‘A Much Better Person’: The Agential Capacities of Self-Tracking Practices

Forthcoming in Metric Culture: Ontologies of Self-Tracking Practices, edited by Btihaj Ajana. To be published by Emerald Publishing, London.

10 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2017

See all articles by Deborah Lupton

Deborah Lupton

University of Canberra

Gavin JD Smith

Australian National University

Date Written: December 11, 2017

Abstract

In this chapter, we draw on our study involving interviews with Australians who identify as current self-trackers to discuss why and how they monitor themselves. Our approach for analysing self-tracking practices is based on a sociomaterial perspective, viewing enactments of voluntary self-tracking as shifting heterogeneous assemblages, bringing together diverse actors who are both human and nonhuman. We use vignettes to illustrate the ways in which our participants enacted self-tracking and to identify some of the diverse meanings and motivations that mediate decisions to self-track and resultant uses of the information thus generated. We found that a diverse range of self-tracking practices were taken up by our interviewees, including not only digital devices and methods, but also recording their details using pen-and-paper, or simply maintaining mental awareness and using memory. We identified several agential capacities in our participants’ accounts of why and how they monitor themselves. These capacities are interrelated, but can be loosely grouped under the headings of ‘self-improvement’, ‘exerting control’ and ‘identifying patterns and achieving goals’. They are motivators and facilitators of monitoring practices. The broader socio-cultural contexts in which monitoring of the body/self is undertaken were also revealed in the participants’ accounts. These include ideas about the moral virtues of self-responsibility and the individual management of life circumstances to avoid chaos and risk, and the notion that monitoring practices can successfully achieve these virtues.

Keywords: self-tracking, sociomaterialism, agential capacities, moral virtues, embodiment

Suggested Citation

Lupton, Deborah and Smith, Gavin, ‘A Much Better Person’: The Agential Capacities of Self-Tracking Practices (December 11, 2017). Forthcoming in Metric Culture: Ontologies of Self-Tracking Practices, edited by Btihaj Ajana. To be published by Emerald Publishing, London. . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3085751

Deborah Lupton (Contact Author)

University of Canberra ( email )

University of Canberra
Bruce, ACT 2601
Australia
61261663437 (Phone)

Gavin Smith

Australian National University ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200
Australia

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