Accepted paper:

Healthier, fitter, happier, thinner or what? The emergence and meaning of values, quantities, qualities and norms in self-tracking practices


Eryk Noji (University of Hagen)
Karolin Eva Kappler (FernUniversität in Hagen)

Paper short abstract:

Questioning the concept of self-optimization as limited and misleading, we explore the valuing of optimization in everyday calculations both from an empirical and theoretical perspective.

Paper long abstract:

Under the concept of self-optimization and self-improvement, practices of calculation are recently transcending economical contexts like financial markets or human resource management, diffusing into everyday life coined as self-tracking, self-monitoring or personal informatics. Nevertheless, little is known about what optimization and improvement mean in the context of everyday analytics, covering fields such as health, emotions, sports or performance. In agreement with preliminary work, we think that the notion of self-optimization as "a detached theorizing of personal analytics" (Ruckenstein 2014: 69) limits the view, since it frames self-tracking as modes of reaction to affordances in contemporary capitalism. Thus, it hinders a "heterogenous understanding of the digital, one that does not seek to ascribe fixed characteristics" (Ruppert/Law/Savage 2013: 40).

Therefore, we analyze the emergence of quantities, qualities, values and norms in the context of self-optimization, as empirical findings suggest that users are far from just absorbing optimizing-categories (e.g. Nafus/Sherman 2014). Based on an empirical analysis of self-monitoring apps and interviews with users, we develop a first classification of optimizing-dimensions, which are both embedded in the corresponding technologies and form part of the users' practices and motivations.

From the theoretical perspective of valuation studies, we critically question the "plurality of regimes of worth" (Lamont 2012: 203), shedding light on how the corresponding quantities, qualities and values are generated, grounded, calculated and managed. In this regard, we explore the valuing of optimization in specific spaces of everyday calculations.

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