Thinking about self-tracking, wearables & biopedagogy

fitbitDelighted that the article I wrote with Kate O’Riordan (as part of our EU-funded EPINET project) on wearable sensors and fitness tracking has now just been published online in the academic journal Health Sociology Review  here. It is part of a special issue on self-tracking, edited by Deborah Lupton, and I can’t wait to read the cutting edge work of other colleagues in this same volume. The article is called ‘Training to self-care: fitness tracking, biopedagogy and the healthy consumer’ and it is  based on research around Fitbit, a wearable sensor device, through two complementary analytical approaches: auto-ethnography and media analysis. Drawing on the concept of biopedagogy, which describes the processes of learning and training bodies how to live, we focus on how users learn to self-care with wearable technologies through a series of micropractices that involve processes of mediation and the sharing of their own data via social networking. Our discussion is oriented towards four areas of analysis: data subjectivity and sociality; making meaning; time and productivity and brand identity. We articulate how these micropractices of knowing one’s body regulate the contemporary ‘fit’ and healthy subject, and mediate expertise about health, behaviour and data subjectivity.

You can download the article here

Feminism, hormones and the Quantified Self: Imagining data futures

I look forward to talking about feminism and data in the University of Leeds (School of Media and Communication) soon. This is work that will appear in a Chapter about reproductive rights, digital media and feminism in my forthcoming book, later this year.

March 23rd, 2016 | Time: 16:15 — 17:30

Media and Communication, University of Leeds

Room G.12, Clothworkers’ North Building.


Feminism, hormones and the Quantified Self: Imagining data futures

There is a proliferation of tracking apps today that can be used to monitor fertility and reproductive hormones (Lupton, 2015). Reproductive control has been a key issue for feminism, and women have always logged their data in some way; however, it is with digital technologies and smart phones that data collection carries a promise of significant life changes. 

Although the Quantified Self has been described to be mostly about ‘toys for boys’, smart, geeky, talented’ women involved in sensor hacking organise women-only Quantified Self meetups in the US, to discuss hormonal tracking. At the same time, projects such as the Hormone Project aim to bring together women who self-track, doctors and researchers, in order to influence innovation in biotech and personalized health. This paper examines such developments and asks how far data collection has the potential to make the voices of women heard, beyond the articulation of consumer demands about digital health. Placing my analysis within frameworks of gendered and reproductive labour and their centrality to global capitalism (Dickenson, 2007; Franklin and Lock, 2003; Thompson, 2005), I discuss how the material and semiotic intersect in the making of data and feminist futures.


Real Social Analytics in BJS

1280px-social-mediaOur article in the British Journal of Sociology is (early) online . This article argues against the assumption that agency and reflexivity disappear in an age of ‘algorithmic power’ (Lash 2007). Following the suggestions of Beer (2009), it proposes that, far from disappearing, new forms of agency and reflexivity around the embedding in everyday practice of not only algorithms but also analytics more broadly are emerging, as social actors continue to pursue their social ends but mediated through digital interfaces: this is the consequence of many social actors now needing their digital presence, regardless of whether they want this, to be measured and counted. The article proposes ‘social analytics’ as a new topic for sociology: the sociological study of social actors’ uses of analytics not for the sake of measurement itself (or to make profit from measurement) but in order to fulfil better their social ends through an enhancement of their digital presence. The article places social analytics in the context of earlier debates about categorization, algorithmic power, and self-presentation online, and describes in detail a case study with a UK community organization which generated the social analytics approach. The article concludes with reflections on the implications of this approach for further sociological fieldwork in a digital world.

Cite: Couldry, N., Fotopoulou, A. and Dickens, L. (2016), Real social analytics: A contribution towards a phenomenology of a digital world. The British Journal of Sociology. doi: 10.1111/1468-4446.12183


The Missing Actor: The Meaning of Political Cultures for Media/Movements Interactions

I look forward to Florence in April, where I have been invited to talk in the forth SOME seminar (Social Movements and Media Technologies: Present Challenges and Future Developments Seminar Series). I will be presenting work on digital feminism, identity and political cultures from my forthcoming book (Palsgrave/MacMillan 2016), in a panel with great co-speakers. It’s been a while since I presented my work on feminism and digital media, so I am pretty excited. The seminar is jointly organised by the Centre for Global Media and Democracy (CGMD) at Goldsmiths University of London and the Centre on Social Movement Studies (COSMOS), Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence.

See also the full Programme of the two-day seminar.

PANEL THREE  Media/Movement Interactions in Left-Wing Politics and the Importance of Cross-Cultural Comparison 

Chair: Alice Mattoni, Scuola Normale Superiore

Current research on social movements and media technologies has largely focused on large scale, mostly progressive, social protests such as 15M, Occupy and more recent uprisings. However, little attention has been paid on the cultural variety that characterizes left-leaning political cultures, and on how these cultural differences affects the very experience of media/movements interactions. In this panel scholars will reflect on this cultural complexity by comparing the different political imaginations of contemporary left-wing movements, and by considering their historical legacy.

Indonesia’s transition culture: the view from Whatsapp digital democracy groups

John Postill, RMIT University

Commoning and reaching out: political cultures and media logics in the Occupy movement

Anastasia Kavada, University of Westminster

Jeremy Corbyn, social movements and the media

Des Freedman, Goldsmiths University of London

Digital feminism, identity and political cultures: from local struggles to transnational activist networks

Aristea Fotopoulou, University of Brighton

Source: Programme

Where next in Digital culture & communication?

c20d3e7877Back from the festive Salzburg, where I co-organised the workshop of the Digital Culture and Communication section of ECREA, with the Department of Communication Studies, Center for ICT&S, University of Salzburg & partnered with the Centre for Research on Media Innovations (CeRMI) at the University of Oslo. Although initially I was sceptical about the theme Standards, Values and Disruptions, and had difficulty finding its relevance to my research, it turned out to be a good provocation – not only for me, but also for many of the participants. The workshop was a cosy two-days, with low key discussions and a few more challenging ones.

I enjoyed Helen Kennedy’s (University of Sheffield) keynote talk on Wednesday; she gave an overview of data visualisation initiatives (including hers and her colleagues’). When she mentioned interviewing people in businesses about their obsession with numbers and quantification, I couldn’t help thinking about my own auto-ethnographic experience using Fitbit – where my obsession and fetishisation of numbers and of diagrams hit an unfamiliar, to me, high. I write about this in detail in my peer-reviewed article ‘Training to self-care: Fitness tracking, biopedagogy and the healthy consumer’ (with Kate O’Riordan, under review at the moment). Helen linked numbers and quantification to proof of success; in my work, I link it to proof of my productivity, and drawing from Melissa Gregg’s key work, to a characteristic anxiety with productivity of the middle classes – particularly the academic middle class worker.

Helen also showed some examples of Stefanie Posavec’s creative work with data, which reminded me about how data means many different things to people and, like all things, they can be good, bad, ugly or beautiful.

The workshop was a good place to re-visit the scope of the Section. As Vice Chair of the Section, it was reassuring to hear the opinions of our Section members during the business meeting. It is true that social media is a thematic that pertains many ECREA sections (see for example the excellent Political Agency in the Digital Age workshop organised by the Communication & Democracy Section), and it is not a cutting edge development any more. So I agree with many who stated that the Section should maintain its cutting edge focus – currently around datafication & society – while at the same time maintaining its critical stance to all things that relate to digital culture and communication.

Looking forward to the next ECREA in Prague in November 2016!