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Digital Health and the Biopolitics of the Quantified Self

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
JournalDigital Health
Issue number1
Early online date1 Feb 2017
Accepted/In press16 Dec 2016
E-pub ahead of print1 Feb 2017
PublishedFeb 2017


King's Authors


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.

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