In the second episode of my Digital Health/Digital Capitalism podcast I spoke to Minna Ruckenstein about her work on various aspects of digital health and in particular how this is influenced by consumption. For me this was a really interesting of the often overlooked ways in which consumption practices and market forces shape how we think about our health and what we do with our bodies.

A key term which Minna uses at one point early in the episode is “surveillance capitalism” which was developed in a paper by Soshana Zuboff.

Another concept Minna mentions, and critiques, in the discussion is “prosumption” which was initially developed by the philosopher Alvin Toffler but George Ritzer has had a big impact on it has been used in sociology.

She mentions two studies she has conducted about the ways in which we people use and interpret data in their everyday life through interacting with a certain kind of “mechanical objectivity”. These are a study on consumer genetic testing and one which looked at stress through the use of heartrate tracking.

Minna refers to an assertion, which she partly agrees with, by the anthropologist David Graeber that we should stop talking about consumption and instead focus on “the sphere of the production of human beings”. You can find the paper she was referring to here.

One of the most interesting, for me, suggestions Minna makes is about how self-tracking technologies and data could help us to see health in a non-individualistic manner and be used for connection and solidarity. You can read more about this in the paper ‘Social Rhythms of the Heart’.

The paper of Minna’s which we discuss at the end of the episode is one which I highly recommend. This is a really good discourse analysis of the representation of the Quantified Self in Wired magazine.

A very important point Minna makes at the very end of our discussion is that if self-tracking devices were approached by researchers as consumer devices rather than medical then they would probably be analysed in a different way. One of the theoretical frames which she suggests has been overused is an application of the work of Nikolas Rose (for more on him see here).

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