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Article

Self-tracking as a Practice of Quantifying the Body: Conceptual Outlines

Forum for Anthropology and Culture. 2019. No. 15. P. 137-152.

The article addresses the understudied phenomenon of digital quantification of the body and everyday life, which has arisen due to the proliferation of wearable and mobile fitness technologies. The author reviews a number of recent studies which have contributed significantly to the conceptualisation of digital self-tracking. Examining various approaches and directions in the study of self-tracking, the author focuses on three aspects: a) on the manifestations and discourses of self-tracking; b) on its styles and practices; and c) on its social contexts and effects. The works under review show how trackers of physical and social activities can transform people’s everyday practices, and how users interact with fitness technologies, interpret quantified data and construct their own embodied identity. Importantly, the efficiency of self-tracking tools is associated with their ‘sociability’ and ‘intelligence’ — qualities achieved through the anthropomorphising of digital devices and the creation of a culture of sharing. The analysis also emphasises that the practice of self-tracking goes beyond individual experience, actively invading other social worlds, and may eventually become an inherent feature of a ‘sensor society’. Summarising the outcomes of current research, the author comes to the conclusion that further conceptualisation of digital self-tracking must take into account its complex and multi-vectored nature. On the one hand, self-tracking is productive, as it contributes to the broadening of possibilities for self-knowledge and self-management, but on the other hand, it can have disciplinary, discriminatory, coercive, and alienating effects.