chapter 5 in this volume), there are contextual entanglements that make it difficult for older adults living in poverty to use the Internet, highlighting the complex relationship between age and digital access

(Lafontaine and Sawchuk 2015). An advanced proficiency with using digital technologies is tied to high levels of education and high income (Veenhof et al. 2005). Canadians pay more for their telecommunication services than citizens of other industrialised countries (ISED 2017) and these costs are a deterrent to those who live in poverty (Rajabiun et al. 2016). There remains an important gap between older and younger seniors in Canada; those aged 75 and over, are much less connected than younger older adults, with digital use understood as being around 50% for this age group, pointing to intergenerational and intragenerational digital divides (Statistics Canada 2017).

As digital technologies become increasingly pervasive in society, one of the pressing concerns that emerges is not just whether people are able to use the Internet but rather what they are able to do online (DiMaggio and Hargittai 2001). This consideration is especially important when we consider older adults’ propensity to engage with governments and government processes online, which themselves can pose a number of challenges (Thrane et al. 2005). Government websites or government platforms are often badly designed and hard to find, and navigating them requires a high level of digital proficiency. A 2016 study based in Quebec underscores the conditions of ageing with technology in this conjunctural moment. Adults aged 55 stated that they preferred traditional methods of contact like face-to-face exchanges at service points or through phone calls. Those over 75 and those making less than $20,000 per year were the two demographic groups that were the least likely to turn to online platforms to deal with government (CEFRIO 2016). In other words, a reliance on online methods of engagement in the design of processes for civic participation, may cause an over-representation of young, educated and wealthy seniors, excluding those who are already socially marginalised through poverty, low literacy and prior educational opportunities.

The problem of enforced mediatisation of citizens through the digitisation of government services has rightly received critical scholarly attention (Jansen et al. 2016). Rather than presupposing access, conditions must be intentionally designed to make processes as easy and accessible as possible for all citizens. Failing to do so, risks further disempowering those who have a vested interest in challenging the status quo and erodes trust in governmental policies, such as those embedded in the AFC programme. As Meghan Joy suggests, this may “make it look like something is being done to assist seniors while substantive and necessary improvements remain unaddressed” (Joy 2017, p. 12).

Conclusion: questioning the digital default

Researchers following the implementation of AFC agendas across the world have examined how changes in government funding, including the implementation of austerity programs, have made it difficult for cities to successfully carry out AFC policy goals (Buffel et al. 2012; Scharlach et al. 2014). To these critiques of the deployment of the AFC agenda, we add the need to attend to how governments communicate with older adults and the urgent necessity of avoiding a hasty and ill-conceived digital default to reach older citizens. More research is needed on which cohorts of older adults are literally scripted into the processes and subsequently represented in the final policy reports produced. As Joyce et al. suggest, when we,

theorize elders as technogenarians, it is crucial to use an intersectional lens to produce a deep understanding of the diversity found in the category ‘old people’. ... Examining inequality, intersectionality, and technology is important to understand which groups are privileged and which are made vulnerable in the process of the creation of sociotechnological infrastructures, their use, and meaning making.

(Joyce et al. 2017, p. 930)

Our research reveals the gap between the goals of the AFC agenda, as outlined in the initial WHO vision and as first implemented by the social gerontological community, and the actual consultation process that took place in Montreal in 2018. It points to the urgent need for Age Studies to consider at least one other key megatrend present in the Canadian context and elsewhere, which greatly influences not only how seniors live their lives but how governments implement public engagement processes and connect with seniors. This is the trend of the digitisation of information and services, a trend that can be understood from a perspective that pays attention to the lived conditions of older adults.

Researchers, as well as policymakers, must be attuned to how even the most successful digital engagements risk reifying normative social orders and relations of power. This means developing an understanding of plural and heterogeneous older audiences in urban environments and recognising their challenges and the proper methods required to reach them. It means putting in place complementary modes of engagement that make use of a broad swath of media, including traditional media. It means taking on the responsibility of reaching traditionally marginalised groups of older adults in collaboration with the community sector, while not offloading this responsibility to this sector without providing them with sufficient resources. It means paying attention “to the moral economies that guide scientific research and technological development as well as to the various socio-technical modalities through which ways of knowing and living get arranged” (Felt et al. 2017, p. 2). When policymakers fail to meet this bar in a consultation process, they need to be transparent and reflexive about the propensity of certain methods, processes and design choices to obfuscate the social and economic realities and needs of the population. The intersecting conditions of access to online government consultation platforms presented previously collectively paint a picture of whose opinions are solicited and prioritised when governments favour digital modes of citizen engagement. It also shows us which individuals become recruited as engaged actors in the co-production of policy and who is cast to the margins of the system. This understanding pushes us to recognise that digital divides and e-democracy are intertwined (Helbig et al. 2009) and remain entangled even as the Internet becomes increasingly widespread.

We do not suggest that digital methods should be eliminated from public consultations. Instead, we need to deploy digital strategies carefully within an arsenal of methods for creating civic engagement. Online consultations are but one of the many ways that citizens can participate democratically and governments can seek democratic participation. The digital should not be a tool that replaces or erodes other types of engagements, or more alarmingly, that feeds an illusion that citizens have been duly consulted, a point that is particularly important when dealing with older adults. As Joy writes, AFC initiatives need to be founded on “a positive aging identity” that does not ignore the vulnerabilities that come with ageing but instead understands that “there is strength in recognising the shared human experiences of the aging process and the ways in which these social and physical experiences might differ according to intersecting identities such as gender, class race and geography” (Joy 2017, p. 13). It is critical that we use an intersectional approach that locates the processes of ageing within an ever-shifting conjuncture, and whose dynamics are subject to change through collective action. As we strive, collectively, to create age-friendly cities, it would be wise to understand how communications are lived and experienced by embodied citizens living in material conditions at a particular moment in time.


1 ACT stands for ageing + communication + technologies. It is a multi-methodological and international research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. More information:


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Chapter I 2

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