Data Power Conference

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Panel Session 6c): The Datafied Self (Chair: Göran Bolin)


Training to Self-Care: The Power and Knowledge of Fitness Data

Aristea Fotopoulou, Lancaster University

In recent years, tracking devices and wearable sensors occupy a key locus in the mediation of the healthy and responsible citizen. Cloud-based fitness-tracking devices such as Fitbit are often framed in policy and in the media to enable significant life-quality changes. Critical discussions around this widely circulating notion of the health-data tracking citizen have heavily drawn from Michel Foucault’s later conceptualisation of 'care for the self' (Rose and Novas, 2005; Rabinow, 1992). Here the emphasis has been on how technologies of the body have historically served to discipline bodies and to construct notions of the healthy body; however, in the case of Fitbit and other similar wearable technologies in the leisure/health consumer market, questions beyond autonomy, freedom and choice open up to critical inquiry. The accumulation of statistical data indicates a shift of legitimacy and power from the medical expert to the individual. In the promotional material of various gadgets, this shift of authority is often accentuated and articulated as a form of democratisation and individual empowerment afforded by the technology. This paper focuses on data power in relation to new forms of self-training and new subjectivities as they link to pedagogies of self-care or 'biopedagogies'. Through a media analysis of the innovation imaginaries circulating in the media; and an analysis of the Fitbit interface, we discuss data power in the wider context of digital health promotion, imaginaries of technoscience, and the shift from health care to health consumption. Our critical attention is with the tensions between media representations, user experience, and knowledge-making about data and health promotion wearables, against the backdrop of economic cuts and the reshaping of the health sector throughout Europe.


(My) Data (My) Double: On the Need for a Positive Biopolitical Understanding of Data

Spencer Revoy, Queen's University, Canada

This paper explores the implications for Big Data practices when considering data as a virtually embodied extension of the subject who generates it. First, the paper follows Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska’s argument that new media practices, entrenched and multivalent as they are for so many, should be considered vital processes of everyday life and extends it by arguing that the data of these processes should be considered as embodied. This connection to the body is posited through Arthur Kroker’s conception of the posthuman, especially the concept of body drift—that contemporary subjects constantly drift between bodies of various constructions, including technologically mediated ones composed of data. In the second part, the paper argues that, within this positive biopolitics of data, current Big Data practices such as sovereign ownership, anonymous mass collection/sortation and remediation alienate subjects from their data doubles. The paper argues that this alienation is not an intrinsic quality of current Big Data practices but a byproduct of the form through which the practices occur, i.e. the interface. Through a critical evaluation of ‘user-friendliness’ as the predominant philosophy of interface design, the paper concludes that data alienation is not a new phenomenon in human-computer interface, but one that is problematized by the increasing vitality of the data double as an intimate reflection of the generating subject; further, that the capacities of Big Data technologies to control this data exacerbates the problem and necessitates a biopolitical intervention into Big Data studies and, in consideration of Big Data's form, an interdisciplinary linking to the field of interface criticism.


The Domestication of Self-Monitoring Devices: Beyond Data Practices?

Kate Weiner, University of Sheffield; Catherine Will, University of Sussex, and Flis Henwood, University of Brighton

The emergence of a lay consumer market for health monitoring devices means that people may be recording and tracking ever more aspects of their bodily status. One strand of scholarship has seen this through a Foucauldian lens, suggesting that self-tracking requires and produces certain types of self-regulating and responsible subjects, as well as expressing concerns about flows of data away from these subjects to governments and corporations. Another strand has seen these developments through the lens of expertise and implied a more creative potential for tracking to engender new forms of patienthood, and celebrating data flows to new knowledge-producing collectives that may challenge biomedical knowledge.
In both perspectives, knowledge creation is a key outcome of self-monitoring. We start from some doubts about whether this fully explains people’s self-monitoring practices. We question whether such monitoring necessarily leads to data, let alone to knowledge. Drawing on our research on the domestication of consumer health technologies, we would like to supplement current perspective through exploring how self-monitoring contributes on a very local and domestic level to negotiations about care, and consider possibilities for monitoring to feature in what we understand as mundane or quiet forms of resistance to contemporary health surveillance.


The Dataist Self - Epistemological Foundations and Social Positionings

Minna Ruckenstein and Mika Pantzar, University of Helsinki

This paper offers an investigation of the Quantified Self (QS) phenomenon, as it is presented in the magazine, Wired (2008-2012). Based on an exploration of the epistemological foundations of the Quantified Self discourse, four interrelated themes – transparency, optimization, feedback loop, and biohacking – are identified as formative, suggesting that the notion of the Quantified Self is a curious mix of theories of knowledge promoting ‘dataism’. Wired takes advantage of language, including metaphors and key concepts, and combines them in a manner that proposes a new kind of self, ‘a dataistic self’. The Quantified Self -discourse argues that dataism, enabled by personal data flows and feedback mechanisms, is a empowering reflexive possibility for those who use self-tracking technologies for fulfilling their goals. Yet without appropriate resources, technological newness can incapacitate and disable, with the end result being that we can no longer know ourselves and other people. The dataistic worldview privileges access to data generating devices and data analysis techniques in a manner that can undermine the enabling promises of digitalization; instead of openness and transparency, people rely on closed computational systems as knowledge formation becomes more intimately tied to technological advances and analytics in the form of algorithms, for instance. Thus the seductive and adaptive nature of the Quantified Self suggests that the social and economic aims and research efforts being channeled through the promotion of data-driven selves, lives, and economies need to be persistently evaluated and re-politicized and the paper suggests some moves towards that end.