Digital Health and the biopolitics of the Quantified Self

By: Btihaj Ajana (AIAS and KCL)

February 2017

A recently published article by Btihaj Ajana on Quantified Self practices and health in Digital Health Journal, vol.2 (1). Feb 2017.

Read the full article on: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2055207616689509

Abstract:

Recent years have witnessed an intensive growth of systems of measurement and an increasing integration of data processes into various spheres of everyday life. From smartphone apps that measure our activity and sleep, to digital devices that monitor our health and performance at the workplace, the culture of measurement is currently on the rise. Encouraged by movements such as the Quantified Self, whose motto is ‘self knowledge through numbers’, a growing number of people across the globe are embracing practices of self-quantification and tracking in the spirit of improving their wellbeing and productivity or charting their fitness progress. In this article, I examine the biopolitical aspects of the Quantified Self practices, exploring some of the ideologies and rationalities underlying self-tracking culture. I argue that such practices represent an instantiation of a ‘biopolitics of the self’ whereby the body is made amenable to management and monitoring techniques that often echo the ethos of neoliberalism. Rather than being restricted to an individualized form, self-tracking practices are also becoming part of a biosocial and communal phenomenon in which individuals are incited to share with others information about their physical activities and biodata. In exploring some examples of this data sharing culture, I critically address the extent to which the sharing of personal physical data can be seen as a ‘solidaristic’ act that can contribute to a larger Big Data ecosystem and inform the wider medical community and healthcare research and policy. I link this discussion to debates on ‘data philanthropy’, highlighting the emerging tension between philanthropic discourses of data sharing and issues of privacy. From here, I go on to discuss further ethical and political concerns, particularly in relation to data security and the marked shifts in healthcare responsibilities.

Keywords:

Big Data, biopolitics, digital health, healthcare, neoliberalism, Quantified Self, Quantified Us, privacy, self-tracking, solidarity

Gamification of Life

By: Btihaj Ajana (KCL and AIAS)

October 2016

On 13 October 2016 I run the panel event Life Gamified: Practices of the Quantified Self at the Arts and Humanities Festival at King’s College London. The theme of the Festival was “play” and we took this concept as the starting point of our discussion on the concept of gamification and its increasing infiltration into everyday activities, such as work, shopping, dating, learning, and exercising. The aim of the event was to look at practices of the Quantified Self as an example of the gamification of life itself and critically reflect on the various social, political and ethical implications of such practices.

Living in a “metric culture” (and CfP)

By: Btihaj Ajana (AIAS and KCL)

September 2016

Self-measurement and tracking have become commonplace practices in recent years. With the explosion of apps and devices enabling the data capturing and monitoring of the individual’s everyday activities, behaviours and habits, an increasing number of people around the world are embracing this culture of self-quantification and tracking in the spirit of improving their health and wellbeing, and charting their fitness progress.

Read more and find out about our forthcoming conference Metric Culture: The Quantified Self and Beyond here

Interview article with Ny Tid

By: Steffen Moestrup (Ny Tid)

June 2016

Btihaj Ajana gave an interview about the Quantified Self for the article ‘Selvmonitorering: Kjenn deg selv gjennom tallene dine’ for the Norwegian monthly newspaper Ny Tid.

The full interview-based article can be accessed here

(in Danish)

Report on the AIAS Workshop: The Quantified Self and The Rise of Self-Tracking Culture

By: Rachael Kent (King's College London)

June 2016

The Quantified Self and the Rise of Self-tracking Culture workshop was a one-day event organized by Btihaj Ajana at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies on 15 June 2016. The purpose of this workshop was to bring together scholars in the fields of self-tracking and the quantified self, surveillance and privacy, and data and social networks, to critically reflect on the impact of these practices upon everyday users. The event examined the ways in which self-tracking devices, platforms and associated practices are transforming how we understand our bodies, our health, and our human capacities through our relation to and acquisition of data. By addressing relevant philosophical, political, social, economic and cultural questions, the workshop sought to interrogate and challenge some of the assumptions and discourses relating to the Quantified Self movement and its motto, ‘Self Knowledge through Numbers’.