Case Study: Messy Realities

Containers, Messy Realities project at the Pitt Rivers Museum

A variety of containers of medicines or other health-enhancing substances

In 2018, the Pitt Rivers Museum became a meeting point for people from varied backgrounds and with different life experiences to come together and investigate the relevance of technology to their everyday lives. In the setting of a museum of comparative technology, University researchers; people living with long-term health conditions and their carers; older people living alone; designers; and Museum staff came together through a series of workshops to form a new kind of ‘community’. Be they from the interdisciplinary research team or a member of the wider community, space was made for everyone’s voice within the Messy Realities encounters.

Messy Realities group member with PARO therapeutic robot seal

Messy Realities group member with PARO therapeutic robot seal, designed to stimulate patients with Dementia, Alzheimer's, and other cognition disorders.

Together, the group responded to questions from the Wellcome Trust-funded Studies in Co-Creative Assistive Living Solutions (SCALS) programme, generating provocative answers and further questions that formed the basis of a co-curated display in the Museum. Questions posed included: can technology care for humans; why are some technologies abandoned; why are others taken up in ways they were never intended to be used; and how can ‘historic’ ethnographic material become a catalyst through which to rethink ‘contemporary’ assistive living technologies? 

The group experimented with putting different objects together (from the Museum’s collections and those gathered from SCALS fieldwork), to spark new ideas, and to see technologies in new lights. A storytelling approach was used to capture the sometimes mundane and imperfect real-world settings in which assistive living technologies come to be used and acquire meaning – or, alternatively, rejected as lacking meaning or not ‘working properly’. 

To find out more go to the project website here.

I asked …. for your email address so that l could say a really big THANK YOU. As you can see l am taking advantage of the little bit of IT technology l have managed to acquire. I have enjoyed them very much indeed. It felt like being a student again. I wasn’t a teacher, wife, mother, helper, carer etc, responsible for others, but just ME […] I have never taken recreational drugs but l was on such a ‘high’ after Monday’s session l imagine that’s what it is like. It seems real stimulation is lacking for most of us ‘oldies’. I suppose normally we associate we others around our own age and in like-minded groups; but with your sessions the mixture of ages (18-80 on Monday) with such a diverse range of experience and knowledge really gelling together was inspiring. It made me feel young again. Thank you again and l do hope there will be more for us.

– Jean, proud octogenarian and Messy Realities participant (cited on Messy Realities website).

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