Accepted paper:

The body technological: feedback and the quantification of the self through self-monitoring devices


Rebecca Lynch (King's College London)
Simon Cohn (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)

Paper short abstract:

In considering experiences of self-monitoring we examine feedback loops, relationships between individuals and technology and understandings of health, body and self. We argue that self-monitoring constructs a particular type of body that is only one of multiple ways of knowing and experiencing.

Paper long abstract:

The idea of self-monitoring, in which individuals receive information about their health status with the aim that they will act on this to improve their health, has been around for some years and is now central in many public health initiatives designed to address so-called lifestyle diseases. This paper considers how individuals in a public health trial understood and experienced the process of self-monitoring. Through participant's accounts we describe the ways in which individuals made sense of the information they received from self-monitoring technologies, relating it to their own experiences and more embodied assessments of their body and health. Taking a practice theory approach, informed also by concepts from ANT, we examine the feedback loops thought to be created through self-monitoring technologies and how data received, and relationships between the individual and the technology, create understandings of health, the body and self. Given the proliferation of self-monitoring technologies, such as through the growth of devices and phone apps, and more generally through the Quantified Self movement in which technology is used to life-log, or self-track, aspects of daily life, we discuss how self-monitoring technologies may well lead people to construct and interact with their bodies in diverse ways, over and above the assumption that feedback simply provides a rational means to maintain and improve a particular health behaviour. We argue that self-monitoring constructs a particular type of body that is only ever one of multiple forms of knowing and experiencing.

panel P17
Repositioning health, illness and the body: the challenge of new theoretical approaches to medical anthropology