Materializing “Ruling Relations”: A Case of Gender, Power and Elder Care in Sweden

Camilla Andersson, Ramia Mazé, Anna Isaksson, Karin Ehrnberger, Emma Börjesson


This paper reflects upon our critical (feminist) design research approach developed in response to the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova)’s innovation program on equality. As a pilot of the program, the subject of our research is equality within elder care work, a female-dominated employment sector with particular gender and power dynamics. We have responded to this program and sector by rethinking our research methodologies and critical design research method. Inspired by institutional ethnography and the concept of ‘ruling relations’, our research approach involves critical design to materialize structural inequalities manifested within the everyday micro-practices of care work. Stories and sketches (as ‘material theses’) were generated through qualitative fieldwork involving ‘research through design’ processes to observe, document, explore, interpret, discuss and communicate gendered practices of elder care. Three themes emerged along the way, which articulate ruling relations revealed within elder care work. This research case is reported here along with reflections about the potentials of critical design as a (feminist) research approach capable of more critically interrogating power and positionality within design and innovation. From our perspective, equality as a policy and subject of research – including design research – calls for critical (and feminist) theoretical and methodological development.

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