THE DATAFICATION OF EVERYDAY LIFE: CRITICALLY CONTEXTUALIZING THE “QUANTIFIED SELF” IN PHYSICAL CULTURE
Esmonde, Katelyn Rebecca
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The contemporary moment has been characterized as that of the “Quantified Self” (QS); a time in which the body is increasingly subjected to meticulous measurement in the service of generating data that will maximize individual potential through self-improvement. The QS is most readily associated with fitness tracking devices like the Fitbit that quantify various aspects of physical activity (i.e., steps taken, distance walked, heart rate, caloric intake/output). While these devices are often taken up as an individual fitness or health choice, institutions, through efforts such as workplace wellness programs, increasingly utilize them to survey and manage their workers’ health. Widespread use of these technologies is often positioned as a panacea for institutional and personal betterment. In this dissertation, I critically evaluate this assumption, by examining the emergence, nature, and influence of the QS, through a contextualization of the quantification of the physically (in)active body. This is an important undertaking given that the preoccupation with statistical measurement and metrics has seemingly de-emphasized the experiential and, often un-quantifiable, dimensions of physical activity. In light of these concerns, I seek to understand if these technologies are enhancing people’s lives and allowing them to become technologically self-actualized, if they are alienating people from their bodies and physical activity while subjecting them to even greater scrutiny from others, or both. This dissertation comprises three interrelated research studies, in which I draw on the theoretical tools of Foucauldian poststructuralism and sociomaterialisms. In the first study, I historically contextualize the QS, with a focus on how and why the physically (in)active body has been quantified. The second study is a sensory ethnographic study wherein I analyze women runners’ fitness tracking practices to explore how fitness tracking shapes their experiences of embodiment and emplacement. Finally, in the third study I interview key informants in the workplace wellness industry and study documents from workplace wellness programs and proponents. By examining the sociomaterial conditions of self-tracking, both historical and contemporary, this dissertation highlights the politics of self-tracking and the contingencies that are required to produce ‘self-evident’ and factual data about oneself.