Accepted Paper:

Biosensors: experience of self and world from 19th Century travel writing to contemporary fitness tracking  

Author:

Kate O'Riordan (University of Sussex )

Paper short abstract:

Contemporary biosensors give rise to networked assemblages: the paper draws on 19th century women’s letters and diaries to situate them in relation to processes of mediation over time, and trace the connections and disconnects between these historical and contemporary forms of mediation.

Paper long abstract:

Biosensors: experiences of self and world from 19th century travel writing to contemporary art and science (or Data Romanticism: subjects, selves and mediation)

Contemporary biosensing devices from lifestyle electronics like Fitbit to biomedical insulin detection instruments have been taken up widely and across a range of user groups including: patients; those associated with the Quantified Self; heath promotion and fitness consumers; artists; designers; and industry R&D. These devices, their interfaces, data infrastructures and flows, give rise to biodigital assemblages, or networked bodies, in the contemporary idiom of the networked society. However, these are far from seamless and give rise to frictions, resistances and disconnections as well as facilitating data flow. In situating these I draw on late 18th and early 20th century women's letters and diary writing to examine these devices in relation to processes of mediation over time. Those historical attempts to document and connect self and environment combined technologies of travel, text and dissemination, with material practices and imaginaries, and brought them together through the idiom of printed texts. With biosensors, they share colonializing impulses and forms of exploitation as well as sense making about the world. The paper traces the connections and disconnects between these historical and contemporary forms of sensing, self care, ritual, experience, fabulation and fabrication to examine the specificity of biodigital subjectivity and contemporary biosensing.

This paper is proposed in tandem with submissions from Caroline Bassett, Maureen McNeil and Joan Haran - with Sarah Kember as suggested discussant - under the theme of 'Looking differently: unexpected places as feminist method'

Panel T100
Feminist Technoscience Studies in Unexpected Places: (Intra)Activism and Social Justice