A new paper, using data from the pilot interviews from our project, has been published in Sociology of Health and Illness. The journal article was written by Kate Weiner and Catherine Will. In it, they argue that the use of self-monitoring devices may be understood as a shared practice that expresses care for self and for others. The abstract is reproduced below, and the entire paper is available to read Open Access here.
The growing consumer market in health monitoring devices means that technologies that were once the preserve of the clinic are moving into spaces such as homes and workplaces. We consider how one such device, blood pressure monitors, comes to be integrated into everyday life. We pursue the concept of ‘care infrastructure’, drawing on recent scholarship in STS and medical sociology, to illuminate the work and range of people, things and spaces involved in self-monitoring. Drawing on a UK study involving observations and interviews with 31 people who have used a consumer blood pressure monitor, we apply the concept beyond chronic illness, to practices involving consumer devices – and develop a critical account of its value. We conclude that the care infrastructure concept is useful to highlight the socio-material arrangements involved in self-monitoring, showing that even for ostensibly personal devices, monitoring may be a shared practice that expresses care for self and for others. The concept also helps draw attention to links between different objects and spaces that are integral to the practice, beyond the device alone. Care infrastructure draws attention to the material, but ensures that analytic attention engages with both material and social elements of practice and their connections.
We have uploaded a working paper that draws together existing scholarship from digital sociology and media & communication studies with work from Science and Technology Studies and the Sociology of Health and Illness.
The scholarship and questions we consider in this paper are informing our thinking and plans as the project progresses. We’d welcome your comments.
You can download the paper here and read the abstract below.
This paper aims to contribute to critical studies of self-monitoring by drawing together existing scholarship, emerging predominantly in digital sociology and media and communication studies journals, with scholarship from Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Sociology of Health and Illness (SHI) on other health technologies used away from the clinic. We take stock of existing work and suggest potential avenues for further exploration. We start by offering a critical summary of scholarship on self-monitoring, arguing that an important theme has concerned the meaning and value of data. An initial focus on media and commercial discourses, providing political economy and Foucauldian analyses, has been complemented and complicated by emerging ethnographic work, particularly on the Quantified Self movement, which suggest plural understandings and valuations of self-monitoring data, and limits to data flows. A key contribution of our argument is that there may be more to self-monitoring than data and data flows. We suggest that a technology-in-practice perspective might help to explore the diversity of monitoring practices, bringing into relief issues that are already central in SHI and STS. We draw on evidence from comparison cases of other health technologies used in domestic spaces (telecare and pharmaceuticals) to highlight three conceptual areas that have resonance for self-monitoring: (i) non-use, resistance and unexpected uses of technologies, (ii) the distributed work of self-monitoring within existing care infrastructures, and (iii) the emotional meaning of self-monitoring. We end with a series of questions that we propose could help orientate and further enrich future scholarship into self-monitoring.
Kate and Catherine recently participated in a “book sprint”, as part of an ESRC Seminar Series called ‘New Practices for New Publics‘.
This was an innovative series of events designed to bring together cutting edge thinking in social science, drawing on theories of social practice, with the experiences of civil society organisations, especially those in the community and voluntary sector. The series explored what these organisations ‘do’ – attending to the complexities of everyday work in fields including health, education, social care, housing and other community action.
The book sprint was aimed at condensing some of the themes and work which emerged from the seminar series, and acted as a collective and collaborative approach to book writing, where everyone writes, edits and redrafts what emerges during a week period.
The final product of the book sprint – New Practices for New Publics? Theories of social practice and the voluntary and community sector – is available for download here.
You can follow tweets from the book sprint on twitter or learn more about the writing concept at book sprint’s website.
Participation in the seminar series and book sprint has helped to shape and develop our thinking about theories of social practice, providing ideas about everyday practice that will inform the tracking project.
We’ve released a document that offers a brief summary of the pilot research that will be used to help shape Tracking Ourselves?
In it, you can learn more about the pilot research methods and some of the initial findings that are guiding our thinking as we begin the research for this project.
You can also find a list of dissemination activities in the document – these are also reproduced on our output page, where we have uploaded material used in any presentations.
The download is available via this link, but you can also access it through both our Resources and Outputs pages.
Catherine from the Tracking Ourselves? project is also involved in the Cost of Living website, which published short pieces that focus broadly on the politics, economics and sociology of health and health care. Below is some of a piece she and Kate Weiner, also in the team, wrote for Cost of Living on technology for self-monitoring. You can read the whole piece here.
Health and fitness tracking is all the rage. You want to keep track of your weight or count calories? There are apps for that. The NHS even offers an app ‘to track the whole family’s BMI over time.’ Through using these personal digital devices we can all learn to monitor our behavior. This in turn can motivate us to make and maintain changes to prevent disease, and improving our health by sharing data with friends (see the recent BBC documentary, Monitor Me).
In some ways this narrative is persuasive. Personal computing has changed the way we live and work, and the spread of smart phones has been rapid. People now hold enormous analytic power in their hands many times a day. But we have some doubts about the extent to which people are happy to monitor themselves in this way.
We’ve been researching consumers of the cholesterol lowering drugs, statins, and of so-called functional foods that contain plant sterols, like Benecol and Flora proactiv, for a few years now. Respondents in our research were from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Their views suggest a strong reluctance to engage in the kinds of activity that are involved in digital health tracking.
— you can read the full blog post on the Cost of Living website