British Sociological Association Conference, April 2017

In the initial months of Tracking Ourselves, we’ve spoken to a number of commercial stakeholders working in the area of self-monitoring, and have attended several key industry events. Alongside this, we’ve also been looking at the market of self-monitoring products in some detail to develop a clearer sense of how commercial stakeholders understand practices of self-monitoring and the users undertaking them. The recent British Sociological Association annual conference at the University of Manchester gave us an opportunity to explore some of the themes from our analysis of texts and objects alongside other social science researchers working broadly in the field of digital health. 

Below is a copy of the paper abstract, presented on day one of the conference.

This paper is concerned with everyday health monitoring using technologies acquired independently of health professionals. We focus on how industry and policy stakeholders envisage self-monitoring practices, and how these expectations are inscribed in products. As much of the current interest in this area focuses on digital technologies and fitness/wellness apps, we expand discussions by exploring more mundane technologies that sit squarely between the medical and consumer realms, like home blood pressure monitoring.

Sociological research to date, concerned with wearable devices and smartphone apps, focuses on how such platforms produce individuated selves, displaying the responsible qualities of late modernity’s good self-tracking citizens. Proprietorial tendencies of commercial and state actors are also central in these sociological accounts (Till 2014) where the convergence of bodies and technologies may now be producing forms of ‘digital biocapital’ (Lupton 2016). Though such focus on discourse provides valuable insights into the political economy of self-monitoring, it is equally important to attend to the work of expectation in how these technologies are conceived and promoted.

Accordingly, we look at how self-monitoring technologies are ‘scripted’ (Akrich 1992) with particular users/uses in mind. We analyse a sample of texts from policy and commerce produced since January 2015, to demonstrate how these expectations have, as many envisaged futures tend to (Brown and Michaels 2003), very material implications for both health policy and the consumer self-monitoring market.