Do digital technologies hold radical and progressive possibilities for health and the potential to challenge capitalist appropriation? 

Below is Prof Nick Fox’s abstract for the upcoming Digital Health/Digital Capitalism one day conference at Leeds Beckett on 4th July.

In his paper Nick will offer a “new materialist” analysis of digital health. Through this he will suggest that by emphasising the agentic capacities of data and technologies new possibilities for citizen health can be realised.

Anyone who has followed Nick’s work will know he has been a pioneer in the use of Foucauldian and Deleuzian theory to health and the body.

More recently he has been exploring the potential of “new materialism” in this area. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he puts this in the context of capitalist production. 

It strikes me that the way in which health is managed in contemporary capitalism is quite different to even in the recent past. Nick suggests in his abstract, and in a recent article, that sociology doesn’t properly take account of non-human materialities. I agree but also think that the way that digital technologies function within capitalist relations which are equally engaged with symbolic power, subjectivity and material bodies has not been well theorized yet. Especially in relation to health.

The micropolitical economy of posthuman healthNick J Fox, University of Sheffield


The emergence of digital health and illness technologies (Lupton, 2014), and the digitisation of capitalist economic production (Roche, 2012) reflect the increasing cyborgisation of organic matter within current economic and social relations. However, sociology has tended to displace from attention the non-human materialities that contribute to social production, privileging the human body and its agency over the agentic capacities of both physical things (including technologies) and ‘information’. The latter comprises not only ‘data’, but also ideas, memories, conceptual frameworks, systems of thought and social codes, all of which can have material effects and contribute to production. Such a post-anthropocentric sociology of production and the digital may be helpfully informed theoretically by the ‘turn to matter’ in new materialist theories and methodologies (Coole and Frost, 2010; Fox and Alldred, 2016).

In this paper I will explore such a new materialist and posthuman approach to ‘digital health’ and digital capitalism’, by micropolitical investigation of what digital technologies actually do, within the contexts of contemporary social relations. This enables new insights into the impacts of the digital upon social production. However, it also opens up ways for digital technologies to be used to promote radical and transgressive possibilities, by re-engineering the interactions between technologies and other materialities. I conclude by discussing how the digital might thus be co-opted to establish ‘citizen health’ – a collective, bottom-up model of health and care that rejects both the marketisation of health and the paternalism of the welfare state.