A COVID-19 tanglegram

It’s Social Sciences Week, and one way to emphasise the complex and nuanced insights offered by social research is to present this COVID-19 tanglegram that I have just drawn. I have built on my own and others’ research into the COVID crisis and its many dimensions in making this tanglegram.

The concept of the ‘tanglegram’ comes from the work of the archeologist Ian Hodder. It’s a similar idea to a mind map or concept map, but it focuses on relationships between people and material things rather than on ideas or concepts. In his 2012 book Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships Between Humans and Things, Hodder explains his sociomaterial perspective. He argues for an approach that can demonstrate how a thing brings other things and people together. It is not a matter of identifying what things ‘do’ for people in a certain cultural and historical context but instead focusing on understanding the thing itself and its multiple connections to other things as well as to people.

Hodder argues that how humans give meaning to things is related to the ways in which they use them and to their links with other things. People use things in often very different ways in different contexts. Hodder discusses how things demand attention and care from people, sometimes facilitating, sometimes hindering human purposes and agency. Things, he says, ‘have lives that follow their own paths’ (Hodder, 2012, p. 13). Hodder notes that all things, whether they are designated as ‘living’ or ‘inert’ are in a state of change.  He further notes that things make people, just as people make things.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 crisis – a combined health and socioeconomic crisis – is a powerful entity that is changing human lives in unprecedented ways. We are still trying to understand how the coronavirus spreads and can be treated and contained. Just when we thought we may have controlled it, it re-emerges again, again creating chaos. But this is not to say that the coronavirus is a thing unto itself – a malevolent enemy that is outside us, trying to break in and destroy us. Rather, the virus and the COVID crisis are entities that are part of complex networks and relationships with people and do not exist outside these networks and relationships. The coronavirus has agency and force, but only with and through humans and other things.

One way in which Hodder documents and explains these relationships and dependencies in his archaeological research is to make what he calls ‘tanglegrams’ or maps in which he traces the connections between a thing and the other things and people to which it is connected. My COVID-19 tanglegram took inspiration from this idea. I started with the broad concept of the ‘COVID assemblage’, which shows how major elements come together: the coronavirus, humans, other animals, place/space/time, affects, things and discourse/culture. This is shown as a simple Venn diagram below.

In drawing the tanglegram I wanted to map in more detail the multiple, constantly changing things and people that come together and come apart as part of the COVID assemblage. I have not been able to include every element or relationship of this assemblage in the tanglegram (that’s simply impossible), but I have included many of the major things, places/spaces, people and organisations that I could think of. Unlike Hodder, I also include affects, as these are crucial to my theorising of how people engage with and form relationships with things.

For me, as a social researcher, this tanglegram helps me understand the power and multi-layered, overwhelming complications of the COVID assemblage in a way that has gone well beyond my initial Venn diagram.

New Vitalities Lab webinar series on innovative methods

Vitalities Lab

The Vitalities Lab has launched a new webinar series involving short-form presentations (slides plus voice-over). These webinars are designed to be clear explanations about using innovative methods and analysing the materials generated. They can be used in undergraduate and postgraduate methods teaching or by any interested researcher.

The ‘Breaking Methods’ series can be found on YouTube here. The first four videos explain how to go about using story completion, map making, storyboards and TikTok content for social research.

You can subscribe to the channel to receive updates as we upload new webinars across a range of exciting methods.

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Vitalities Lab Newsletter Number 8

Vitalities Lab

Tuesday 19 May, 2020

Like many people around the world, all of us in the Vitalities Lab have been adjusting to the ever-changing ‘new normal’. We’re all currently working from home using a range of tools to keep in touch and connected during this time of isolation (you can read about our digital workspace.) Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, it has impacted so many aspects of daily life.

Vitalities Lab Postdocs document working from home (left Marianne, top right Ash, bottom right Clare)

As social scientists, lab members have started thinking about some of these impacts and writing about them on our blog. We’ve been thinking about the popularity of home fitness and the emphasis governing bodies continue to place on physical exercise during the pandemic; the role social networking apps like TikTok may play in sharing information about COVID-19; as well as the ways digital…

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Innovative and creative methods for researching people’s use and understandings of their data – a resource list

LIVING WITH PERSONAL DATA

In our Living with Personal Data project, we are experimenting with innovative and creative methods for researching how people use and make sense of their personal digital data. We have put together a resource list of methods used by other researchers as well as those we have experimented with thus far.

Human-computer interaction and design researchers

3D printing of personal data into edible treats (Khot et al., 2014; Khot et al., 2015a) or ‘mocktails’ using personal data (Khot et al., 2015b)

3D printing of personal data into decorative items (Stusak et al., 2014)

Data-things (Nissen and Bowers, 2015)

Data craft (Thudt et al., 2017)

Data comics (Bach et al., 2017; Bach et al., 2018; Lewis and Coles-Kemp, 2014)

Personal visualisations (Thudt et al., 2015; Thudt et al., 2017; Thudt et al., 2018)

Lego modelling (Heath et al., 2019)

Data selfies (Kim et al., 2019)

Various creative methods (collage building, questionable…

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Vitalities Lab Newsletter Number 7

Vitalities Lab

6 February 2020

The Vitalities Lab is led by SHARP Professor Deborah Lupton, Centre for Social Research in Health and Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Sydney. Team members are Dr Ashleigh Watson, Dr Clare Southerton and Dr Marianne Clark. Further detailshere.

New academic publications

Clark, M. I., & Thorpe, H. (2019). Towards diffractive ways of knowing women’s moving bodies: A Baradian experiment with the Fitbit/motherhood entanglement. Sociology of Sport Journal, Online firsthttps://doi.org/10.1123/ssj.2018-0173

Clark, M. I., Costas-Bradstreet, C., Holt, N. L., & Spence, J. C. (2019). Parental perceptions of a national program that funds sport participation for low-income children and youth in Canada. Leisure Sciences, 1-17.

Thorpe, H. & Clark, M.I. (2019). Gut Feminism, new materialisms and sportwomen’s embodied health: the case of RED-S in endurance athletes. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, DOI: 10.1080/2159676X.2019.1631879

Thorpe, H., Clark, M. & Brice, J. Sportswomen as…

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Data Letters and Data Kondo

LIVING WITH PERSONAL DATA

This week, we experimented with two writing activities that worked towards inspiring people to think creatively about their personal data, with a particular focus on their feelings and relationships with their data. These activities were chosen as a way to engage with a more-than-human approach to personal data understandings and practices that Deborah has been developing in publications such as her Data Selves book, seeking to surface aspects such as the affective forces, relational connections and agential capacities that we have with our data assemblages.

In our fieldwork, we plan to use activities like these as two main ways: first, to inspire people to think otherwise about their data; and second, as a way to kick-start conversations about their data that departs from the standard Q and A format of interviewing that is typically used in sociological research.

We held a workshop in which colleagues from the Vitalities Lab, other…

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Algorithmic Micropolitics – a zine-making workshop

LIVING WITH PERSONAL DATA

Zine workshop slides_Page_01.jpg

On Monday September 9, a group of researchers joined us for a workshop on the topic of algorithmic micropolitics. The workshop was held by the Vitalities Lab, Centre for Social Research in Health and Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW, Sydney. Bringing together zine-making and digital data, we collaboratively made a zine to critically consider how we experience algorithms in everyday life. This workshop drew on and was a primer for some of the arts-based and co-design work we are doing in the ARC-funded project ‘Living with personal Data: Australians’ Understandings and Practices’.

Flyer

To guide us in thinking about algorithmic micropolitics, we drew on excerpts from Taina Bucher’s 2018 book If… Then: Algorithmic Power and Politics and Deborah Lupton’s forthcoming book Data Selves: More-Than-Human Perspectives.

Chapter 5 of Bucher’s book focuses on ‘the barely perceived transitions in power that occur when algorithms and people meet’ (2018 p. 93). To start…

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Digital Health Stakeholder Workshop report now released

Smart Technology Living Lab

The Smart Technology Living Lab is pleased to release the report from our first stakeholder workshop, held in June at the University of Canberra. The workshop was focused on digital health, and participants engaged in co-design activities directed at mapping the landscape of current digital health and imagining the future of digital health.

The full report is available here: Report – Digital Health Stakeholder Workshop.

The workshop outcomes demonstrated the complex relations between individual consumers and healthcare providers, social groups, organisations and the digital health technologies that are currently used in Australia. The activities and ensuing discussions within the group generated the following key insights:

  • Digital health technologies offer valuable ways for health consumers, healthcare providers, community groups and health industries to create and share information about health, medicine and healthcare. These technologies can effectively provide information, support and social networks for health consumers and improve healthcare access and…

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Digital Health Stakeholder Workshop

Smart Technology Living Lab

Our inaugural living lab workshop on digital health was held in June 2017. Participants included representatives from the News & Media Research Centre and the University of Canberra Health Research Institute as well as from the Australian Digital Health Agency, the Australian Institute of Sport, ACT Health, Data61, the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, the Health Care Consumers Association, Accenture, the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health, the Australian College of Midwives, HeadSpace, Accenture, the Australian Pharmacy Guild, the Women’s Centre for Health Matters and Ochre Health.

The workshop involved participants engaging in co-creation activities around two main questions:

  • What works in digital health now?
  • Where should digital health go in the future?

Participants worked together in groups to map digital health technologies and show the relationships between them and the people who used them. They considered what opportunities might be further developed in the digital health space, and created a…

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Fat, thin and fit bodies in digital media

 

I have just completed an introduction for a special issue of the journal Fat Studies on digital media and body weight, shape and size. Here’s an edited excerpt from the introduction. (Update: the introduction has now been published, and can be viewed here.)

Numerous researchers have called attention to the ways in which often very negative portrayals of fat embodiment circulate in the popular media. Despite the growing presence of attempts to counter these portrayals, online representations of fat bodies that seek to challenge accepted norms and engage in fat activist politics continue to be far outnumbered by those that continue to stigmatize and shame fat people and portray thin bodies as more desirable, healthy and attractive. A content analysis of the representation of “obesity” on YouTube (Yoo and Kim 2012) found that highly negative representations of fat people were common, as were those that attributed personal responsibility for body weight (such as showing fat people eating unhealthy food) and made fun of fat people. Another study of YouTube videos using the search term “fat” (Hussin et al. 2011) revealed that many highly-viewed videos included content that devalued fat people. Men were targeted for fat stigmatization twice as often as women, and white people were the targets far more frequently than other ethnic or racial groups. The antagonists engaging in active shaming or vilification of fat people were also overwhelmingly white men.

My own search for the term “fat people” on YouTube in September 2016 returned many top-ranked videos in which fat people are held up to ridicule and scorn. These bore such titles as “Fat People Fails,” featuring fat people falling over, breaking furniture or otherwise publicly humiliating themselves as well as “The Top Fattest People in the World,” and “Fat People Cringe,” all featuring fat bodies in the style of the freak show. These videos all have millions of views. A Google search for “fat memes” similarly found memes that not only stigmatize fat bodies but are blatantly abusive and often cruel. Just some examples I came across include unflattering images of fat people with texts such as “I’m fat because obesity runs in my family. No-one runs in your family,” “I’m lazy because I’m fat and I’m fat because I’m lazy,” and “Sometimes when I’m sad I like to cut myself … another slice of cheesecake.” When I looked for “fat GIFs” on the GIFY platform, here again were many negative portrayals of fat people, including cartoon characters like Homer Simpson as well as real people, again engaging in humiliating bodily performances. Many of these GIFs showed people jiggling their abdomens or dancing to demonstrate the magnitude of their flesh, belly flopping into swimming pools, eating greedily, smeared with food and so on. Here again, fat white men predominated as targets of ridicule.

Apps are another dominant media form that often focuses on the monitoring, representation and even gamification of human embodiment. As I have argued elsewhere, the ways in which game apps portray social groups can often reproduce and exacerbate negative or misleading stereotypes, including racism, sexism, healthism and norms of feminine embodiment privileging highly-groomed, youthful, physically fit and slim bodies (Lupton 2015, Lupton and Thomas 2015). When I searched the App Annie platform using the term “fat,” a plethora of apps portraying fat bodies in negative ways were identified. These included several game apps that represented fat people as ugly, greedy, lazy and gormless figures of fun who need encouragement to engage in weight-loss activities. Many other apps involve users (who are assumed not to be fat) manipulating images of themselves or others so that they look fat. These include “FatGoo”, marketed by its developers in the following terms: “Gaining weight is now fun! FatGoo is the ultimate app for creating hilarious fat photos of your friends and family.” Others of this ilk include “Fatty – Make Funny Fat Face Pictures,” “Fat You!,” “FatBooth” and “Fatify – Get Fat.” Another fat app genre is that which uses abusive terms to shame people into controlling their diet and lose weight. One example is “CARROT Hunger – Talking Calorie Counter.” It is marketed by its developer as a “judgemental calorie counter” which will “punish you for overindulging.” The app can be used to scan foods for their calorie content. If it judges food as too high in calories, users are abused with insulting epithets such as “flabby meatbags” and even tweets shaming messages about them to their Twitter followers. While such apps may be considered by some as harmless fun, they play a serious ideological role in stigmatizing and rendering abject fatness and fat people.

… Thinspiration is a profoundly gendered discourse. Far more female than male bodies feature in digital images tagged with #thinspiration or #thinspo. I noted earlier that white men tend to be targeted for ridicule in memes and GIFs. Interestingly, my search for “skinny” or “thin” memes and GIFs also hold up white male bodies to derision, this time drawing attention to thin men as lacking appropriate muscular strength. Many memes show half-naked thin men in body-building poses, seeking to highlight their lack of size. When skinny women are featured in memes and GIFS, it is usually in relation to women who falsely claim or complain about being fat or else are sexualized images of young women in swimwear displaying their lean bodies (often tagged in GIFs with #hot #beauty, #perfect and #sexy as well as #thin, #thispo or #skinny). Thin women, these memes suggest, are to be envied because they conform to conventions of female attractiveness. In contrast, thin men are deficient because they fail to achieve ideals of masculine strength and size. The fitspiration or fitspo terms are more recent, but they also take up and reproduce many of the ideals of thinspiration, and similarly have a strong focus on physical appearance and conventional sexual attractiveness. The bodies that are championed in fitspiration are physically toned, active, strong and fit as well as slim (but not emaciated), and are similarly eroticized, with both female and male bodies featuring (Boepple et al. 2016, Boepple and Thompson 2016, Tiggemann and Zaccardo 2016).

References

Boepple, L., Ata, R.N., Rum, R. and Thompson, J.K. (2016) Strong is the new skinny: a content analysis of fitspiration websites. Body Image, 17 132-135.

Boepple, L. and Thompson, J.K. (2016) A content analytic comparison of fitspiration and thinspiration websites. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 49 (1), 98-101.

Hussin, M., Frazier, S. and Thompson, J.K. (2011) Fat stigmatization on YouTube: a content analysis. Body Image, 8 (1), 90-92.

Lupton, D. (2015) Digital Sociology. London: Routledge.

Lupton, D. and Thomas, G.M. (2015) Playing pregnancy: the ludification and gamification of expectant motherhood in smartphone apps. M/C Journal (5). Accessed 22 October 2015. Available from http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/1012.

Tiggemann, M. and Zaccardo, M. (2016) ‘Strong is the new skinny’: a content analysis of #fitspiration images on Instagram. Journal of Health Psychology, online ahead of print.

Yoo, J.H. and Kim, J. (2012) Obesity in the new media: a content analysis of obesity videos on YouTube. Health Communication, 27 (1), 86-97.