The Vitalities Lab’s first newsletter is available here: VLab Newsletter 1.
AoIR Preconference Workshop: Re/imagining Personal Data
- Tuesday 1 October 2019, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
- 9.30 am-12.30 pm (followed by catered lunch)
Organisers: Deborah Lupton (UNSW Sydney), Larissa Hjorth (RMIT) and Annette Markham (Aarhus University)
Overview: This half-day workshop involves a selection of hands-on arts- and design-based activities to invite participants to re/imagine personal digital data. Participants will be able to experiment with innovative methods of eliciting creative and more-than-representational responses to personal data and generating speculative imaginaries about the futures of data. These methods can be used for teaching purposes or research projects.
We will be using these activities to explore and respond to these key questions:
- What do personal data do?
- How best can we use them?
- What is our relationship with our personal data?
- Which data do we want to keep and protect and which do we want to discard or forget?
- What are our affective and sensory engagements with these data?
- What are the futures of personal data?
Participants at all levels of research experience are invited to attend, including postgraduate students and people working outside the university sector.
Registration and lunch are free, but places are strictly limited.
Please contact Deborah Lupton, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, UNSW Sydney (email@example.com ) as soon as possible with an email noting that you’d like to register to secure your place.
Please note that this workshop follows the Data Futures conference, 30 September 2019, also to be held at UNSW Sydney (details here), and precedes the Association of Internet Researchers Conference taking place in Brisbane (details here).
Photo credit: “I Love Data” She Wept. Bixtentro, Flickr. CC BY 2.0
It’s been a busy few weeks as I’ve moved to my new position as SHARP Professor in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney. I am attached to both the Centre for Social Research in Health and the Social Policy Research Centre in the Faculty. But I’ve also established my own little research entity: the Vitalities Lab (click here for details).
I’ll be recruiting team members for the Lab very soon. I have a doctoral scholarship and postdoc positions to fill, and also have funds to support international visiting fellows.
The title of the Lab was chosen to encapsulate my hopes and plans for what we will do. ‘Vitalities’ points to engaging in lively social research methods, inspiring creativity, new directions, excitement and passion in research. It is also a nod to the new materialism theoretical perspectives with which the Lab will be engaging – particularly the vital materialism perspective espoused in the work of scholars such as Jane Bennett, Rosi Braidotti, Karen Barad and Donna Haraway. Vitalities further refers to the topics we’ll be exploring, which will be about human/nonhuman life itself: initially, people’s experiences with digital health technologies; living with data; and digital food cultures.
We will be running methods workshops, reading groups and other events.
Do get in contact if you’d like to learn more, make a visit to chat, start a postgraduate research degree with us, or otherwise collaborate in lively doings: firstname.lastname@example.org
Image attribution: ‘Scattered light at Northern Spark’ by Tony Webster, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
- Lupton, D. (2018) Fat (revised 2nd edition). London: Routledge.
- Lupton, D. (2018) Lively data, social fitness and biovalue: the intersections of health self-tracking and social media. In Burgess, J., Marwick, A. and Poell, T. (eds), The Sage Handbook of Social Media. London: Sage, pp. 562-578.
- Lupton, D. (2018) Digital health and health care. In Scambler, G. (ed), Sociology as Applied to Health and Medicine, 2nd Houndmills: Palgrave, pp. 277-290.
- Lupton, D. and Smith, GJD. (2018) ‘A much better person’: the agential capacities of self-tracking practices. In Ajana, B. (ed), Metric Culture: Ontologies of Self-Tracking Practices. London: Emerald Publishing, pp. 57-75.
- Lupton, D. (2018) 3D printing technologies: a third wave perspective. In Michael Filimowicz, M. and Tzankova, V. (eds), New Directions in Third Wave HCI (Volume 1, Technologies). Springer: London, pp. 89-104.
- Lupton, D. (2018) Towards design sociology. Sociology Compass, 12(1), online, available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/soc4.12546/full
- Lupton, D., Pink, S., Heyes Labond and Sumartojo, S. (2018) Personal data contexts, data sense and self-tracking cycling. International Journal of Communication, 11, online, available at http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/5925/2258
- Pedersen, S. and Lupton, D. (2018) ‘What are you feeling right now?’ Communities of maternal feeling on Mumsnet. Emotion, Space & Society, 26, 57-63.
- Lupton, D. and Turner, B. (2018) ‘I can’t get past the fact that it is printed: consumer attitudes to 3D printed food’. Food, Culture and Society, online ahead of print: doi: org/10.1080/15528014.2018.1451044
- Lupton, D. (2018) ‘I just want it to be done, done, done!’ Food tracking apps, affects and agential capacities. Multimodal Technologies and Interaction, 2(2), online, available at http://www.mdpi.com/2414-4088/2/2/29/htm
- Lupton, D. (2018) How do data come to matter? Living and becoming with personal data. Big Data & Society, 5(2), online, available at https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951718786314
- Lupton, D. and Maslen, S. (2018) The more-than-human sensorium: sensory engagements with digital health technologies. The Senses and Society, 13(2), 190—202.
- Salmela, T., Valtonen, A. and Lupton, D. (2018) The affective circle of harassment and enchantment: reflections on the ŌURA ring as an intimate research device. Qualitative Inquiry, online ahead of print, org/10.1177/1077800418801376
- Thomas, G., Lupton, D. and Pedersen, S. (2018) ‘The appy for a happy pappy’: expectant fatherhood and pregnancy apps. Journal of Gender Studies, 27(7), 759-770.
- Maslen, S. and Lupton, D. (2018) “You can explore it more online”: a qualitative study on Australian women’s use of online health and medical information. BMC Health Services, 18(1) online, available at https://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12913-018-3749-7
- Lupton, D. (2018) ‘Better understanding about what’s going on’: young Australians’ use of digital technologies for health and fitness. Sport, Education and Society, online ahead of print, doi:1080/13573322.2018.155566
- Lupton, D. and Turner, B. (2018) Food of the future? Consumer responses to the idea of 3D printed meat and insect-based products. Food and Foodways, online ahead of print, doi:1080/07409710.2018.1531213
- Lupton, D. (2018) 3D printing. In Ritzer, G. (ed), The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Online. Available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781405165518.wbeos1072
Digital technologies for health-related topics and practices such as websites, online discussion forums, social media, content-sharing platforms, mobile apps and wearable devices are now available as a means for young people to learn about and promote their health, physical fitness and wellbeing. Young people are often assumed to be ardent users of digital health technologies by virtue of having been born into the age of new digital media. Thus far, however, few social research studies have directed attention to the details of how and why young people use digital technologies for health-related purposes and how other, non-digital sources also contribute to the ways in which they learn about their bodies and health and engage in practices to support their health and wellbeing.
The Young Australians and Digital Health Project, a qualitative interview-based study of 30 young Australians (aged 16 to 25 years) was designed to address these issues. The participants were recruited to ensure equal numbers of female and male participants and a spread of ages, ethnic backgrounds and geographical locations across Australia. The interviews took place in April-May 2018. Participants were asked a series of questions relating to how and why they sourced health and medical information and support, and which of these they found most and least useful and helpful. They were asked if anyone had recommended that they use digital health technologies and whether they had any concerns about their personal health data privacy and security. The final question had a future-oriented perspective, asking participants to imagine and describe an ideal digital health technology for their everyday needs.
The interview questions and analysis of transcripts of participants’ responses were designed to draw attention to the affordances of the actors involved (human and nonhuman), relational connections between these actors, affective forces and agential capacities. The affordances of fleshly human bodies include their sensory perceptions, emotional responsiveness, embodied expertise, memory and the ability to learn and to move in certain ways. The affordances of nonhuman objects such as digital technologies relate to the design features of these technologies and what they potentially allow people to do with them. Relational connections include the ways in which humans interact with and respond to other humans, as well as with nonhumans, and how these relationships contribute to or generate bonds and affects.
As the table below shows, all participants said that they sought information from doctors and other healthcare providers, and most also turned to advice from friends and family members. Very few young people used books for health information, but pamphlets were still read by around a third of participants (usually picked up in doctors’ surgeries while waiting for a consultation). In terms of digital tools and resources, search engines were used by everyone, with health websites a close second. All the participants said that they were routinely online throughout the day and were accustomed to searching the internet as a habitual practice for various purposes. They generally searched between once or twice a week or once a month for health-related topics.
Youtube, online discussion groups and social media groups were fairly well-used, but by less than half of the participants. Participants noted that these sources were often found from an initial search using Google Search. Only five of the 30 participants said that they had signed up to My Health Record (Australia’s nationwide patient electronic medical record), with the remainder noting that they had not heard of it.
Sources of health and medical information used currently
|Number of respondents (n=30)|
|doctors and other health care providers||30|
|friends and family||21|
|online discussion forums||12|
|social media groups||10|
|digital exercise games (e.g. Wii Fit)||8|
|electronic medical record (My Health Record)||5|
|physical activity platforms (e.g. Strava)||6|
The convenience, accessibility and detail and diversity of information offered by digital media and devices were valued by the participants.
So I would initially just google my query and do a little bit of research on my own but then I would take my problems to a doctor and they would have more detail and more answers for me. I would usually just look up, kind of, symptoms and triggers for certain things. I would mainly just look up information, possibly finding a solution on my own. I like going online for the ease of use, ease of access, variety of information available, all that kind of stuff. (male, 24 years)
The young people also appreciated being able to source others’ personal experiences online by using online discussion forums, social media groups and viewing people’s stories on YouTube. They felt connected to the physically distant others they encountered online through their sharing of experiences and affective responses on these platforms.
Well, probably I just read forums to find information on the forums, the one thing I find useful is that they have allowed people to express their own feelings with different kinds of diseases. And I find that if it relates to me, then I guess it doesn’t make me feel so alone – knowing that what I’m going through, someone else is going through it with it. (male, 24 years)
Apps and wearable devices (mostly Fitbits) were used for mental health and wellbeing and booking medical appointments, as well as for self-tracking sleep, heart rate, steps and other physical activities, and menstrual cycles. Digital exercise games such as Wii Fit and physical activity platforms like Strava were the least used of all the technologies listed. Few participants who did use them did so regularly, with several participants noting that exercise games were too time-consuming to set up.
Doctors were highly valued as the pre-eminent source of health information authority because of their training and expertise. Young people noted that it could be difficult to distinguish between different opinions and details about health and illness expressed online, requiring them to assess which sources were most valid and reliable. By comparison, a doctor’s expertise was individualised to patients’ specific needs and they could offer knowledgeable interpretations based on their training. Young people could then defer to this expertise.
I guess online there’s a lot of different opinions on what something – like, if you think you’ve got a cold or something like that then you go online and I guess you’re not really qualified yourself to go, this is actually what symptoms I’m experiencing and this is what it actually is. Whereas I feel like if you go to a doctor they’re able to pinpoint it quite well. (female, 22 years)
The participants highly valued the capacity of digital technologies to generate detailed information about their bodies and health states and imagined new technologies that would be able to achieve even more detailed personalisation and customisation. However, they expressed little knowledge or concern about how their personal health data may be exploited by other actors or agencies, despite the fact that the interviews took place a matter of weeks after the Facebook/Cambridge Analytics personal data scandal. Several participants said that they had noticed that companies like Facebook and Google were monitoring their online searches and content for advertising purposes, but these practices were accepted as the norm for online engagement.
Obviously, Google, because they’re finding ways to link to merchandise, or that’s what I believe, personally. If I look up fitness they’ll say, “Oh look at this fitness gear; why don’t you buy it?” I think it’s just society today – I can’t really stop it. (female, 18 years)
The participants’ accounts highlight the importance to this demographic group of the relational and affective dimensions of seeking health-related advice and information. While all the participants went online routinely and regularly to find advice and information, particularly because the internet affords convenience, ready access and a wealth of diverse opinions, it was evident that their connections and relationships with other people, both face-to-face and digitally mediated, were very important. Other key affordances offered by digital technologies included offering material that could be viewed anonymously and unobtrusively.
Feeling understood by and connected to other people was an agential capacity generated through various combinations of humans with each other and with technologies. The ideal digital health technologies that were imagined by the participants also evoked the affordances of convenience and accessibility. These imaginaries also suggested the importance to young people of technologies that could ‘know’ and ‘understand’ them better than those they had already tried.
In summary, these findings highlight that gaining a better knowledge of bodies, illness and healthcare and feeling more in control of health and wellbeing states were important to the young people. They valued face-to-face as well as online relationships and personal connections with other people for providing information and support, including family members and friends as well as medical professionals.
These were the vibrancies that animated the participants’ enactments of seeking and finding health information and support, that kept them googling, reading the content of websites, social media platforms and online forums, watching videos and using apps and wearable devices. While the young people’s consumption of this content may overtly appear to be passive, given that they tended to view rather than create online content, the young people were actively making sense of the material they were accessing and gathering, deciding how relevant or valid it was for their needs, how they would respond to it and whether they needed to seek further advice from doctors or others.
Today I attended a workshop to learn how to draw graphic narratives — in effect, comic strips. I was interested in learning this technique as research translation and engagement tool. I thought that it could be a fun way to visually represent findings from a research project. The method can also be used to plan research projects, as an alternative to tools such as mind-mapping or concept-mapping. The idea is that using a comic-strip format helps to simplify issues and present them in narrative formats.
We focused in the workshop on the best way to represent emotional states using simple drawing techniques. We started with drawing Donald Trump’s grumpy face using several different methods. Here’s the last Trump drawing I produced. We only had a minute to draw this one.
Then we moved on to practising drawing different facial expressions to convey emotion. Here I am working hard on this task.
We finished the workshop with a big task, which involved drawing a comic strip on a topic we had chosen. I decided to try and represent some research findings from a current project I have been analysing interview data from: on young people’s use of digital health. The project’s findings showed that young people constantly google health information and appreciate learning about the experiences of other young people, so that they feel less alone. YouTube is one source where they can find other young people talking about their health and illness experiences. But young people are also willing to seek medical advice if they feel this is needed. I tried to convey these key findings in my comic strip.
I’m currently interested in innovative and creative ways of conducting research on people’s use of digital health technologies. (See my posts on design sociology here, here, here and here, and a report using these methods for a stakeholder workshop here.)
Here’s some ideas I’ve put together, some of which I have tried and others of which I plan to try soon.
Mapping the service ecology
- Each participant writes on a card, answering the question …. Think about a time you used a digital device (smartphone, tablet, desktop, laptop, health monitoring device, wearable device etc) for health or fitness-related purposes? What was it? What did it do? What did you like/dislike/find useful/useless about it?
Then share their experience with the group.
Future digital health? ‘What if? scenario …’
- Each participant writes on a card, answering the question …. Think about an object or service you would like to see designed that would help people prevent or manage illness and disease. It can be digital or not digital. It can be anything you can imagine – something that is purely science fiction, or something that perhaps could realistically be invented. What is it? What does it do? What does it look like? Who would use it? Who wouldn’t use it?
- Write a brief scenario outlining an example of someone using this technology to promote their health.
Then share this idea with the group.
This will develop two catalogues of devices: what works, and future directions. This could involve presenting this information in a number of formats: sketches or cartoons, film scripts, personas, written scenarios etc.
These are a set of cards that can be used to inspire conversation and ideas in workshop.
E.g. I’ve created ‘Blood, Sweat, Tears … Digital’ cards for a digital health workshop. They can be found here: Blood, Sweat, Tears … Digital inspiration cards.
Give participants materials (pens, paper, glue, images) to make collages on a theme, expressing their thoughts and feelings. They can write words or draw images on the collage as well. They then present their collage to the group, explaining the choices they have made.
E.g. Make a collage showing how using digital technologies make you feel.
Provide an opening to a story and ask the participants to complete it.
“X decided they wanted to try an app to improve their health. They went to the Apple App Store and searched the health and fitness section …. [What happened next?]
“X decided to buy a fitness tracker to improve their health and physical fitness. They took it home and tried it on …. [What happened next?]
Body mapping, more-than-human mapping, time-lines, sensory mapping (smell, sound, taste etc).
E.g. large sheets of paper with a blank outline of human figure in the centre. Participants asked to draw on the figure and around the figure, showing sensations, feelings, emotions concerning their health and fitness. Make links to other people, other living things (e.g. pets) and to non-living things (built environment, bikes, cars, digital technologies). Then explain their maps to other participants.
E.g. Draw a map of their life (or a typical person’s life) with a time-line showing how that person would use digital technologies/be tracked by digital technologies that can monitor/measure/reveal aspects of their bodies and health – how would this person access or use this information? How would other people access or use this information?
E.g. Think about the last time you went online to find information about a health or wellbeing topic. Write about what you looked for, what information you found, and how you acted (or disregarded) the information. Do you remember any emotions or physical sensations that were part of this experience?
E.g. ask people to use their smartphones to take photos of them using digital devices in the usual places. These can be added to timelines, maps etc. Or just record them talking about the photos and their practices.
The participants are asked to generate profiles about archetypal users of technologies. They give them names, describe their sociodemographic characteristics, sketch them and generate a short narrative describing their life, goals and behaviours related to the topic in question (e.g. use of a specific digital technology).
Make your own health app
Ask people to create an app store page for an app they have invented for health purposes. Ask them to give the app a name, write a promotional blurb for it (What will it do? What is so great and new about this app? Why should people download it onto theirphones?). Include some sketches of screenshots for the app, just like on the app stores.
Participants make short films using smartphones or other mini digital cameras to tell a narrative – could be autobiographical. Uses music and voice-overs as well as images, including art-work, photos or video footage. Stories can be created as a group exercise and shared with the group.
E.g. Participants make a film about their use of health apps or wearables and share with the group.
New feminist materialism theories potentially offer a foundation for exciting, innovative and creative ways to research health-related experiences from a more-than-human perspective. Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, Rosi Braidotti and Jane Bennett are among the most influential scholars in feminist new materialisms. These scholars’ writings are perhaps most inspiring for their insistence on emphasising the vitalities, perversities and vibrancies of human-nonhuman assemblages. Theirs is an affirmative ethics and politics, which celebrates the renewal and liveliness of the capacities that these assemblages generate. (See an earlier post on key approaches in new materialisms.)
A major difficulty with current feminist materialism empirical work is that a methodology for how to go about conducting it is often described in very vague terms: if indeed it is described at all. In the attempt to develop a clearer understanding of how researchers can take up and think with feminist materialism theory in qualitative health research, in this post I outline some approaches I have developed when conducting analyses of the social impact and lived experiences of digital health technologies (for example, health-related mobile phone apps, wearable monitoring devices, social media platforms and online discussion forums). This is presented as a series of propositions and key questions that I have found inspiring to creatively think with rather than as a definitive ‘cook-book’ of methods. My approach incorporates both reflective and diffractive methods, depending on the research questions and materials I am working with. While post-qualitative and diffraction researchers sometimes overtly eschew what they view to be the overly-prescriptive approach of attempting to find themes or discourses in research materials, I would argue that this approach can be valuable, particularly if the research materials are voluminous.
These propositions and questions have been drawn from my reading of feminist materialism and other new materialisms theory, in conjunction with my review of and engagement with how other social researchers have taken up materialist approaches as I have discussed above. They can be used in relation to many kinds of social research material, including survey responses, media artefacts, art works and performances, interviews, ethnographic observations, policy documents, autoethnographies and many more. They can work to inspire and provoke ideas when formulating research approaches and analysing research materials.
- Research focuses on understanding and mapping ontologies of the ‘human’ (understood as a category that is difficult to define and may include ‘more-than-human’, ‘posthuman’, ‘transhuman’ and other varieties)
- Human subjects are unstable and emergent knowing, sensing, embodied, affective assemblages of matter, thought and language
- Humans are part of and inseparable from more-than-human worlds
- Humans come together/gather with nonhumans to configure constantly changing assemblages
- These assemblages generate relational connections and affective forces and agential capacities
- Together, these connections, forces and capacities constitute thing-power
- Because of the constantly changing nature of these assemblages, there are possibilities for change, resistances or improvisations, or for thinking otherwise
- Power is transitory as it is enacted within and between assemblages
- Power is both constraining and enabling
- All matter has an agential capacity to affect and be affected
- Researchers are part of the research assemblages they are addressing
- Analyses are only ever partial, the results of specific agential cuts or interpretations of the research materials.
These propositions can be taken up in many different ways in more-than-human research. They can be developed into a series of key research questions that can be used to guide the ways in which empirical research is conceptualised and carried out, including the choice of how to approach the collection of research materials and their analysis. The following key research questions are some that I have developed for my studies on digital health.
Key research questions for inquiries into digital health
- What are the key humans and nonhumans, practices, imaginaries, assumptions and discourses operating across different spaces and sites relating to digital health?
- What conditions of action and possibility do digital health technologies and their developers, promoters and users establish?
- What can bodies do when coming together with digital technologies?
- How are health, illness and healthcare configured and enacted?
- How do humans incorporate and improvise with digital health technologies?
- What relational connections, affective forces and agential capacities are generated?
- What is the thing-power of these assemblages?
- How is this thing-power constraining or enabling?
- What are the potentials for thinking or doing otherwise?
In a more-than-human approach to critical social analysis, many kinds of research materials can come under investigation: not only human bodies, but those of other living things, as well as non-living objects, spaces, places and atmospheres. In the context of studies of digital health technologies, these are some possibilities (among many): human bodies (or parts of them – organs, blood, sweat, tears, bones, limbs, skin, gametes, foetuses), nonhuman animals, policy documents, news articles, journals, online patient support networks, websites, search engines, telemedicine technologies, social media content (status updates, tweets, likes, shares, hashtags), photographs, television programs, films, videos, audio recordings, digital memes, GIFs, robots, hospitals, clinics, waiting rooms, homes, furniture, clothing, wearable devices, apps, mobile devices, video games, sounds, smells, tastes, haptic sensations, digital datasets, art works, design artefacts, heart pacemakers, continuous glucose monitors, cities, rural landscapes, air, earth, water, sunshine … the list is infinitely expandable.
I have published some articles recently that apply these approaches to empirical research materials. These can be found open access at the links below:
- ‘”I just want it to be done, done, done!” Food tracking apps, affects and agential capacities’ (here)
- ‘Vitalities and visceralities: alternative food/body politics in new digital media’ (here)
- ‘”A much better person”: the agential capacities of self-tracking practices’ (here)
- ‘Wearable devices: sociotechnical imaginaries and agential capacities’ (here)
- ‘The more-than–human sensorium: sensory engagements with digital self-tracking technologies’ (here)
- ‘Vital materialism and the thing-power of lively data’ (here)
The second edition of my book Fat has now been published, with a great new cover. This version is twice as long as the first edition. Each chapter has been revised and updated and there is a lot more material in the new edition on how digital material represents fat bodies (for example, memes, GIFs, YouTube, hashtags, selfies and social media platforms such as Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram).
My author’s preface to the second edition is below. The link to the book on Google Books is here, which provides a preview of more content.
The first edition of Fat was completed in 2012, a time at which academic interest in understanding the discourses, practices and politics around fat bodies had been intensifying for some years. Several years later, this topic of study remains a fulcrum where various issues and controversies concerning identities and embodiment converge and intensify. To some extent, the panic about the so-called ‘obesity epidemic’ has died down, perhaps due to the news media losing interest and other health issues receiving policy attention. Meanwhile, the views of fat activists have made greater ingress into public debates about obesity; if remaining subject to controversy or denial. Some of the topics I covered in the first edition have become more complex, with new research paying greater attention to the intersectoral aspects of fat embodiment: how social class, ethnicity or race, sexual identity, age and geographical location shape experiences. Further discussion has sparked up around the question of who can speak about or advocate for fat people or engage in critical analyses of obesity politics – must they be fat-identifying people or can others participate in these debates?
Since I wrote the first edition, as part of a turn towards the visual in popular culture, the representation of human bodies of all shapes and sizes have received greater levels of coverage in new digital media forums. These media offer many more opportunities for self-representation and for body positive and fat activists to draw attention to their causes. However, the fit and thin body continues to dominate in these forums as the ideal body type, often around the ‘fitspiration’ label. Social media allow the vilification and stigmatizing of fat people to intensify and be more easily distributed to ever-larger audiences. New digital media and devices promote a culture of intensified self-monitoring and measuring of bodies, and comparing them against norms. Many more apps and wearable devices have come onto the market, aimed at encouraging and helping people to count calories and track their physical activity and body weight in the interests of conforming to these ideals. These media, therefore, have made bodies of all sizes ever-more visible and subject to private monitoring and public display. These issues and topics all receive attention in this second revised edition.
I’ve been working with feminist materialism theories to understand how people take up and engage with digital media such as apps, social media and wearable devices. I’ve just had an article published, drawing from the Australian Women and Digital Health Project, which draws on a feminist materialism approach to present six vignettes from participants about their use and non-use of food tracking apps.
Here’s the abstract – the entire article is available open access here.
Food-tracking apps constitute a major category of the thousands of food-related apps now available. They are promoted as helping users monitor and measure their food consumption to improve their health or to lose weight. In this article, I present six vignettes drawn from interviews with Australian women about their use and non-use of food-tracking apps. The vignettes provide detailed insights into the experiences of these women and their broader sociocultural and biographical contexts. The analysis is based on feminist materialism theoretical perspectives, seeking to identify the relational connections, affective forces, and agential capacities generated in and through the human-app assemblage. The vignettes reveal that affective forces related to the desire to control and manage the body and conform to norms and ideals about good health and body weight inspire people to try food-tracking apps. However, the agential capacities promised by app developers may not be generated even when people have committed hope and effort in using the app. Frustration, disappointment, the fear of becoming too controlled, and annoyance or guilt evoked by the demands of the app can be barriers to continued and successful use. Sociocultural and biographical contexts and relational connections are also central to the capacities of human-app assemblages. Women’s ambivalences about using apps as part of efforts to control their body weight are sited within their struggles to conform to accepted ideals of physical appearance but also their awareness that these struggles may be too limiting of their agency. This analysis, therefore, draws attention to what a body can and cannot do as it comes together with food tracking apps.