‘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
Date Written: December 11, 2017
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
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