On 5th July, Emma spoke about the project at the ‘Psycho-social lives as method’ a workshop on the psycho-social lives of health data and technology at the University of Sheffield, hosted by China Mills and Eva Hilberg.
The workshop included presentations from the following speakers:
Dr. Stefan Ecks (University of Edinburgh)
Dr. Matthias Benzer (University of Sheffield)
Dr. Eva Hilberg (University of Sheffield)
Dr. China Mills (University of Sheffield)
Dr. Ros Williams (University of Sheffield)
The papers and discussed explored some key questions about the social life of digital health:
How does health data get produced?
What social, cultural and political processes shape the quantification of (mental) health?
How do health technologies get taken up and used, and are they ever resisted?
How do data and technologies shape subjectivity?
In her paper entitled ‘Digital health technologies and the social material relations of young people’s learning about health, Emma spoke about the theoretical approaches and some of the methodological challenges of the project.
She presented a framework drawing on ‘public pedagogy’ and the social lives of digital health technologies to explore the implications of new materialist thinking for understanding the kinds of knowledge that the social life of digital data might produce. She also reflected on the challenges of data collection. Many of the wearable and mobile exercise and weight loss devices are designed to operate in real time. Using sensors or other technology, users are promoted (e.g. via sounds or vibrations) to either act (e.g. stand up and move around after periods of inactivity) or alerted when a certain goal/target has been reached (set number of steps achieved). Other technologies are designed to help with navigating the ‘choice architecture’ users are confronted with in their everyday lives: ‘‘(the physical, socio-cultural, and administrative environment’) in which people live out their lives and make decisions’ (Peeters and Schuilenburg (2016)). So, for example, when making decisions in food stores, users can consult digital apps about the calorie content of certain products to inform those choices.
There is therefore a need for tools that enable an understanding of complex everyday digital health practices in real time, space and place. Back and Puwar (2012) make the case for live methods for sociology including new tools for ‘real-time’ and ‘live’ investigation. In the Digital Health Generation project, one approach we are exploring is using real-time technologies and ethnographic based digital technologies to enable study participants to reflect on real-time engagement with digital health tech, so as to understand the assemblages within which they are situated. critical perspectives of this kind may help identify nuanced inequalities and disparities of digital health across different socio-cultural groups. This will enable a better understanding of where, when, how and why people access and negotiate health information and how this shapes subsequent health practices.
As a result of the workshop, a shared bibliography focused on methodologies in digital health research is being developed (we will post a link once this is available).
Chair in Science Communication & Future Media, University of Salford, Manchester.