Accepted Paper:

Reality capturing states of mind  


Ger Wackers (UiT The Arctic University of Norway)

Paper short abstract:

This paper provides a critical analysis of various digitalized agencies of observation that purport to assess a population´s mental health from imprints in digitally captured data.

Paper long abstract:

In recent years digital technology has been folded into a number of what Karen Barad calls 'agencies of observation' that aim to assess and map mental health and illness on a population level. These include the digital measurement of prosodic qualities of voice and facial gestures (not recording the content of speech), the analysis of spontaneously generated text in social media messages, and forced choice ticking of check boxes as answers to questions in digitalized surveys. As the knowledge base of public health policies the latter produces mental health and illness as an object of governance.

These agencies of observation are different from dialogue based forms of diagnosis. They don´t talk to people, but aim to assess states of mind from the digitally sampled imprints private mental states are assumed to have made on other surfaces. They share an assumption that mental states are independently existing, propertied objects in people´s minds that express themselves consistently and predictably because one impulse will show parallel changes in word choice in speech and writing, in voice prosody, in facial and body gestures and in forced choice answers to question about mental illness.

This paper explores several avenues of criticism by unpacking embedded notions of categorization and probability and by mobilizing recent neuropsychological work on the predictive brain, brain organization, neural substrates of concepts and conceptual blending and the role of language as linguistic anchors.

Panel G07
STS for critical public health studies