Accepted paper:

Distributed autonomy: smart insurance as a technological imaginary

Authors:

Maiju Tanninen (University of Tampere)
Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen (University of Tampere)
Minna Ruckenstein (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, we study how the actual and potential consumers of smart insurance products understand, perform and negotiate the degrees of autonomy in self-tracking practices. Through the examination of these practices and the consumers' imaginaries, we develop the concept of distributed autonomy.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper, we study the so-called "smart insurance" that combines self-tracking technologies with life insurance. Our main question is, how the actual and potential consumers of smart insurance products understand, perform and negotiate the degrees of autonomy in self-tracking practices. Through the examination of these practices and the consumers' imaginaries, we develop the concept of distributed autonomy. The paper is based on interviews conducted in Finland in 2017. Smart insurance products aim to track and manipulate the insured's behaviour by utilizing activity wristbands and other sensory devices. The policyholders are encouraged to share their acts of self-determination in health decisions with the devices while the insurance company gathers data on the insured's activities. We demonstrate tensions and possibilities around smart insurance, discussing relationalities that it opens, rather than seeking a linear story of a disciplinary mechanism. We outline how imaginaries of surveillance, control, self-determination, and freedom are distributed in multiple ways, and in various degrees. The empirical materials make evident that personal autonomy is not a question of either/or, or on/off. It is not as if either the control is externalized and given up to institutions and gadgets, or it is retained by the subject. Rather, we emphasize the wide variety of the degrees of autonomy evident in the practices and in the fantasies related to the scope of possibilities that the new technologies provide.

panel P040
Anthropology and emerging technologies [FAN panel]