Accepted paper:

Becoming Your Own Device: Promoting self-tracking challenges in the workplace


Steven Richardson (Queen's University)
Debra Mackinnon (Queen's University)

Paper short abstract:

Although recognized as ‘self-tracking,’ the practice significantly engages and overlaps with numerous social processes. This presentation explores some of these features as wearables, self-tracking and everyday analytics become more commonplace in Canadian workplaces.

Paper long abstract:

Workplaces have always sought to improve employee productivity and performance by monitoring and tracking a variety of indicators. Increasingly, these efforts target the health and well-being of the employee - recognizing that a healthy and active worker is a productive one. Influenced by managerial trends in personalized and participatory medicine (Swan 2012), some workplaces have begun to pilot their own programs, utilizing fitness wearables and personal analytics to reduce sedentary lifestyles. These programs typically take the form of gamified self-tracking challenges combining cooperation, competition, and fundraising to incentivize participants to 'get moving.' While seemingly providing new arrows in the bio-political quiver - that is, tools to keep employees disciplined yet active, healthy yet profitable (Lupton 2012) - there is also a certain degree of acceptance and participation; although participants are shaped by self-tracking technologies, "they also, in turn, shape them by their own ideas and practices" (Ruckenstein 2014:70). Instead of viewing self-tracking challenges solely through discourses of power or empowerment, the more pressing question concerns "how our relationship to our tracking activities takes shape within a constellation of habits, cultural norms, material conditions, ideological constraints" (Van Den Eede 2015:157). Exploring these themes through an empiric case study of self-tracking challenges for staff and faculty at three Canadian universities, we examine the following: How are self-tracking challenges promoted, adopted and implemented? How is the data produced, and what is it used for? By cutting through the hype, this presentation uncovers how self-trackers are becoming (and not just left to) their own devices.

panel T102
Everyday analytics: The politics and practices of self-monitoring