This is a gentle reminder to let me know by Sun at noon what application or device for body measurement according to our next discussion (Lupton’s readings) you would like to present to the class. You can do it in pairs or groups of three. If you want to make sure that the technology you would like to present is not already taken, I recommend emailing me sooner. You do not need to prepare a formal presentation just to present the application/device/technology to the class and (if possible) to demonstrate how it works.
‘New Hybrid Beings’ Theoretical Perspectives
This chapter provides an overview of social, cultural and political theory that is relevant to understanding the meanings and rationales of self-tracking cultures. I begin with discussion of what sociomaterial perspectives offer. This is followed by outlining scholarship on the topics of knowing capitalism and lively data, practices of selfhood and neoliberal politics, the cultural dimensions of embodiment, datafication, and, finally, dataveillance and privacy. All these perspectives are taken up in later chapters, where they provide insights into key elements of self-tracking cultures.
An important factor in contemporary practices of selfhood and social relations is the increasing digitisation of society and social life via a diverse array of technologies, the most obvious devices being mobile phones and social media. Life is now digital (Lupton, 2015a). As Deuze (2011: 137) asserts, the spread of media, particularly digital media, into most avenues of everyday life is so extensive that we should now not talk about living ‘with media’ but rather ‘in media’, and we are therefore ‘living a media life’ (2011: 138). Digital devices are incorporated into our everyday routines, entangled with our sense of self, our experience of embodiment, our acquisition of knowledge and meaning making and our social relations. Whether or not we choose to take up digital technologies such as smartphones, the extent to which digital devices and sensors are embedded in public spaces and social institutions means that we cannot easily escape becoming a subject of digitisation. Public and private spaces are now reconfigured by computer code. The sheer mobility and pervasiveness of contemporary digital devices and the fact that we can connect to the internet and thus to our online social networks
from almost anywhere and at any time have had a major effect on the conduct of everyday life.
To fully understand the processes by which this is happening, theorising the nature of humans’ intertwinings with technologies is required. Perspectives that focus on the materialities of human action and meaning have become an important dimension of contemporary sociocultural theory. Such approaches – often referred to as ‘new materialisms’ or ‘sociomaterialism’ – go beyond the emphasis on language and discourse that was central to poststructuralism, to acknowledging the role played by material objects in social life and in concepts of selfhood and embodiment (Coole and Frost, 2010; Gillespie, Boczkowski, and Foot, 2014). Sociomaterialism has been strongly influenced by science and technology studies, and in particular by the actor–network theory approach, which focuses on the ways in which human actors interact with nonhuman actors as part of heterogeneous and dynamic social networks. Objects are considered to be agents in these networks and to have the capacity to exert influence on the other actors, including humans (Latour, 2005; Law and Hassard, 1999). Sociomaterialist scholars are therefore interested both in things and meanings and in how these relate. Objects are represented as participating in specific sets of relations, including relations with other artefacts as well as people. This approach also acknowledges the wider contexts in which object–subject relations are configured – contexts such as geographical location, age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status – and the influence of these relations upon contexts.
Building on this approach, a sociomaterial position on any kind of human use of technology emphasises the multiplicity and constantly changing aspects of the subject–object relationship. Proponents of the approach address such issues as the ontological nature of the human–technology interaction (that is, how people experience technologies), the ways in which technologies are incorporated into concepts of embodiment and selfhood, how they extend or enhance these concepts, and how social relations are configured through, with and by technologies. They also emphasise that a large and complex network lies behind the technologies that people use; this network includes technology developers and makers as well as the economy
and modes of sale, distribution, advertising and marketing (see, for example, Bijker, Hughes, Pinch, and Douglas, 2012).
The sociomaterial approach as it has been applied to digital technologies views the software that structures and manages the interactions and networks that take place through and with these devices as being themselves the products of social interactions – decisions made by their developers and coders. It also emphasises the materiality of digital technologies, including that of the digital data generated from the users’ interactions with the technologies (Aslinger and Huntemann, 2013; Gillespie et al., 2014; Mackenzie, 2005; Manovich, 2013). The approach is relevant to understanding how things in our lives – such as digital objects – are appropriated for everyday practices, how meaning and significance are invested in objects, and what the affective dimensions of this process may be.
The concept of assemblage is often used in the sociomateralism literature. An assemblage is configured when humans, nonhumans, practices, ideas and discourses come together in a complex system (Marcus, 2006). With digital technologies it is the case that computer software and hardware developers, manufacturers and retailers, software coders, algorithms, computer servers and archives, the computing cloud, websites, platforms and social media sites are all part of the network of actors that configure and enact a range of assemblages. Several different types of assemblage are configured via the interactions of humans and digital nonhumans. One such assemblage is the human-body–device–sensor–software– data configuration that is generated when people use a digital device to monitor and measure their physical activities. This assemblage may also incorporate other human and nonhuman actors – for example when users share their personal data with one another or attempt to synchronise the data across other devices or platforms, or when many users’ data are aggregated and rendered into large data sets, which may in turn be employed for a range of purposes by other human actors.
The ways in which people incorporate objects into the routines of their everyday lives – or effectively how they become entangled in assemblages with these objects – are important elements of sociomaterial investigations. Objects are transformed through this
process of incorporation, becoming endowed with a biographical meaning that is specific to the living practices and spatial contexts in which these objects are used. But it is not a one-way process – human users are also transformed by incorporation. Such processes are inevitably relational because they involve embodied interactions and affective responses (Bell, 2004; Hartmann, 2013; Lupton, 1995a, 2015a; Turkle, 2007).
Thus, for example, smartphones are not only touched by and carried on our bodies, wearables not only sit on our wrists: they are repositories of highly personal and individualised information – images, messages, appointments, details about our bodily functions, location and activities, our friends and our family members. They are, as Turkle (2007) puts it in her title, ‘evocative objects’ that carry and convey memories and emotions and remind us of our histories and social relationships. They bear the marks of our bodies as we touch and handle them. They are also invested with images of our bodies and of significant others (photographs and videos) that we may take or store in their memories. Devices that are endowed with self-tracking equipment also generate, process and archive highly personal information about our bodies’ functions, movements and geolocation.
Kitchin and Dodge (2011) use the term ‘code/space’ to denote the ways in which software and devices such as mobile phones and sensors are configuring concepts of space and identity. The data that these devices and software produce structure our notions of identity and embodiment, our relationships, our choices and preferences, and even our access to services or spaces (Andrejevic, 2013; Beer, 2009; Kitchin, 2014). They are productive in that they generate new knowledges and make contributions to such endeavours as governmental management, national security and effective policing, road and air travel safety, health and fitness promotion initiatives, education and commerce. They also work to delimit and shape the capacities of individuals, and it is in this sense that they play a disciplinary and constraining role (Kitchin and Dodge, 2011).
Knowing capitalism and lively data
Theorists who have written on the emergence of the global digital data economy have pointed out that power now operates through modes of communication (Castells, 2000; Kitchin, 2014; Lash, 2007; Lyon and Bauman, 2013; Thrift, 2005). Nigel Thrift (2005) uses the phrase ‘knowing capitalism’ to denote this new form of global economy. Knowing capitalism depends both on technologies that generate knowledge in the form of digital data in massive quantities and on the commodification of these knowledges. It also rests on the valuing and promotion of innovation, for which new knowledges are required. Digital data have become highly valuable and commercially profitable as forms of knowledge, particularly when they are aggregated into big data sets (such a set is commonly referred to as ‘big data’). Because of their volume, detail and continuous production, big data are often represented as ‘disruptive’ and ‘revolutionary’ forms of information. They have been described as offering unprecedented potential to generate insights into human behaviours, public services, healthcare and public health, security and policing, agriculture, education, workplace productivity, global development, the economy, and environmental conditions (Kitchin, 2014; Lupton, 2015a).
The actions of digital technology users and the behaviours that are tracked via their routine encounters with these technologies are integral to the digital data economy. An important element is the shift from commodifying workers’ bodily labour to profiting from information collected on people’s behaviours, habits and preferences. Some commentators in internet studies use the term ‘prosumption’, a neologism that combines the words ‘production’ and ‘consumption’ (Ritzer, 2014). This term denotes the ways in which people interacting with online technologies and other digital devices simultaneously consume and create digital content. One form of content is the routinely generated information that is created when people go online: making calls and texts on smartphones, engaging in online shopping, opting in to consumer loyalty programs that track their purchases in store, using search engines, browsing the internet, uploading apps that automatically track information on geolocation and other details of users – and so on. Another form of content is generated when users of digital technologies deliberately contribute information or comments, such as when they upload
status updates, comments, audio-files or images to social media sites, click on ‘like’, ‘favourite’, ‘retweet’ or ‘share’ buttons, comment on other people’s updates and posts or write blog posts.
The notion of personal data as commodities is now frequently articulated in commercial circles. As the common expression has it, the user of online technologies is ‘the product’. The fine-grained details that prosumption generates about people’s habits and preferences allows for targeted advertising. The value of the data that prosumption produces explains why so many services such as social media platforms and apps are offered for free. An entire industry has developed around harvesting big data and finding profitable ways of using and selling them. The ‘internet empires’ – the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon – exert tremendous power by virtue of their ownership and control over digital data in the global information economy (Kitchin, 2014; Lash, 2007; Van Dijck, 2013). Hackers have also profited from the value of personal data, a fact that led to the incidence of many cases of illegal access to digital data sets and to the selling of these data on the black market (Ablon, Libicki, and Golay, 2015).
Central to portrayals of the digital data economy is the idea that digital data are lively, mutable and hybrid. Metaphors of liquidity are very commonly used to describe the contemporary nature of digital data: ‘flows’, ‘streams’, ‘rivers’, even ‘floods’ and ‘tsunamis’ are terms that recur, particularly in accounts of big data (Lupton, 2015a). In the digital data economy, flows of information are generated that are engaged in nonlinear movement. Once these flows are generated, they enter into a digitised space in which they circulate and move between different sites, being repurposed and contributing to new data assemblages (Beer, 2013; Lash, 2006; Lyon and Bauman, 2013). As Thrift (2014) contends, ‘new hybrid beings’ are created by the mixtures between material objects with data and bodies. Bodies and identities are fragmented into a series of discrete components, as digital data, and reassembled through this process of reconfiguration. Such digital assemblages then become targeted for various forms of intervention: personal, managerial, governmental or commercial.
As I noted in the Introduction, the notion of lively data captures these vital characteristics of digital data, as well as acknowledging that, as recordings of human activities and bodies, such data are about human life (and indeed often about nonhuman life, for example about the animals and plants that are part of agricultural industries). Furthermore, digital data and the algorithmic analytics that are used to interpret them and to make predictions and inferences about individuals and social groups are beginning to have determining effects on people’s lives, influencing their life chances and opportunities. Therefore digital data both are sociomaterial artefacts generated and stored by digital technologies and have potential sociomaterial effects. Not only are these data themselves mobile, so are many of the devices that generate them: the smartphones, iPads, iPods and wearable technologies that can readily be carried around on the body from place to place and connect to the internet in almost any location. Furthermore, as people enter and exit sensor-embedded spaces, more types of digital data are generated. Thus personal data can be generated from multiple locations, as people move from space to space carrying or wearing their mobile devices.
This circulation of knowledge is also characterised by flux. Digital data do not always move freely. There are resistances and blockages (Lash, 2006). As Nafus (2014) put it in the title (see Chapter 1), data may be experienced as ‘dead’ or ‘stuck’, offering little of value in terms of insights. These blockages may include internet companies’ increasing ownership of digital data archives and the inability of many of the people who generated these data to gain access to them (Andrejevic, 2014). They may also include digital users’ lack of knowledge about what happens to their personal data once they have been uploaded to the computing cloud and how to interpret materialisations of their data.
Data materialisations constitute an important dimension of knowing capitalism, as they are ways of rending small pieces of information into forms that can be understood and used. If the digital data economy is conceptualised as comprised of fluidities and fluxes of data, by extending this metaphor it could be asserted that, through the process of generating data representations and visualisations, the data themselves are made ‘solid’, their liquidities ‘frozen’ at certain
points. Thus, for example, the bidimensional (2D) materialisations of digital data that are generated by software – graphs, lists of numbers and other visual representations – render these data fixed at a certain point in time. Artefacts that are fabricated from digital data sets printed from 3D printers are even more literally ‘solid’ digital data objects, as they can be touched and held.
When 2D data visualisations are created, much emphasis is placed on their aesthetic quality, as well as on their ability to convey information in forms easy to understand. The choices that are made about which data to select and how to represent them structure the meaning of the subsequent visualisation (McCosker and Wilken, 2014). So, too, 3D materialisations of digital data represent the outcome of a series of human decision-making activities concerning the best ways to model such data, the kinds of materials that should be used and the size of the resultant object. These decisions are structured within the affordances of the software and hardware that are available for the process; and they are mediated through human expertise in handling these nonhuman elements. While the ultimate aim is to generate a useful, aesthetically pleasing and meaningful object, there are many contingencies and some messiness to confront as part of the process.
Practices of selfhood and neoliberal politics
Social theorists who have reflected on the nature of selfhood also offer much to the development of an understanding of self-tracking cultures. Three interrelated dimensions of Michel Foucault’s theorising of selfhood and citizenship are relevant. The first is his writings on the practices of selfhood; the second is his concept of governmentality via biopolitics, or the ways in which citizens and societies are managed by ‘soft’ power that emphasises their own responsibility; and the third is his work on power and surveillance.
Foucault’s writings on the discourses and practices of selfhood note that the self is fashioned through and with the articulation of power and intersections of discourses and practices (Foucault, 1986, 1988). As he was able to demonstrate in his histories of selfhood, practices of the self are culturally and historically contingent: different eras
privilege different ideas and discourses about how citizens should conduct themselves. Foucault contended that it is through the practices directed at the care of the self, body and soul that people internalise ideas about appropriate conduct as members of society. In contemporary western societies, the care of the self is viewed as an ethical project, which requires a self-awareness based on critical and considered reflection and the acquisition of self-knowledge as part of achieving the ideal of the ‘good citizen’ – that is, a citizen who is responsible, capable and self-regulated in the pursuit of happiness, health, productivity and wellbeing.
Adopting another perspective on concepts of selfhood in western societies, sociologists Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck and Zygmunt Bauman have written, more specifically, about how individuals are dealing with the uncertainties, loss of traditional norms, and risks that are central features of life today (see, for example, Bauman, 2000; Beck, 1992, 1999; Giddens, 1991). All three sociologists make reference to the state of late modernity – that is, the contemporary era in developed societies – and to the development of reflexivity as part of the experience of people living in these societies today. Giddens, Beck and Bauman emphasise that self-reflexivity – seeking information and making choices about one’s life in a context in which traditional patterns and frameworks that once structured the life course have largely dissolved – is part of contemporary practices of selfhood. Rather than conforming to established traditions, people must choose from an array of options when deciding how to shape their lives. Because they must do so, their life courses have become much more open, but also much more subject to threats and uncertainties. People are compelled to make themselves central to their own lives when they take on the ethical project of selfhood. This is taking place in a political context of the developed world – that of neoliberalism – that champions self-responsibility, the market economy and competition and where the state is increasingly withdrawing from offering economic support to citizens.
These ideas converge with those expressed in Foucault’s writings on the care of the self in their emphasis on the ways in which people must work to engage in self-reflection and to acquire self-knowledge, and must take responsibility for the outcomes of their lives. Beck, Giddens and Bauman, as well as other scholars who have drawn on
their work, contend that we are currently in an age of reinvention of the self and the body. The concept and practices of reinvention have become central to both private lives and organisations, and it is generally accepted that such practices are important endeavours. Reinvention is about transformation for the sake of personal growth, achievement, career success, health or wellbeing. Cosmetic surgery or major weight loss are perhaps the most obvious reinvention practices, but others include seeking advice from psychologists or life success coaches, reading self-help books, retraining, changing careers or moving to new cities or countries (Beck, 1992; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 1995; Elliott, 2013a, 2013b). Elliott (2013a) argues that there is a deep cultural fascination with self-reinvention, as well as institutional pressures that encourage people to adopt this perspective. An expectation of instant transformation is part of the self-reinvention ideal, as is the notion that transforming the self will alleviate anxieties and fears about one’s destiny.
For some commentators, the reflexive practices of selfhood can descend into vanity and narcissism. In his book The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch (1991 ) contends that the modern era is characterised by overt and extreme forms of narcissism, in which, as part of competitive individualism, people focus on themselves to the exclusion of devoting attention to the wellbeing and welfare of others. A more recent analysis of the sociocultural dimensions of vanity in the early twenty-first century remarks on the diverse ways in which people engage in practices that are directed at enhancing their appearance, productivity or social standing – from fitness, wellbeing and anti-ageing activities to interactions on social media sites (Tanner, Maher, and Fraser, 2013). Tanner and colleagues point out that the notion of vanity has gradually changed since Lasch first wrote his book. Expectations from people that they engage in self-optimisation have led to such practices becoming more accepted instead of being viewed pejoratively, as ‘vain’. Such practices of selfhood are now frequently represented as expected from people and as part of their achieving their ‘best selves’ and behaving as responsible citizens, engaged in self-care. In some contexts, engaging in self-optimisation or enhancement is even demanded of people (for example, public health campaigns exhort people to give up smoking or lose weight).
In some ways, therefore, contemporary concepts of selfhood require a degree of self-preoccupation. The boundaries between self- reflexivity, vanity and narcissism are not always easily defined. It is still deemed important, however, to strike an appropriate balance between working to optimise the self and not appearing to others overly self-absorbed.
The development of certain forms of expert-knowledge systems has been vital in configuring dominant ideas about how practices of selfhood should be conducted. Foucault (1988) identifies four types of technologies that produce knowledge about human life: (1) technologies of production, which allow people to produce, transform or manipulate material objects; (2) technologies of sign systems, which involve the production and manipulation of symbols, images, ideas and discourses; (3) technologies of power, which determine people’s conduct and submit them to certain ends; and (4) technologies of the self, which permit people to engage in their own practices of selfhood, in pursuit of their own interests. Foucault notes that these technologies tend to work together to produce forms of knowledge about humans, but each relies upon certain modes of training and modification of people, including the inculcation of practices and ways of thought. His objective was not to accept these knowledges at face value but to investigate the rationalities and what Foucault calls the ‘truth games’ that underpin the techniques that people use in understanding themselves.
Over the past century, the psy disciplines (psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis) have come to play a dominant role in understandings of selfhood. Theories and models of human behaviour and identity, as they are articulated in psychology and psychiatry, structure and discipline norms and make prescriptions for how people should act to improve their mental health, overall wellbeing and general success in life (Rose, 1996). Many of these ideas have disseminated into mass culture in the form of self-help and popular psychology books (and now websites and apps). The self-help industry is overtly directed at using psychological models of human behaviour to assist people in maximising their opportunities. The materials that contribute to the self-help literature reproduce the notion of individuals as atomised actors who are expected and encouraged to work upon themselves in the quest to achieve health,
productivity and happiness. The authentic or true self is represented as ontologically separate from the inauthentic self and as an entity that can be worked on by the self for the self through practices such as introspection and self-reflection. In this literature it is typically contended that one should have a relationship with one’s self that involves an ethical responsibility to achieve this authentic self. Such a relationship involves delving beneath the surface in order to uncover the hidden desires, drives and motivations that the psyche harbours (Elliott, 2013a; Hazleden, 2003; Keane, 2000). Part of this practice requires self-monitoring – noticing aspects of one’s thoughts, feelings and relationships and taking steps to intervene if negative thoughts or experiences are identified. This process of self- monitoring may involve answering a questionnaire or writing down thoughts and feelings regularly for perusal and reflection (Hazleden, 2003).
While these practices of selfhood may appear to be highly individualistic, broader issues of power and the government of citizens underpin their rationales. As scholars drawing upon Foucault’s (1991) work on governmentality have contended, this political approach promotes the concept of the citizen who needs no coercion to behave productively and in the interests of the state. Neoliberal political rationalities generally rely on apparatuses of ‘soft’ rather than ‘hard’ power. Instead of relying on coercive measures that appear to be imposed from above, in managing and regulating their citizens neoliberal political systems invest faith in the voluntary take-up of imperatives by the citizens themselves. Citizens believe that certain acts are in their own best interest or are integral to ideal selfhood; thus they engage willingly in these acts (Burchell, Gordon, and Miller, 1991; Rose, 1990). For example, people attempt to become productive workers or to engage in health- promoting behaviours because they see it as a way towards achieving their optimal selves (Kelly, 2013; Lupton, 1995b).
Such an approach combines the ethos of the care of the self (or of governing the self) with that of the ideal citizen (governing over populations). Individuals can be regarded as fulfilling their obligations as citizens if they devote attention to optimising their own lives. Simultaneously they are engaging in practices of freedom, since they are oriented towards achieving personal goals. Such
practices appear to be emerging from personal desires and voluntary objectives related to the achievement of health, happiness and success rather than from imperatives issued by the state or other sources of authority. In the discourses that champion the ideal of the rational neoliberal citizen, social structural factors that influence people’s living conditions and life chances – such as social class, gender, geographical location, race and ethnicity – are discounted in favour of the notion that people are self-made.
In self-help discourses it is assumed that such goals do not come naturally but must be worked towards, with the assistance of an expert who gives advice and through endeavours on the part of the individual concerned. Such discourses appeal to the notion that people are rational beings who would naturally want to achieve these goals and to make the corresponding effort. Optimising the self and one’s life trajectory is simply a matter of applying knowledge effectively. This logic assumes that, once the appropriate knowledge is gained and applied, most problems and difficulties can be resolved. Any suggestion that a person’s difficulties may be caused by intractable biological problems (a genetic predisposition towards illness, for example) or by their position as members of socially or economically disadvantaged groups tends to be discounted for the sake of this focus on personal management and responsibility. Not overcoming difficulties becomes firmly positioned as the fault of the private individual rather than of their relative social and economic advantage.
Cultures of embodiment
The nexus of human bodies, digital devices, sensor-embedded spaces and data offers some intriguing possibilities for thinking through the contemporary experience of the digitised human. Bodies are now increasingly digitised in a multitude of ways – from the digital scanning technologies that the medical clinic uses in order to observe, monitor, diagnose and treat diseases to the selfies that are posted to Facebook, the videos that are uploaded to YouTube and the types of digital self-tracking apps and devices that were described in Chapter 1.
Self-tracking beliefs and practices may be viewed as simply one approach among the many that have been used across the millennia to control, manage, regulate, perform and express embodiment. For social theorists who have written about the body, the ways of thinking about the body and of living in it and acting on it are all culturally, socially and historically contingent. One important element of self-tracking practices in relation to embodiment is how we control and manage our bodies. In contemporary western societies, mind and body tend to be regarded as separate entities. Ideally, in the pursuit of self-knowledge and self-improvement, the mind is able to exert control over the body. In this understanding of the body, it is viewed as a possession of the self, needful of careful training and discipline. The body, therefore, is regarded as also reflecting the capacity for self-discipline of and knowledge of the self that inhabits the body (Leder, 1990; Longhurst, 2000; Lupton, 1995b, 2012, 2013a; Shilling, 1993).
Foucault emphasised the importance of the human body as a site of power enactments and struggles, and this is central to his concept of biopower. Biopower involves both a focus on the bodies of individuals and how they manage and regulate their bodies as part of their everyday lives, and on the monitoring, management and promotion of the welfare of populations (or the body politic). Rather than disciplinary power being exerted on individuals or populations, biopower is far more subtle, focused on the promotion of self- regulation and self-management (Foucault, 1979; 1984). The related term biopolitics refers to the diverse ways in which biopower is exerted, not only by government authorities but by the range of other agencies that focus on humans’ bodies and behaviours, such as commercial and research enterprises.
Symbolic ideas about the control of the body politic are intertwined with those that structure the way people think about human bodies. Related to these understandings of the appropriate deportment of the body are ideas about bodily containment and management that in western societies have traditionally privileged rigid control of the body, its size and shape, its activities and functions. Bodily containment is linked to moral meanings associated with binary oppositions such as thin/fat, healthy/ill and normal/pathological. The body that is unable to be contained, over which its owner seems
to have little control, is an object of pity, ridicule and disgust. In contrast the tightly contained body, associated with a lean and fit body shape, good health and vigour, is portrayed and regarded as ideal and morally just. Fat, diseased or physically unfit bodies, for example, are viewed as fleshly evidence of people’s inability to exert control over their bodily urges and desires or their ignorance about how they are damaging their bodies (Longhurst, 2000; Lupton, 1995b, 2012, 2013b).
As part of seeking to achieve the ideal of the tightly contained body, the body’s boundaries and its leaks and flows must be monitored. Cultural theorists such as the anthropologist Mary Douglas (1966) have argued that the regulation of the flow of phenomena inside and outside the body and the establishment and maintenance of boundaries between the inside and the outside are vital conceptual practices across human societies. Symbolic and social practices and concepts work to operate and police the boundaries of the body politic and to deal with threats that are viewed as challenging the stability and order of this body.
The metaphors that underpin understandings and practices of embodiment reveal the preoccupations of the era in which people live. The metaphor of the body as machine has a long history in western culture (Lupton, 2012). This metaphor changes as the technologies that dominate in historical eras change. At the time of the Industrial Revolution, for example, the human body was frequently portrayed as an engine, with pistons and pumps. With the advent of computer technologies, the body has often been represented as part of a digital information system, subject to communication errors causing illness and disease (Haraway, 1991; Hayles, 2008; Lupton, 1995a, 2012). There has also been a move from haptic ways of knowing the body (that is, ways that rely on the sense of touch) to visual knowledges. Technologies for screening and diagnostic purposes such as x-rays, computer tomography, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging have been used for some decades to monitor, record and interpret the body, to gaze into and produce images of its interior. In recent times digital technologies have become increasingly important to the visualisation and display of the human body in medicine (Cartwright, 1995; Duden, 1993; Waldby, 1997).
Part of this increasing use of visualising technologies is a significant shift in how the body and health states are conceptualised, articulated and portrayed. Where once people relied upon the sensations they felt in their bodies and reported to their physicians, medical technologies devoted to producing images of the body have altered the experience and treatment of bodies. The optic has come to take precedence over the haptic in revealing the ‘truth’ of the body (Duden, 1993). Such technologies produce a virtual patient, a ‘screen body’. The visual image or the data they generate are often privileged as more ‘objective’ than the signs offered by the ‘real’, fleshly body and the patients’ own accounts of their bodies (Chrysanthou, 2002; Rich and Miah, 2009; Waldby, 1997).
Digital devices are able to extend the capacities of the body by supplying data that can then be used to display the body’s limits and capabilities and allow users to employ these data to work upon themselves and present themselves in certain ways. Writing before the advent of these devices, Chrysanthou (2002) noted the move towards individuals using information and computer technologies such as online health assessments, over-the-counter diagnostic tests and self-administered genetic tests, as part of what he describes as a utopian vision of the perfect, imperishable body. These technologies participate in a kind of ‘techno-utopia’, in which technologies are positioned as harbingers of progress, keys to the promotion of human happiness, wellbeing and health (Davis, 2012). Like medical imaging technologies, mobile digital technologies that measure bodily movement and body functioning and report these data to the device user and to those with whom the user chooses to share them produce a spectacular body, one in which the internal workings are similarly displayed and made visible. As part of the project of seeking security and stability, such technologies attempt to penetrate the dark interior of the body and to render it visible, knowable and thereby (it is assumed) manageable.
Self-tracking could be described as a biometric practice when it is devoted to the measuring and monitoring of unique features of human bodies. The term ‘biometric’ refers to the quantification of various features of the human body. Biometric data have becoming increasingly used in forms of inclusion and exclusion and in the maintenance of borders and other boundaries. In the discourse of
biometric surveillance technologies, the body becomes represented as a site of information, made up of data flows and circulations. Indeed the body and the data it represents become central to concepts of identity. Here the distinction between the body as ‘thing’ and the digital representation of that ‘thing’ is levelled out (Ajana, 2013). The body is viewed as a repository of identifiable, storable and processable data via such techniques as genetic screening, fingerprinting, retina and facial imaging, and so on (Ajana, 2013; van der Ploeg, 2003). Biometric practices translate bodies into readable texts and valorise the digitisation of bodies (van der Ploeg, 1999). They digitally mediate between the body and identity and between technology and identity (Ajana, 2013). Turning fleshly sensation, behaviour and perception into digitally produced numbers becomes a way of mastering the uncertainties, inaccuracies and vagaries of human embodiment.
Now that bodies and selves, social life, social institutions and spaces are increasingly monitored digitally and configured by digital technologies that document and record data, the meanings and uses of these data have become important topics of enquiry. A body of literature that may be loosely described as critical data studies (Kitchin and Lauriault, 2014) has begun to develop in response to recent popular representations of digital data, both ‘small’ and ‘big’. In countering mainstream portrayals of big data, critical data scholars have drawn attention to the ways in which data are social and cultural artefacts, configured via human decision-making and underpinned by tacit assumptions. The view that ‘data are never raw’ – that is, they are always ‘cooked’ via social, cultural and political frames and practices (Gitelman and Jackson, 2013) – is relevant to any form of data. Critical data studies scholars emphasise the role played by the internet corporations and other digital developers in shaping how data are gathered, analysed and employed and the power relations that are inherent in these processes. They also explore the nature of the social relations that are configured by and enacted with digital data (Andrejevic, 2013, 2014; Beer and Burrows, 2013; boyd and Crawford, 2012; Kitchin, 2014).
The process of ‘datafication’ – that is, of rendering complex human behaviours, feelings, relationships and motivations into forms of digital data (van Dijck, 2014) – often involves metricisation, which means converting these aspects of life into numbers. This valorisation of quantified data may be viewed as yet another dimension of the importance of quantification and metrics in underpinning technologies of biopower. Expert knowledges on human life are essential to biopolitics, as they provide the truth claims by which people are invited or expected to take up certain body-related practices and interventions (Lupton, 1995b; Rose, 2007, 2008). Statistical data were important to the strategies of normalisation as they emerged in the nineteenth century, because they rendered bodies more visible and manageable and constructed norms by which individuals could be compared (Hacking, 1990). Statistics and other forms of metricisation of humans’ habits, thoughts and functions are even more important to contemporary strategies and apparatuses of biopower and biopolitics.
Sociologists have begun to direct attention at the ways in which questions of measure and value permeate now many aspects of social life (Adkins and Lury, 2011; Burrows, 2012; Day, Lury, and Wakeford, 2014; Ruppert, 2011). They argue that numerical data collected on populations, in particular, are a specific means of constructing certain metric assemblages of individuals or populations from a variety of sources. The metrics derived from digital databases lend visibility to aspects of individuals and groups that are not otherwise perceptible, because such metrics are able to ‘join up’ a vast range of details derived from diverse sources. Individuals and social groups or populations are thereby rendered into multiple aggregations that can be manipulated and changed in various ways, depending on the aspects focused upon or searched for. Behaviours and dispositions are interpreted and evaluated with the help of the measuring devices, complex algorithms and opportunities for display afforded by these technologies, all of which allow for finer detail to be produced about individuals and populations. These metrics may be used to make assessments about the performance of people, groups and things like government agencies or schools – or, in the case of medicine, healthcare services or therapies.
We are entering an era in which biopolitics and the expert knowledges that underpin biopower have become increasingly digitised. In a world in which regimes of truth are frequently configured through the algorithmic processing of digital data (Harsin, 2015; Lash, 2007; Thrift, 2005), such data are frequently represented as neutral and highly accurate forms of information that promise to offer insights into social, economic and environmental phenomena. Digitised data exert a particular authority over other sources of information about oneself or others because they are viewed as more objective, detailed, ‘in the moment’ and readily able to integrate information from many different sources. Unlike the allegedly subjective information that people receive from their senses and through observations, digital data carry with them an aura of scientific authority. Computer codes, software and the data that they generate offer a late modernist promise of exerting control over messy, undisciplined scenarios. They offer the (illusory) power of automatically enforcing what they prescribe, doing away with human subjectivity and its resultant inaccuracy and bias (Hui Kyong Chun, 2011). These representations of data view them as objects that preexist discovery, waiting to be identified, collected and used for a specific purpose, generated by machines rather than people. Harsin (2015: 4) refers to the ‘truth markets’ that are generated and supported by digital data. These markets are fragmented and dispersed among a wide variety of organisations that stretch far beyond state-governed apparatuses. They are all underpinned by big data analytics.
When discussing the contributions of digital technologies to neoliberal political rationalities and practices, some scholars have focused more specifically on algorithms and on the ways in which these elements of software act to make social distinctions and judgements, exerting ‘algorithmic authority’ (Rogers, 2013) in an increasingly wider sphere of influence. In structuring computer decision-making, algorithms serve to shape beliefs about what type of data are important and relevant and how they should be combined to produce knowledges. The algorithms constructed by software coders bring digital data together in certain ways, which result in algorithmic identities that are configured on behalf of users (Cheney- Lippold, 2011).
These algorithmic identities can have material effects. Increasingly algorithms play an integral role in defining access to information and in generating predictions about how people will behave, and this fact has accompanying implications for the opportunities or constraints with which people may be presented. It has therefore been contended that algorithms, through their power to intervene in decision-making about the life chances of individuals, have contributed to the soft power of contemporary neoliberal governance. In the face of the rapidly growing influence of this algorithmic authority, it is difficult to challenge it, given that the coding that structures algorithms is generally ‘black-boxed’ and unavailable for direct interrogation (Cheney-Lippold, 2011; Gillespie, 2014; Neyland, 2015; Totaro and Ninno, 2014).
Dataveillance and privacy
The continual generation of digital data about individuals who use online technologies provides the opportunity for this information to be used to monitor people; this can be done either by the people themselves, at their own will and on their own behalf, or by other actors and agencies. The term ‘surveillance’ is often employed in relation to the ways in which digital technologies operate. This word tends to suggest an authoritative form of monitoring, which is exerted from above on disempowered or unknowing subjects. Yet there are many versions of surveillance – or, as some theorists would prefer, ‘veillance’ (which simply refers to ‘watching’ by its French name: veiller) (Lupton, 2015a). Writers in the field of surveillance studies have provided many insights into how watching operates in contemporary western societies, including through the use of digital technologies (Lyon, 2007; Lyon and Bauman, 2013). Various kinds of social relations and interactions, including power relations, are created in and through watching technologies. These technologies may be considered part of the production and governing of the citizen in neoliberal societies.
Digital technologies are often employed to facilitate a kind of surveillance that is undertaken, often by those in positions of greater authority, in order to regulate, manage and discipline people. The use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in public places,
radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in passports and identity cards and in workers’ or school children’s clothing and biometric screening at international borders are clear examples of such a mode of surveillance. The commercial gathering of data on internet users’ routine transactions, from searching and browsing to online shopping, is also a form of standard surveillance. So too, national security agencies’ watching of their citizens’ online and mobile phone interactions, as revealed by the documents released by whistle- blower Edward Snowden from mid-2013, represents a type of surveillance whereby those in authority monitor the activities of others – in this case, without the latter’s knowledge or consent. Digitised surveillance thus involves not only traditional forms of observing behaviours (as in the use of CCTV cameras to visually inspect people’s movements), but accessing digital data and using algorithms to construct profiles on individuals in both covert and overt ways.
Panoptic surveillance is a more complex mode of watching. The Foucauldian concept of the panopticon is often employed in work on digital forms of surveillance. The panopticon is literally an architectural structure: a prison first proposed by eighteenth-century reformer Jeremy Bentham. The concept of the panopticon is used metaphorically by Foucault in his well-known work Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison (1977) to suggest the operations of power in contemporary societies. The panopticon metaphor emphasises the role played by the gaze, by surveillance and visibility in the new forms of power relations that emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The panopticon prison was a structure designed so that the monitoring gaze of those in power could operate centrally to observe inmates in their separate cells, who were unaware of when exactly they were being watched. This design allowed a small number of those in authority to watch a large number of individuals. The concept involved the idea that prisoners should not only be observed by those in authority, but also, ideally, develop self-surveillance and disciplining strategies, in an effort to improve themselves. This approach to the management of problematic populations was also taken up in relation to other institutions, such as the hospital and the school.
For Foucault, the panopticon was representative of a new form of power, one in which central surveillance and the monitoring of individuals were combined with those individuals’ developing self- management techniques of their own free will. The panopticon metaphor emphasises how external rationales of surveillance may be internalised, so that people engage in self-monitoring not only because they can never be sure whether hidden others are watching them, but also because they have accepted these rationales as part of practices of the self. Thus, for example, patients who engage in self- care practices through digital monitoring systems (as part of telemedicine) are aware that their doctors and other caregivers may choose to check whether they have engaged in these routines and that their data may be sent to these people for the purposes of such surveillance. However, they may also voluntarily continue to participate in these regimens because they have accepted the importance of self-care to their practice of ideal patienthood. The power relations incipient in panoptic surveillance are therefore not merely or simply repressive. They are also productive of certain modes and practices of selfhood and embodiment.
Dataveillance is a specific type of veillance that uses digital data (Esposti, 2014; van Dijck, 2014). Dataveillance need not involve digital technologies, but one form of it occurs when digital data are collected on any interaction that people may have with internet- connected activities that generate information – either automatically, for instance when people use search engines, or intentionally, when they upload images or texts to internet sites such as social media platforms. Digital surveillance technologies differ from previous forms of watching in their pervasiveness, in the scope of the data they are able to collect and store, in their potential longevity and in the implications they have for privacy. Digitised dataveillance is a participant in the vitality of digital data and in the dispersal of digital technologies of watching, from sensor-embedded environments to sensor-embedded wearable technologies. It therefore differs from earlier modes of panoptic surveillance in that there is no centralised location from which people are watched. The distributed feature of dataveillance is emphasised in the joint work of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman with surveillance studies scholar David Lyon (Lyon and Bauman, 2013). The two use the phrase ‘liquid
surveillance’ to describe the ceaseless monitoring of citizens with the help of digital technologies across a range of sites and for a variety of purposes.
Not only is personal information gathered via the use of digital surveillance technologies, but individuals can easily be grouped or sorted into discrete categories and classes on the basis of this information and then subjected to assessments on the basis of prior assumptions or inferences (Lyon, 2002; Lyon and Bauman, 2013). Groups that once were not subject to routine surveillance are now targeted by the dispersed liquid technologies of digital dataveillance (Haggerty and Ericson, 2000; Lyon and Bauman, 2013). Lyon (2002) employs the concept of ‘surveillance as social sorting’ to contend that digital surveillance operates to inform and facilitate judgements about risky individuals by constructing risk profiles and by selecting them as belonging to members of groups that impose threats to others.
Dataveillance can therefore operate so as to exclude individuals from public spaces, travel and other rights and privileges if such individuals are deemed to be posing a threat in some way. This type of social sorting is frequently discriminatory. People from specific social groups, which are categorised as undesirable by virtue of race, ethnicity or nationality, age or social class, are subjected to far more intensive monitoring, identification as ‘dangerous’ or ‘risky’, and exclusion on the basis of these factors than are those from privileged social groups (Amoore, 2011; Werbin, 2011). It has also been pointed out by critics that digital data have a much longer life and capacity to be disseminated across time and space than previous forms of surveillance. These critics have contended that the right to be forgotten is contravened by the archiving of digital data. Crimes, misdeeds and embarrassments are now perpetually available for other people to find on digital archives and databases (Bossewitch and Sinnreich, 2013; Rosen, 2012).
Several researchers have argued that the use of digital technologies may involve yet another specific type of watching: that of ‘sousveillance’ (Dodge and Kitchin, 2007; Kitchin, 2014; Mann and Ferenbok, 2013), which literally means ‘watching from below’. In general terms, sousveillance may refer to people watching each
other, as frequently occurs on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Indeed the very rationale of such platforms is the increased levels of visibility and watching of each other that they promote. To comment on, or even simply to look at others’ content is to participate in the surveillance of others – noting what they are doing, making judgements on it and assessing its worth or interest. Indeed to be ‘invisible’ on social media – to post content without others noting it in some way – is undesirable. Attracting followers and comments, ‘likes’, ‘favourites’ and ‘retweets’ demonstrates that the content a user generates on these platforms is interesting or attractive to others (Bucher, 2012; Grosser, 2014; Helmond, 2013). Practices that were once considered coercive and imposed forms of state surveillance, such as biometric facial recognition for security purposes, are now routinely used in social media sites such as Facebook for the purposes of tagging others in images (Ellerbrok, 2011).
There are close intersections between concepts of digital surveillance and changing notions of privacy in contemporary digital society. Privacy issues have often been raised in discussions about new digital media, including social media platforms and mobile devices. Internet and legal scholars have argued that Web 2.0 technologies have had a profound effect on concepts and practices of privacy that remain in flux, as changes occur in the ways in which personal information is collected, stored and used online. Notions of privacy have been rendered complex by the social relations that are enacted on online sites and by the continuous production of digital data. Many users of social networking platforms are grappling with coming to terms with new ways of defining privacy in a context in which concepts of ‘the public’ and ‘the private’ are no longer confined to a spatial dimension. Notions of intimacy, solitude, the personal, the secret and the hidden are challenged by the confessional of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, in which participants’ inner thoughts and private behaviours are often revealed to a large number of friends or followers, and frequently several times throughout the day. This phenomenon has been described by van Mamen (2010: 126) as ‘the privatization of the public and publicization of the private’. boyd (2012) refers to the concept of
‘networked privacy’, which acknowledges the distributed nature of personal information and images in social media use.
It has been argued by many commentators that internet users do not expect the same kind of privacy protection that once was demanded of private communications. Some scholars have questioned whether the current era of personalised computerised technology use, social media and widespread surveillance has meant ‘the end of privacy’. Have concepts of privacy narrowed down to liberal assumptions about subjectivity, are they too culturally relative or overly reliant on rights-based discourses, neglectful of new ways of living and being? Can the spatial meanings of privacy, which represent privacy as a kind of personal zone from which others are excluded unless given permission to enter, remain meaningful in a context in which digital users are available for surveillance and data gathering for much of their waking day (Bennett, 2011; Lyon, 2010; Snow, Buys, Roe, and Brereton, 2013; Tene and Polonetsky, 2013)?
These are compelling questions that have direct relevance for self- tracking cultures and practices, particularly given the very personal and often intimate nature of the information that people collect on themselves and the growing number of domains in which this information is used by others. As I will contend in later chapters, concepts of privacy are changing again as people become more aware of the ways in which their personal digitised details are collected and used by second and third parties and of how these details may be accessed without their consent or knowledge.
One of the key arguments I make in this book is that self-tracking cultures are complex and multifaceted, and therefore require several different perspectives if we are to fully develop an understanding of their meaning and relationships to other dimensions of identity and social life. In this chapter I have offered some theoretical perspectives that provide ways of thinking about the social and cultural backgrounds and resonances of self-tracking discourses and practices. Each perspective allows scholars to explore different angles on the context of self-tracking, and what approach is found most insightful will depend on the particular aspect of self-tracking they are analysing. These perspectives will be employed at various points in the remainder of this book, as I move on to examining
specific aspects of self-tracking cultures, beginning in the next chapter with how the body and the self are conceptualised and worked upon as part of self-tracking endeavours.